If you have arms, why not use them?

Canal Boat - - Me & My Boats -

I’ve been think­ing a lot about canal arms re­cently, mainly be­cause we seem to have been cruis­ing a lot of them the past cou­ple of years. They are of­ten des­ig­nated ‘dead-end’ canals by boaters – a dis­re­spect­ful term that con­demns them, as if they go nowhere worth­while, and have noth­ing much worth see­ing.

Noth­ing could be fur­ther from the truth. The fact that canals like the Ashby, the Ere­wash and the Ch­ester­field are so re­moved from the main, in­creas­ingly busy cruis­ing rings gives them a unique am­bi­ence of their own, a sense of be­ing in an­other age.

As we get closer to the main hol­i­day pe­riod, I blanch when I hear of the hor­ror sto­ries on canals like the Llan­gollen and the Ox­ford where queues at locks are com­mon, moor­ing in the bet­ter spots im­pos­si­ble and canal rage an in­creas­ing facet of life. Yet there’s none of this on th­ese ‘dead-end’ canals. In fact, on some there are barely any boats.

Take the Ch­ester­field, the sub­ject of this is­sue’s Cruise Guide. Is there re­ally a more lovely canal in the coun­try? In places it’s like the sum­mit of the Ox­ford with­out hedges to im­pair the 360 de­gree views. Mile after mile of soli­tary, haunt­ing coun­try­side punc­tu­ated by an oc­ca­sional copse or spin­ney, or a some­what be­mused village lost in the landscape. So what is it that keeps people away from it and oth­ers like it? What is it that puts people off?

You can iden­tify a few com­mon fea­tures. The Ashby ex­cepted, they seem to all pose par­tic­u­lar nav­i­ga­tional chal­lenges to get there. To get to the Ch­ester­field, you have to nav­i­gate tricky sec­tions of the ti­dal Trent, with the Lan­caster it’s the daunt­ing Rib­ble Link, with the Ripon Canal it’s the un­cer­tain­ties of the River Ouse and its fre­quent floods. Even to get to lit­tle-vis­ited Sh­effield you have to pre-book pas­sage through 11 locks at Tins­ley which many find an ob­sta­cle.

‘Dead-end’ canals do tend to be a bit shal­lower, I grant you. But this is a re­sult of CRT not spend­ing money on dredg­ing be­cause they’re not vis­ited: it’s a vi­cious cir­cle that would solve it­self if only boaters could tear them­selves away from the fa­mil­iar hol­i­day routes. For heaven’s sake! Do people not want va­ri­ety any longer? Do they not want a bit of a chal­lenge?

The towns they pass through seem to be an­other rea­son people give for shun­ning th­ese canals. In fact, it’s al­most a rule of thumb that when­ever a ‘dead-end’ canal passes through a town or city, that town or city will at­tract a bad rep­u­ta­tion. I can’t un­der­stand people getting a downer on places like harm­less old Ilke­ston, Work­sop or Hinck­ley, let alone Lan­caster or York. Lan­caster, for heaven’s sake! York! Two of the coun­try’s most splen­did cities. Yet I’ve been warned off all th­ese towns by other boaters. I mean! Where do th­ese del­i­cate flow­ers come from to think places like this rep­re­sent any sort of threat to a boat? Never Never Land?

More should be done to en­cour­age people to nav­i­gate th­ese arms. The Ashby has suc­ceeded spec­tac­u­larly in at­tract­ing boaters to its two fes­ti­vals at Shack­er­stone and Moira, pub­li­cis­ing the de­lights of the canal in the process.

It’s a canal that’s wel­com­ing. Which is more than can be said for Sh­effield which, won­der­ful basin though it is, is to­tally taken up by per­ma­nent moor­ings and in­ac­ces­si­ble to vis­i­tors for any­thing ex­cept wind­ing. Worse is that the half- dozen visi­tor moor­ings there are, dis­grace­fully, lim­ited to the worst po­si­tions on the site.

CRT needs to in­cen­tivise boaters to travel to th­ese places and they could start with the sig­nage. It doesn’t do after boaters have com­mit­ted them­selves to a long jour­ney and risked the haz­ards of the Rib­ble not to pro­vide ad­e­quate moor­ings longer than 48 hours in Lan­caster.

Nei­ther, after getting to Shireoaks, near the top of the Ch­ester­field, does it help to have 48-hour moor­ings, No Re­turn Within Seven Days. So where are vis­it­ing boaters go­ing to moor on their way back down then? And why re­stric­tions any­way when there are so few moving boats?

On the Ch­ester­field, they give you a plaque for reach­ing the end of nav­i­ga­tion. There’s a plaque for the Ripon Canal, too. Why not ex­tend this idea as a gen­eral prin­ci­ple with CRT of­fer­ing a set of them as a tar­get for boaters to col­lect?

‘I can’t un­der­stand people getting a downer on places like harm­less old Ilke­ston, Work­sop or Hinck­ley’

Peace­ful boat­ing on the Ere­wash

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