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