Don't join a gym, go boating!

Trip Start May 02, 2013
Trip End Jul 04, 2013

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Where I stayed
On a narrowboat
What I did
Rain and Hail

Flag of United Kingdom  , England,
Wednesday, May 15, 2013

We are on the canal, on our narrow boat. Makes you think of gliding through the
green countryside, a gentle zephyr blowing the occasional fluffy white cloud
through an otherwise sunny blue sky. Well, think again. Think thermals and
waterproofs, beanies and mittens, blowing winds, rain and hail. Think urban decay,
graffiti and rubbish, smashed windows and roofless buildings. Think running up and
down towpaths, up and down steps, over little tiny bridges carrying enormous
spanner things and pushing and heaving at winding gear and lock gates. That is
more the truth of things so far.
Well. Perhaps I exaggerate. But all of the above is true. We had our first boating
lesson in rain, freezing wind and hail. We learned to negotiate the first locks,
and then we were on our own. With as long a boat as can travel these canals.
68feet of it. That's about 20 metres for my metric friends I think. It's a hell of a
lot when you are short and trying to peer over the length of the cabin to steer
from the back!
The first part of our trip was through quiet fields and suburbs, our first two
nights moored in quiet surroundings with ducks, geese and swans for company. Yes,
it has been cold and wet and windy, but not constantly. The sun comes through some
times. The wind drops, the dog walkers and cyclists on the path are friendly and
the other boaters helpful.
Robyn arrived as planned in Stoke and Albert met her and brought her back to the
boat. But that was at teatime on Sunday. The rest of us had headed into Hanley to
find fish and chips.I had vague memories of my one, or was it two, Jacqui, visits
there in my late teens. But it is not somewhere I would want to live now. It seems
that two out of every three shops is closed and boarded up. We passed several
pubs, all but one closed. We were the only people in the Indian restaurant that we
ended up patronising. The young Sri Lankan who helped us with our meal agreed that
business is not booming and asked where we were from. When we told him Australia,
he was envious, said he would love to go there but was stuck where he is.
There seemed to be a couple of shopping centres presumably thriving. Closed though
because it was Sunday. We even managed to find the 24 hour Tesco closed!
Monday dawned fine and sunny and some of us got up and off to an early start. The
weather didn't hold.
The guys had done most of the 'driving' of our waterborne home, but we all need to
learn. My turn today. Oh boy. I think I'd do better with a tank, or a space
shuttle. The canal has lots of twists and turns, each one tighter than the one
before. Not easy to manouvre 68 feet of obstinate, floating logs, against a gusty
wind, especially for a nautically challenged individual like me.
Of course, manouvering into locks and out again, controlling the beast whilst
great quantities of water churns rapidly into or out of the lock, keeping the
whole thing off the cill ( apparently getting caught on that can be dangerous and
cause major damage to the boat, major damage like sinking) is challenging to say
the least, and mentally quite tiring. It doesn't help that you don't steer a boat
where you want it to go, you steer it in the opposite direction. Go figure, I
haven't managed to yet. I've had a day and bit of practice and I'm not much nearer
having any real idea let alone skill. At least I can wind the lock paddles up and
down and open and close the gates with some aplomb. Someone else's turn tomorrow,
If we don't sink overnight after all the bashing and smashing we have done to the
poor boat today. I'm getting it lined up and ok for mooring quite nicely, but you
try getting 68feet of anything rigid, from parellell to the bank, to in mid stream,
when it wants to turn from the middle of itself. We've done a great deal of
attempting to reverse to go forwards and had several near misses with the barge
pole. So far, no-one's drowned.The crew is mostly atheist but at this point, we
wouldn't knock back a prayer or two.
Today we lined up to go through the Harecastle tunnel. This interesting feat of
engineering goes for almost  two miles through the hillside, and is managed by
tunnel keepers who liaise from each end and allow convoys of no more than eight
boats through, first in one direction, then the other. I hear it is dark, damp and
has stalactites and stalagmites forming. The current tunnel is the third
incarnation as the two previous have had to be abandoned because of subsidence. I
can't vouch for the attractiveness of the tunnel. I opted for a bracing walk over
the hill instead. I thought we might have a good ramble over the top, but we were
strongly advised against the most direct route because of a gypsy encampment in a
lay-by. We had a neat little map, and after consulting it frequently, and asking
directions almost as often, we arrived at the other end of the tunnel to learn
that the Sophia had come through some time ago. We found her moored a little
further along. Excellent! Time for lunch. A walk in one direction along the tow
path found us two closed pubs. We walked back and tried the one we could almost see
from the boat. Closed too. Finally we found another. That had been closed too, but
reinvented as a cafe. They did very good jacket potatoes too.
We detoured by the supermarket to get essentials in case of a repeat occurrence
with the pubs later in the day, headed back to the Sophia and set off again. To
tackle the days locks. 16 of them I believe it was. Mutiny reared its ugly head,
but was quashed by Captain Albert's enthusiasm and confidence that we could do it.
We did. I was frozen and quite p'd off at one point. I'm a bit more used to things
that usually do as I tell them. Like computers. This boat is contrary I'm sure. I
have an instinctive dislike of revving something really hard when its jammed up
against something even harder. As I say, your prayers may be useful.
Most of the locks are about a foot (30cms) wider that the boat. If you don't get
things lined up really well, there's a bit of banging and bumping, cussing and a
lot of revving in reverse gear. It's interesting.
Then you are in the lock, water is rushing in or out, depending on whether you are
going uphill or down, and at one point, either way, you are standing about 15 or
20 feet (quite a few metres) below your crew, with all this frothing and foaming
and revving to keep the boat off the cill at the back and off the gates at the
front. The whole chasm is about 3 feet longer than the boat. The walls are slimy
and brown and dripping with soggy weeds. There is a very rusty ladder set in to
the wall on either side. Better than nothing but I wouldn't like to have to use
It's all part of the 'fun'. It's lucky we are enjoying this as we have 20 to do
Of course, now that we are moored for the night, the wind and rain have both quit.
The sun is shining and the birds singing.  Shame we are too tired to enjoy it.
There will be a few more photos. But in view of the fact that most of my brain
cells and most of my muscles have been occupied for most of the day, there will
not be many.
Everything needs charging too, and we've only 2 power points and limited
Ah well. We'll see what tomorrow will bring. Mutiny I suspect.
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Arbi on

Lovely writng. You've given me a new perspective on canal boats - and some smiles. (Sorry!)

Yvonne on

Sounds very relaxing!!

Jacq on

Hello. Yes. I remember why I left Stoke now. Which way are you headed? Manchester?

Helen Harbutt on

Well done Jill, you are keeping us well entertained.

Lise on

Oh dear, at least it supplies us with a VERY enjoyable read! And what a brilliant experience, this will provide much fodder over a wine a two when it's more memory than present. xx

Pat on

they look like beer bottle kilns.

WW on

I like the way you write on here. You may, however, have permanently killed my romantic dream about canal-boating.

WW on

Forgot to say how much I love those bottle kilns.


what an extraordinary journey & not for the faint hearted! it sounds very difficult really & the boat looks huge! well done to the both of you that you havent killed each other or smashed the boat especially with all the freezingness! XXXXBrigxxb

Lady of the Bann on

As you see I found you on here. We hired a cruiser on the Thames when my Kids were young. the usual locks and stuff as you are experiencing but with a shorter boat. One of the kids tied the boat up in the lock and then when the water started to drop the boat started to tip. fortunately the lock keeper noticed before it got too bad.

jillianp on

No Jacqui, we have been up the Llangollen canal as far as the big aquaducts. Heading back down the 'Shroppie'.

edna_million on

Oh, this makes me think that when my friend and I decided NOT to take the boat out when we stayed on one in 2011, we made a VERY wise decision!! It was just the two of us, we are both extremely non-mechanical and airheaded, and neither of us can tell right from left half the time. I remember hearing about the cill during the scary tutorial, and learning all about how easy it is to tip the boat right over in one.

We were staying just south of Nottingham, at Sawley, so weren't too far from here. I love reading about the trials of canalboating and seeing the pictures!

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