Wa­ter­way to spend your hol­i­day...a canal lock-in

TES (Times Education Supplement) - - INSIGHT -

TEACH­ING SMALL chil­dren is phys­i­cally, men­tally and emo­tion­ally drain­ing, which is why I pre­fer a spe­cific type of va­ca­tion. I like to re­fer to it as an “In­ac­tiv­ity Hol­i­day”. It typ­i­cally in­volves ly­ing about on a Mediter­ranean beach do­ing noth­ing more en­er­getic than read­ing a Neil Gaiman novel and drink­ing cold beer.

Un­for­tu­nately, be­cause Mrs Ed­di­son is keen for us to re­main phys­i­cally ac­tive in later life, this year we are do­ing some­thing more ad­ven­tur­ous: a dar­ing jour­ney along an­cient wa­ter­ways and through un­fa­mil­iar land­scapes; bravely nav­i­gat­ing his­tor­i­cal routes us­ing a dan­ger­ously out­moded form of trans­port; boldly go­ing where nor­mal peo­ple don’t at speeds in ex­cess of…three miles an hour?

We are in Skip­ton – gate­way to the York­shire Dales – pre­par­ing to nav­i­gate the Leeds and Liver­pool Canal in a nar­row boat. Be­cause I’m not used to op­er­at­ing a ves­sel sev­eral times longer than your av­er­age ped­alo on a wa­ter­way much nar­rower than the sea, it is a voy­age that be­gins with a les­son in ba­sic boat han­dling. Our learn­ing ob­jec­tive is to make it go for­wards and back­wards, and to push the tiller (the big han­dle at the back) in the op­po­site di­rec­tion to where we want to go.

My ini­tial un­so­licited at­tempts at per­form­ing a U-turn are frowned upon by the lo­cal nar­row boat com­mu­nity. Fi­nally, af­ter sev­eral mut­tered swear words and nu­mer­ous loud apologies, we are head­ing in the right di­rec­tion, and I be­gin to see the at­trac­tion of life in the slow lane. What could be more re­lax­ing than this? Chug­ging along at water snail’s pace through the

York­shire Dales?

Only when we ar­rive at our first lock does the re­al­ity of canal life hit me. And it does so with the force of sev­eral tons of water be­ing trans­ferred from one sec­tion of canal to an­other. Les­son two takes place at Holme Bridge

Lock and in­volves a lot of strain­ing to lift heavy pad­dles, toil­ing to open un­wieldy sluices and putting your back into heav­ing cum­ber­some gates into po­si­tion. “Not many more locks be­tween here and your first overnight stop at Gar­grave,’ says our teacher as he waves us bon voy­age. “En­joy your re­lax­ing break, guys.”

Af­ter con­sult­ing our map, we dis­cover there are 15 locks be­tween Skip­ton and our fi­nal des­ti­na­tion just be­yond the 200-year-old Foul­ridge Tun­nel that will take us un­der the Pen­nines.

That’s 30 locks in to­tal, be­cause this is a round trip. And that doesn’t in­clude sev­eral swing bridges that need open­ing and shut­ting. As hol­i­days go, it might have proved ex­haust­ing if it hadn’t been for the ac­ci­dent.

Only when we ar­rive at our first lock does the re­al­ity of canal life hit me – and it does so with the force of sev­eral tons of water

Dur­ing Mrs Ed­di­son’s first at­tempt at the tiller, she ex­pe­ri­enced a mi­nor panic at­tack. This, in turn, re­sulted in a small col­li­sion with two moored boats and ended with us get­ting beached in the shal­lows. There­after Mrs Ed­di­son re­fused to steer and

– by de­fault – vol­un­teered to op­er­ate all locks and swing bridges for the rest of the jour­ney.

“Fancy the South Pen­nine Ring next year?” I ask on our drive back to Sh­effield the fol­low­ing week. “One hun­dred and ninety seven locks and...” Mrs Ed­di­son isn’t lis­ten­ing. She’s asleep, dream­ing about an In­ac­tiv­ity Hol­i­day in a Mediter­ranean re­sort. Steve Ed­di­son teaches at Ar­bourthorne Com­mu­nity Pri­mary School in Sh­effield

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