Canal Boat - - Contents -

At last, some peace and quiet!; get­ting down to the nitty-gritty of his­tory

For­give me for a be­ing a bit hes­i­tant, but this is del­i­cate, and I’d be obliged for the sake of wa­ter­ways’ har­mony that you didn’t spread it around more than nec­es­sary. There’s too much dis­cord among boaters al­ready with­out me adding to it – too much of what I call the ‘Me and You Syn­drome’ where boaters of­ten feel them­selves in com­pe­ti­tion with oth­ers over who gets to the locks first or who gets the best mooring.

Even so, this time of year, when the days be­gin to shorten and the weather fi­nally turns after what has been a beau­ti­ful sum­mer, boaters divide into two dis­cernible groups. There are those who’ve had the sum­mer hol­i­day and who pretty-well moth­ball the boat in the ma­rina – for­get­ting about it, if not un­til next spring, then at least un­til Christ­mas.

On the other hand, there are those who keep go­ing dur­ing the late au­tumn and win­ter, en­joy­ing the unique am­biance which the wa­ter­ways of­fer in these sea­sons. Unsurprisingly – since this is what they do – an in­creas­ing num­ber of the boats mov­ing on the cut at this time of the year are – like me and Em – con­tin­u­ous cruisers.

And this is where a lit­tle dis­cre­tion on your side would be ap­pre­ci­ated. And a lit­tle un­der­stand­ing, too. Be­cause we’re not live­aboards, even though we may live aboard our boats. Nei­ther are we bridge hop­pers, though if the canal’s be­gin­ning to ice over, and coal or gas is run­ning low, a cer­tain level of bridge­hop­ping may be nec­es­sary to main­tain, not so much our life­style as our very lives. No, we are boaters who have al­ready trav­elled hun­dreds upon hun­dreds of miles this year, and will log up a few more be­fore we’re all sit­ting in some pub some­where singing Auld Lang Syne.

You see, the aw­ful truth is – one I’m al­most em­bar­rassed to voice so pub­licly – that at this time of the year, be­fore stoppages bring our trav­els to an end, we’re might­ily relieved to see the back of every­one else. For the first time in months, cruis­ing some of the more pop­u­lar canals be­comes fea­si­ble. Stripped of their sum­mer crowds, there’s no wait­ing at locks, no wor­ry­ing about whether there’ll be a mooring, no anx­i­ety about whether your home is go­ing to be hit broad­side by a new­bie whose first ex­pe­ri­ence of narrowboats was when he picked up the keys to one ten min­utes be­fore. All over the coun­try there are con­tin­u­ous cruisers like us who’ve been ex­plor­ing far­away parts of the sys­tem, who are now grav­i­tat­ing back to their home patches in what many of them would ad­mit is the best cruis­ing time of the year.

You could join us if you wanted; we don’t have ex­clu­sive rights. Just not too many of you please.

We came up the Northampton flight in mid Septem­ber after a sum­mer on the east­ern wa­ter­ways and im­me­di­ately we were aware we were back on a canal. You could have closed your eyes and known it from all the boats speed­ing by.

Of course, boats speed on the River Nene and the Great Ouse, too, but be­cause the wa­ter­way is wider and deeper, and there are less boats gen­er­ally, you hardly no­tice it.

Back on the main sys­tem we were lurch­ing around more than we’d done cross­ing the Wash a cou­ple of months ago. Mooring, too, sud­denly be­gan to fol­low fa­mil­iar canal pat­terns. On the Ouse and Nene, the prob­lem is get­ting a mooring at all, and you’re al­most al­ways de­pen­dant on those pro­vided by the Great Ouse Boat­ing As­so­ci­a­tion (GOBA) or the re­cently formed Friends of the River Nene, both or­gan­i­sa­tions you should con­sider join­ing if you’re cruis­ing those wa­ters.

On the canal, the prob­lem isn’t find­ing a mooring; it’s the boats you at­tract once you have. Some­one tell me, why does this hap­pen? You’ve no sooner stopped for the night on an empty stretch of water in the mid­dle of nowhere than an­other boat moors next to you and soon after, an­other one and an­other one.

Years ago, as a sort of ex­per­i­ment, I moored up in what must have been the worst place for miles around. It was next to a rail­way cul­vert and so close to a mo­tor­way I was vir­tu­ally on the hard shoul­der. Not that it mat­tered. Within an hour I’d at­tracted two other boats. I left them to it.

‘At this time of year, be­fore stoppages bring our trav­els to an end, we’re might­ily relieved to see the back of every­one else’

Not an­other boat in sight

STEVE HAYWOOD Award-win­ning cur­rent af­fairs TV pro­ducer, jour­nal­ist and au­thor who has been a boat owner for nearly 40 years

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