Narrowboat Blog

A three-part series – Jane Boyd’s narrative of planning a Narrowboat adventure will be familiar to many of us who have tried so hard to organize the perfect getaway. A funny and idyllic adventure read Jane’s story and escape the current cold weather.

By Jane Boyd

Today the ever-changing English weather has decided to give me the opportunity to experience narrow boating in the rain. Will I enjoy it as much as I have in the English summer sun? Will I still fancy the idea of buying a boat to cruise up and down the country on? Read on.

This is our last day so we are returning to the boat to our starting point. There is something really interesting about revisiting all the things we’ve seen in the last two days. Part of it is about looking at something from a different angle and the other part of it is about noticing what has changed.

We cruised past the beautiful houses that border the canal and I begin to contemplate what life might be like for those who live there. From my viewpoint yesterday, life looked idyllic with manicured lawns, fruit-laden trees, colorful borders and a private mooring. As I look again from a different angle, I realize that it must be difficult to live in a property and have everyone staring in at you from the boats as they cruise past. It’s one thing looking in at someone else’s life and it’s another having all the people looking in at your life. Yesterday I had contemplated the idea of buying a place by the canal to retire to but today I realize it’s not for me.

There is something about the canal environment that causes people to talk more. Most people we meet at locks are chatty and we talk about destinations, where they’re from, who is on their boat with them and often, I get the story of their boat life. Weekend narrow boaters seem more forthcoming. Those who live on their boats are less keen to talk when we’re waiting for a lock together. I am fascinated to learn how they manage to live on the water. How do they cope with the rocking feeling on dry land? How do they manage their clothes and possessions so that they can fit it all in? How do they cope with everything being so narrow? Are they cold in winter? But I think most people living on their boats stay put so there are fewer opportunities to meet them and ask my questions.

We are struggling to control the boat today. It’s quite breezy and every so often it pushes the boat so it is almost sideways across the canal. This isn’t great because it means we are more likely to ground it on mudbanks or hit another boat, both of which we end up doing.

We pull into the side to give him a break from fighting to control the tiller. As we begin to near the towpath, I jump off the boat and grab the mooring rope. There are no mooring points here but we’ve got a kind of anchor bracket that fits the metal edging often found along the canal banks. I’m going to moor it to those but, as I pull the boat in and he straightens it, we cannot move it. We are stuck on a mudbank.

There is no warning of such things, it’s just something that you have to deal with. He agitates the boat by going from forward to reverse gear and eventually it loosens. Lesson learned.

I walk to the next bridge to take advantage of the deeper water at the side so he can pull over and allow me to jump onboard. I cook bacon whilst he steers and we head for our lunchtime meet up. Once we meet our friend, we’ve juggled the cats and we are all onboard, we begin the supposedly two-hour journey to our early afternoon meet up with number one son, GF, and dog. There are four locks to go through, including the dreaded Beeston Iron lock.

The Beeston Iron Lock is notorious for sinking boats. It’s was designed by Thomas Telford it in the early nineteenth century to cope with the problem that the surrounding ground wasn’t strong enough to hold a lock, so he made it out of iron. We are mightily relieved to get through it safely and on our way. Doing the locks was hard work on my own yesterday, today it’s more fun with my friend and the plethora of people we meet to chat to. I’m not sure my friend feels the same, she was looking forward to a relaxing afternoon’s cruising and begins to wonder if she’s been invited this afternoon specifically because there are so many locks.

By the time we get to our afternoon meet up, we are running an hour and a half late and we’re feeling battered from the weather. There’s a quick family discussion and we agree to call it a day. The chances of getting down to the winding hole a few miles down the canal and back in the time we have left before dusk, after which we are not allowed to cruise, is prohibitive. We cook pizza and have a good laugh as we wash up and pack our stuff into the car.

Soon we’re on our way home, tired but fulfilled. A wonderful weekend. Would we buy a narrowboat? I don’t know. I’m not that bothered but he is interested, which has surprised me given the difficulty of handling the boat today. It’s beautiful to cruise along in the perfect sunshine but not so much fun sitting out in the wind and rain.

When we get home he announces that he’s seen a small narrowboat for £12k and smiles at me hopefully as I see my planned Mustang fading away. I’ll have to work on him

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