CANAL COL­UMNS

It’s time to moor up and re­turn to land; get­ting down and dirty ser­vic­ing the Lis­ter

Canal Boat - - This Month - STEVE HAY­WOOD Award-win­ning cur­rent af­fairs TV pro­ducer, jour­nal­ist and au­thor who has been a boat owner for nearly 40 years Fol­low me on Twit­ter @Cut­dreamer

Well, that’s it then. Af­ter a lit­tle short of four years liv­ing on the wa­ter, trav­el­ling the rivers and canals of Eng­land and Wales as con­tin­u­ous cruis­ers, we have gone back to the land. We’ve win­terised the en­gine, drained the wa­ter sys­tem and let the fire ebb away, the first time in months we’d let it die.

Be­fore we even left the boat we could feel the chill de­scend­ing on the cabin. With our be­long­ings packed and loaded for our trip back to Lon­don, the place al­ready felt dif­fer­ent, some­how not home any more; and we felt dif­fer­ent to­wards it, as if we’d aban­doned an old friend in their time of need.

It was a sad mo­ment. The tiny space which those un­fa­mil­iar with boats and the canals would think im­pos­si­bly re­stricted, had been not just the place we lived, but our refuge too: our sanc­tu­ary against the bit­ter snow-blown winds of a Welsh win­ter, against the rag­ing wa­ters of the Ouse in flood at York and against the driv­ing rains of a Pen­nine sum­mer which was colder than both.

Yet it had been our pleas­ance too – the se­cluded en­clo­sure in which we’d cruised the gra­cious Thames in high sum­mer when it was so hot you couldn’t sit out un­til the evening. It had taken us to gra­cious Ch­ester where we’d moored un­der the city walls, to el­e­gant Ely where we

sipped wine on the deck in the shadow of what must surely be Eng­land’s finest cathe­dral, to proud Lan­caster which seemed hewn out of stone.

We’d cruised a coun­try­side which some­times seemed locked into the past, but we had trav­elled to the heart of con­tem­po­rary Eng­land too, to its seething cities like Birm­ing­ham, Sh­effield and Liver­pool, trav­el­ling from north to south and west to east.

Will we miss it? You bet we will. We al­ready are. How could you not miss that heady sense of lib­er­a­tion that comes from know­ing that ev­ery new day will bring new ad­ven­tures and de­lights?

How could you not miss wak­ing to au­tumn morn­ings when the mists make even the most mod­est lock­side cot­tage seem like the cas­tle of Avalon? Or cruis­ing through lethar­gic sum­mer after­noons when the coun­try­side it­self seems paralysed by the heat. Or trav­el­ling on bright win­ter days when the ice forms on the cut, and the air is so cold it scours your lungs? Who wouldn’t miss all that? And who wouldn’t miss the wildlife too, the flora on the canals and – last but far from least – the com­mu­nity of fel­low boaters?

Of course, there are things we won’t re­gret leav­ing be­hind. We didn’t mind the reg­u­lar task of emp­ty­ing the cas­settes, but the con­stant need to be aware of when they were fill­ing was an ir­ri­ta­tion we won’t pine for.

Sim­i­larly, the time spent re­plen­ish­ing our wa­ter tank – though that taught us an im­por­tant les­son about the value of wa­ter it­self.

The wasted hours while we ran the en­gine to recharge the bat­ter­ies won’t be some­thing we’ll grieve for ei­ther, though like the wa­ter it brought home a few in­dis­pens­able home truths about prof­li­gate en­ergy and re­sources’ con­sump­tion which we’ll take back to the land with us for, hope­fully, a greener fu­ture.

But what now? Jus­tice lies de­serted back at her moor­ings in Ban­bury and al­ready life on the canals is be­gin­ning to seem like a far­away dream, as if it hap­pened to other peo­ple. But hav­ing done it once, I can’t see we won’t do it again. Per­haps in a dif­fer­ent way. Per­haps in a dif­fer­ent place. Who knows? Watch this space.

Sadly, one of the as­pects of con­tin­u­ous cruis­ing which I con­fess shocked me when I first be­came aware of it was the an­tag­o­nism which many boaters feel to­wards those who do it.

If they aren’t com­plain­ing about young peo­ple liv­ing on boats in Lon­don tak­ing up vis­i­tor moor­ings, then they’re grum­bling about re­tired boaters like me tak­ing them, too, just be­cause we hap­pened to have ar­rived be­fore they did. I’d be able to buy a new boat if I had a pound for ev­ery time I heard some­one whinge­ing that CCers brought noth­ing to the canals at all.

Which is why it was so heart­en­ing to learn from the Canal & River Trust that win­ter moor­ings for con­tin­u­ous cruis­ers have raised more than £250,000 this year, a 15 per­cent rise on last year. The Trust have seen a com­mer­cial op­por­tu­nity in sell­ing these moor­ings which al­low boaters con­stantly on the move to rest up dur­ing the worst of the win­ter. And they’ve mar­keted them in a sen­si­ble way for which I com­mend them ful­somely.

‘Al­ready life on the canals is be­gin­ning to seem like a far­away dream, as if it hap­pened to other peo­ple’

More great ad­ven­tures on Jus­tice to come

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