One of the things we had always promised ourselves, was to explore this lovely country of ours. The question was how? Some of our friends downsized, bought a motorhome and travelled about that way. I wonder how much they actually see as motor homes are much better suited to motorways than winding single track lanes. Have you ever been stuck behind one??
We had a better idea. By boat on the canals. So we rented out our house and scraped some money together to buy an old, battered narrow boat. Then spent a month or two painting and making it more presentable. Next came the mammoth task of sorting through our possessions and deciding which we could or could not live without, bearing in mind the limitations of space on board. If it didn’t deserve boat space, then it either went to the dump or into storage. It’s amazing how little you really need to be comfortable and self-sufficient.
We adapted to life afloat quite quickly. You have to! With no previous experience we had to learn to steer, moor up and handle the boat in all sorts of conditions. We soon found out that wind is the greatest enemy and after a few close encounters with bridges and jetties, we learnt to stay put on windy days.
So began our journey around Britain. We stayed towns and cities, pretty villages and quiet places in the middle of nowhere. Many big industrial towns have a canal running through its heart and it is often a tranquil place amidst the hustle and bustle of city life. When I was a child we were forbidden to go near the canal as it was seen as a dangerous place, frequented by drunks and undesirables. The locks were scary and the water was a dumping ground for shopping trolleys, old bikes and mattresses. Not so these days thanks to the efforts of the Canal and River Trust (CRT) which works tirelessly to keep the canal and towpaths in a good state of repair and to promote the use of the waterways for leisure. Not just for boaters. The towpaths have been developed for use by walkers and cyclists and much work has been done to restore wildlife habitats.
We met all sorts of people on our travels and I had fun categorising the different types of boaters. At the top of the tree (in their opinion) are the owners of the old working boats who rule the waves with authority. Don’t get me wrong. I am all for preserving these historical vessels but their attitude is often superior. Next there is the “Shiny Boat Brigade”. The ones obsessed with polishing brass, cleaning windows and arranging ropes into fancy patterns. You can also recognise them by the array of brass plates on display, showing the canals they have visited. We fell into the third category. The reasonably respectable types, who look after their boats but are not a slave to them. The ones who would rather nip to the pub at the end of the day than whip out the Brasso. Lastly, and much to the annoyance of my husband, are what he rather rudely calls the “Hobo Hutches”. I will leave it to your imagination to guess why!
It was a time of great happiness and simplicity. Our only worries were concerned with keeping the boat maintained and our only choices were whether to stay put or travel each day.