CANAL COL­UMNS

Canal Boat - - This Month -

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

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