I once spent Christmas on a canal boat with my family and a dozen or so in-laws (OK, so there were two canal boats). It was bliss. The pace of life cranked right down to a max. of 5 knots as we cruised the canal network north of London.

We had rain, floods, lockgates to contend with and at one point both our boats got stranded behind a bridge, unable to get back to base, because of rising flood waters.

The best holiday I have ever had! We also had snug, well heated boats, mulled wine, wood-fire roasted turkey, frequent visits to canal-side pubs and more fun then you can imagine.

In case you think it was tame, I should add that a white-knuckle ride in a four ton barge amid atop surging flood waters is the best kind of extreme sport, unprepared, spontaneous and totally unexpected! And we all survived unscathed.

Back to civilisation

The ‘wilderness’ bit happened when – after a week on the canals – we arrived back at the boat rental office before it was open. With a couple of hours to fill we trooped off to the only place we could get breakfast (having cleared and cleaned the boats); a café at a local supermarket.

It was a bizarre experience! We felt assaulted by the noise, the colour, the crowds (yes, even at 8.00 a.m., it was New Year’s Eve). After a week cooking and living in the open air, the food seemed to us to be unfit to eat. We felt displaced, alien and bushwacked by the intrusive environment. This was truly a wilderness experience.