If you have arms, why not use them?
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