Steve says don’t be frightened off, while Kevin marks the passing of real engineers
When I began writing this column nearly ten years ago I made a vow to myself never to mention the words ‘bandit territory’. There was a tub-thumper on an internet blog or something who was always going on about places you shouldn’t moor and the awful things that would happen to you if you did.
He’s still around, you probably know who I mean. He’s still banging on about canal ‘no-go areas’ – places you should rush through at first light to avoid ‘marauding kids’ and ‘druggies’ attacking you and burning your boat.
Now, without wishing to minimise the genuine fear and distress felt by those who have suffered unpleasantness from the oiks who frequent some towpaths, my view has always been that if the early canal pioneers had shown such timidity, there wouldn’t be a canal system today.
In my experience, things were much worse in the past than now anyhow. Today, narrowboats are a familiar sight and they excite little interest except for those purposely intent on causing trouble. In the 70s, the appearance of a boat on some stretches of urban canal was so rare it was the signal for every curious kid for miles around to assemble – which invariably led to mischief.
The truth is unpleasant things can happen anywhere on the canals, as they can
‘That’s another thing about branding areas with a bad reputation. A bad name conferred in one era survives into another’
happen anywhere away from the canals, too. Some of the worst things that have befallen me have occurred in the most unlikely places: getting shot at cruising up one of the most famed canals in the country, getting catapulted at one of the most renowned beauty spots (and I don’t mean catapulted by catapults, I mean catapulted by someone launching half bricks from between two trees half a mile away, a lifethreatening incident so grave that the police logged it under the same category as they would a firearms incident).
Yet what would be gained by me naming where these incidents happened? It would only brand them with a bad reputation and that’s like giving them ASBOs: the local kids know they’ve got a reputation and they try to live up to it.
Years ago, Banbury on the Oxford Canal came in for some ill-advised criticism from one of the waterways guides which should have known better than to print it, and, as a result, you couldn’t see the cut for the wash of terrified boaters rushing to get through the town before darkness fell. Now, in high summer, you can’t get a mooring in Banbury for love nor money – though there are still some who won’t stop there.
Because that’s another thing about branding areas with a bad reputation: a bad name conferred in one era survives into another. Even today there are boaters who won’t go near Castlefield Basin in Manchester because of incidents 30 years ago, there are people who rule out the Ashton because of something that happened before the millennium, people who won’t go near Birmingham because of some engrained folk memory of trouble. I mention all this, breaking my longstanding rule, because I’ve just cruised through one of the most notorious ‘no-go’ areas in the country where there have been more than 35 reported incidents over the summer, a situation so bad that the Canal & River Trust had to employ security guards with dogs to protect lock staff.
True, we were cruising early, and true, it was a beautiful autumn day. But, by any standards, this was a beautiful stretch of canal, packed with fascinating features. Anyone with genuine interest in our waterways would be foolish to miss it. And, of course, we had no trouble at all.
Honestly, the behaviour of some boaters appals me. You’d have thought for intelligent people, especially those who can read, a sign on an Elsan point saying OUT OF ORDER would suggest that the facility is unusable. Who then are the boaters who decide to give it a go anyhow, covering the whole facility with their waste? Probably the same sort of boater who has blocked the facility in the first place by manually pumping out their tank, ignoring instructions that it won’t take a pump-out.
Worse are those boaters who find an Elsan disposal blocked and then pour it down an adjoining lavatory, blocking that, too. It happened in Gargrave the other month. And they didn’t even bother lifting the seat. Follow meonTwitter @Cutdreamer
Banbury now a popular mooring spot in high summer