We like a bit of ad­ven­ture boat­ing...

Canal Boat - - Me & My Boats -

Imet some old jour­nal­is­tic mates for lunch re­cently. None of them had much of a clue about canals so I found my­self do­ing an im­promptu sell­ing job.

Once we’d got past the first ques­tion – it’s al­ways the first ques­tion in win­ter time – “aren’t you cold on a boat?” I re­alised that try­ing to ex­plain my en­thu­si­asm for nar­row­boat­ing was mak­ing me think harder about ex­actly why I did en­joy it so much. (Some­times when you’re happy do­ing some­thing you’re too busy en­joy­ing your­self to think pre­cisely why you are get­ting you the buzz you feel.)

Like all of you, I love the trav­el­ling, the misty morn­ings, the pubs, the scenery, the sun­sets, the chats at locks and all of that. But what I re­ally en­joy is that canal boat­ing is a kind of gen­tle ad­ven­ture.

And, from time to time, there’s a fris­son of ex­cite­ment, a hint of risk, a bit of phys­i­cal strug­gle. At the time it doesn’t al­ways seem ter­ri­bly en­joy­able. When we were be­ing pushed back­wards up the tidal Great Ouse by the in­com­ing stream af­ter I mis­judged my turn into Sal­ter’s Lode, I was down­right scared but now it’s a good story to re­count over a pint.

It doesn’t have to be quite so ex­treme ei­ther. When you helm a boat with a 3ft draught around the sys­tem, as we do, there are plenty of oc­ca­sions when you ex­pe­ri­ence quite enough mini-ad­ven­tures to keep any­one short of a Yup, the phone went in the Thames... a tow on the Nene, and in­side Gosty Tun­nel adrenalin sports en­thu­si­ast con­tent.

We had our fair share when we tack­led the Llan­gollen. Bri­tain’s most pop­u­lar canal is ‘of­fi­cially’ a shal­low one, an ex­cuse the Canal & River Trust can al­ways fall back on if a deep boat like ours gets into trou­ble. All the same, work­ing boats have made it all the way so we weren’t too wor­ried.

We had reached half­way with­out prob­lems then I had to man-haul the boat through the (for­tu­nately short) Ellesmere Tun­nel as the go­ing was so sticky. Af­ter a few more sticky stretches we met one that was pure Su­per­glue and ground to ter­mi­nal stop. I phoned CRT who said: “It’s been rain­ing a lot so we ran off an inch of wa­ter into the reser­voir”. Hmm. An inch? More like four of them I reckon.

So we gave up – the first time we’ve ever re­treated in the face of a canal en­emy. But even the re­treat was a bit Napoléon and Moscow: we had to re­verse for nearly a mile be­fore we found a spot to turn round.

We trudged back through the silt like Napoléon’s beaten troops and into the Ellesmere Tun­nel once more. Where we got hope­lessly and com­pletely stuck once more at the exit. It’s is known to be a shal­low spot and, there­fore, has never been dredged. Mass pulling on ropes by passers-by failed to shift us and only when an­other boat man­aged to squeeze past us – with more pulling and shov­ing – could he fi­nally drag us free.

A cou­ple of miles later we sud­denly ground to a halt again in the middle of a wide, open stretch of canal. Yards from the bank. With no-one about. Even­tu­ally three or four hefty types ar­rived, hauled on ropes and fi­nally we were away again – un­til we ground to a halt once more in mid-stream. By now it was dark so we stayed stuck, had din­ner and drowned our sor­rows.

It’s al­ways been this way. Our first ever trip in our old boat Star set the tone. That saw us boat­ing through snow and frozen canals on a tight sched­ule to beat the clo­sures. As the ice closed in around us and the snow deep­ened we crunched on, scram­bled across frozen locks and leapt on to snow cov­ered banks. Quite, quite mad.

And if it’s not ex­tremes of weather, it’s ex­tremes of wa­ter­way, from cross­ing The Wash to the in­fa­mously slow, tight Gosty Hill Tun­nel where it takes an hour to do a mile. Fun? Not al­ways but cer­tainly chal­leng­ing, ad­ven­tur­ous, and, ul­ti­mately, mem­o­rable. Not ev­ery­one’s cup of tea but that’s our sort of boat­ing.

‘We ground to a halt again mid-stream. By now it was dark so we stayed stuck, had din­ner and drowned our sor­rows’

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