CANAL BOATING HOLIDAYS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I’m planning an exciting trip with another couple for next fall. It’s a boating holiday unique to England and parts of Europe, called canal boating. Everything about the English branch of this subculture is different from what most Americans think of when they think about boating.

The boat used is called a narrowboat. It’s like a long, thin steel barge designed for use as a houseboat. It can be 45, 55 or 65 feet long but it is always only 7- feet wide. It has a small diesel engine that can go up to 5 miles an hour. You steer with a single rudder in the back of the boat. This would not work well on the ocean or a lake, but you are floating on a totally calm, 20-foot wide canal that gently winds its way through the countryside of England.

Tom and me on our first canal boat

The boats are usually painted with colors and designs specific to the canals. They are surprisingly spacious, with a living area and kitchen, full bathroom and sleeping areas. The boats sleep from 2-10 people. Some have a separate eating area, like a banquette but the smaller boats just have a table in the living room.

Interior of our canal boat

Tom and I have spent three weeks on the canals of England for two excursions. Both trips were just us, which is easily doable and enjoyable. Many retired couples in England buy a canal boat and choose to live on the canals during the open season from April through October.

However, this kind of traveling lends itself to traveling with other couples or groups because there are plenty of tasks for everyone. My first canal boat experience was in 1987 with four adults and four children ages two, seven, eight and nine.

We brought bikes so anyone could cycle to a nearby town or through the countryside. The advantage of having at least 3 adults is that there are many locks throughout the canal system, which take physical work to get through.

Tom on our second canal boat

One person has to drive the boat into the narrow lock and it goes a lot faster when you have two adults manning the lock-machinery. It can be done with one person on the ground but it’s slow and tiring for the lock operator.

The experience of just puttering down the canal is peaceful and relaxing. You can go through all kinds of scenery. There are suburban stretches with beautiful, manicured homes along the canal; there are areas of farmland with fields and cows, sheep and horses. There are woods and marshes as well as more urban areas. Each route is different. This is a vast canal system that wends its way through much of England and Wales.

Once you are on the water, you’re fully independent on the canal. You can do what you want when you want. You can pull over and stake the boat down whenever you choose to eat, relax, sleep, walk along the picturesque canal or enjoy the local sights. There are numerous pubs to stop at for a drink or a meal (the food is really good).

There are nearby towns to walk around or shop for food. There are also museums and other local curiosities that are worth a stop. We toured the Wedgewood china factory, which was fascinating. We also saw one of the rare underground ‘bomb shelters’ from the 1950s which was designed to house the local government in case of a nuclear war.

When you pull over to stop, you’ll usually find other boats and end up chatting with other boaters. There are also lots of dogs and cats on canal boats and they are also very friendly. We had a cat come into our boat and sleep with us one night.

Driving the boat and manning the locks are a form of constant activity for people who like to be doing something all the time. But there’s also plenty of downtime for those who prefer to put their feet up and relax with a good book or listen to the fabulous BBC4 radio station. It has all kinds of programming, much like our TV stations. News, talk shows, game shows, dramas, sitcoms, continuing series, all high quality.

For the nature lover, you’re usually in the middle of nowhere but for the homebody, you’re always ‘home’ in your boat.

Canal locks

If you are traveling with other folks, make sure you can spend 7-days together most of the time. You have to make lots of decisions as a group. You need to decide where to stop, for how long, where to eat or what to cook. Someone has to be the driver and the others need to manage the locks, and so on. On my first, family trip, the 2 dads were both alpha males and spent most of the time arguing over everything! One of the kids asked why the dads were acting so childishly.

This can be an amazing vacation, with something for everyone. I’m planning my fourth canal holiday because I just can’t get enough of this immersive, unique vacation.

MY HOME TOWN – Marilyn Armstrong

My Home Town

It’s a small town. Main Street, north and south of Route 16 which crosses Uxbridge down the middle and moves on to other towns.

Thank you, Nancy Merrill, for offering such a great topic for photographs. I have had three home towns: New York, Jerusalem, and Uxbridge. With each change of home, my town has become smaller. There are a lot of issues involved in living in the country, but it beats out any city, at least for us. The beauty of our world is unmatched.

I wouldn’t mind a movie theatre and a bit more shopping,  but it’s a good and beautiful place to live. Whatever may be wrong with it, we are not spending our lives fighting for parking spaces, driving through endless crowded roads … and coping with the grime and grit of bigger cities.

THEN IT WAS AUTUMN AFTER ALL – Marilyn Armstrong

October 19, 2019 – Autumn Leaves

It looked hopeless. It was a month late and there was so much rain. And it was warm too late into the season. So most of us — especially me — sighed and decided we weren’t going to get a real Autumn this year. Kind of like last year where it just never happened.

Instead, after a huge storm of torrential rain and high wind — the kind of storm that usually knocks the leaves off the trees and gives us naked limbs. But that’s not what happened.

The deep orange maple over the little house with the blue door

Golden leaves in October

Wide view of the old stone bridge, river, and canal

Along the canal pathway

The storm came. It went and suddenly, it’s really Fall. The colors are up. It was impossible — but it happened anyway.

AUTUMN CAME BY FOR THE DAY! – Marilyn Armstrong

Autumn at the Canal and River – October 14, 2019

In a desperate attempt to cut down on email, I put all my emails from blogs onto the Reader and now I’m not getting anything at all and can’t FIND anything even when I look. At least I found this.

It’s hopeless. No matter what I do, I either don’t have anything at all or I have mountains of stuff.

Today we had Autumn. Sunshine and golden trees and everything. We took pictures. Not enough. I’m going to try to get out tomorrow, too because by Wednesday, torrential rain will be back and that will probably finish it off.

These are from both Garry and me, all taken down by the dam and Blackstone River. We had bigger plans, but I needed to hustle home to the bathroom. It turns out, there are none of them anywhere around that park. Not even one of those plastic horrors.

From Garry:

From Marilyn:

THE EARLY GOLD OF AUTUMN – Marilyn Armstrong

The leaves have definitely begun to change! The aspens are bright yellow and there are edges of red on the maples. There is a hint of gold on al the leaves as if some painter was doing a watercolor and washed it with light golden amber.

And there were a bunch of Tufted Titmouses on the feeders this morning. Can the rest be far behind?

AUTUMN’S ON THE WAY – Marilyn Armstsrong

September 16, 2019 – Autumn Leaves

Garry came back from the grocery and said that it looks like fall is showing up! So I’ll get some new pictures soon … if it doesn’t rain constantly. Last year, it rained almost every day through the end of September and then it got very warm and humid in early October. Instead of Autumn, the leaves just curled up and fell off the trees.

It started raining almost as soon as Garry got home, but if it will stay dry for a couple of weeks and give us some chilly nights, there will be pictures. Meanwhile, a look at previous Autumn seasons. We’ve had some really fabulous ones … and we’ve also had a bunch of duds. Let’s hope for a good one. I need a good Autumn. It would definitely lift my spirits!

NOT A HINT OF FALL BUT THE CANAL IS BEAUTIFUL – Marilyn Armstrong

We went out looking for a hint of autumn but all we saw was summer. Usually, by the end of August, you can see yellow leaves and bright colors in the vines. You can usually see changes in color in the maple and aspen trees.

Not this year. It’s as deep green as a mid-July day.

On the positive side, it was beautiful weather with a shiny river and canal that looked like a mirror. The sky was something special. It looks almost unreal with that deep blue sky and puffy little white clouds.

ODDBALLS: TWO BLOGGERS AND THE LOCKS AT UXBRIDGE – Marilyn Armstrong

Kammie’s Oddball Challenge June 20, 2019

I usually can’t find this challenge until it’s a week old. Remarkably, I was able to find Cee’s entry and track it down that way. I have to go check my “Reader” and see why this isn’t showing up. Actually, the problem is that I have so much email from posts, advertisements, political stuff, news and occasionally, a real message from a personal friend (!!) — I’m surprised I ever find anything.

As it happens, I have some good oddballs this week and am glad to be able to use them!

Both of these were taken by Garry. They are Rich and I are standing in front of the locks that control the Blackstone Canal in Uxbridge. The two formidably large locks have been subject of a lot of my photographs. I’ve been trying to get a decent picture of them for years, but I never found the right angle.

Garry found it. So this is me (Marilyn), Rich Paschall (visiting from Chicago) in light rain in front of the big metal locks on the widest section of the canal.

Locks and bloggers

More locks and bloggers

So even though I’m writing it, this is actually Garry’s photo blog since he took both pictures. Finally, a couple of decent shots of the locks!

Kammie’s Oddball Challenge

THE CANAL FLOWS PAST US – Marilyn Armstrong

RDP Friday: CANAL

We live in the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor which is sort of like a national park but without the funding. That’s the Blackstone Valley for you. Incredible historic areas which are unique to this continent.

Little bridge and locks over a tiny canal

Mills and a river with many canals and locks that rolls along for miles by the river. Sometimes, the river and the canal are one unit. When the water gets rough, the two parts divide into two portions, one having locks to allow barges to deal with waterfalls and white water, the other just the river. Uxbridge has one of the larger sections of a free-flowing canal.

Canal and Blackstone River where they separate and become two streams.

In Worcester, they actually buried the canal under its streets. Worcester is an ugly little city that is always trying to dress up like a real city and never succeeds. Maybe because of its history of putrefaction, factories, river pollution, sewage pollution and some of the ugliest architecture I’ve ever seen anywhere.

Along the diagonal of the canal

Perhaps NOT burying the canal and polluting the river might have made them a more attractive location. We tried to buy a really lovely house up there, but no bank would finance it. It wasn’t that the house wasn’t a beauty. It was glorious and for us, cheap. But the banks wouldn’t finance anything up there. They said: “Buy somewhere else.”

And that is how we wound up in The Valley. By the river and the canal.

Steps to the canal

You cannot live in this valley and be further than a quarter of a mile from the river, a tributary, a stream, pond, or a canal. We have more parks than grocery stores and banks combined. We have herons, swans, ducks, geese, and about a million (or more) snapping tortoises in the river. Also, trout and baby trout.

The canal in summer

Finally, fishing is allowed in many places and sometimes, even swimming. Personally, I’m not swimming anywhere near where those snapping tortoises are hanging. I value my toes.

And the river and bridge in winter

This is a beautiful place to live. A little light in the culture department, but if nature does it for you, this is a great place to live.

And in the autumn …

And we do have the country’s first free public library in the middle of town. Just so you know, we used to be a bit snazzier!

Blackstone Canal

FESTIVAL OF LEAVES & FLOWER OF THE DAY: A WALK BY THE CANAL – Marilyn Armstrong

Week # 6: Walk By The Canal

FOTD – October 30, 2018


It should have been spectacular color, but it was mostly still green with some yellow. Still, it was definitely pretty, especially when the amber light hits it in late afternoon.

All the yellow leaves

Picnic by the canal

Still, it was a crisp fall day. If the leaves were not scarlet, they were yellow, glowing in the amber sunlight, with the canal as shiny as a mirror.

Just a couple, walking along the trail on their way to River Bend Park.

BURBLE: A WORD THAT SOUNDS LIKE WHAT IT MEANS – Marilyn Armstrong

RDP Saturday – BURBLE

Not only do I love the word “onomatopoeia,” I love what it means. It’s a Latin root (I think, but it could also be Greek) meaning “a word that sounds like what it means.

Nothing says burble like burbling.

Manchaug – Photo: Garry Armstrong

Recently, we’ve been spending a fair bit of time around waterways. What else is there to do in this river valley?

I thought about using pictures from Manchaug, but that’s more rushing than burbling. It is too high a drop to burble.

I did find some excellent burbling where the river and the canal separate. It’s a unique place, too — an area where the river widened. They put in a flow area so the river runs off to the right and does river things. Meanwhile, the straight flat canal goes through a set of large locks, then runs straight on toward Rhode Island. This has been an unusually rainy summer, so the water was burbling happily into the river, still leaving more than enough water for the canal.

The long walkway was originally where the horses plodded pulling the barges down the canal. Now, they have become places to walk with dogs and kids and cameras. The picture of the small bridge taken at River Bend is the same bridge you can see in the distance from the start of the canal.

River Bend and the Canal are just about 1/2 a mile distant from one another.

Which means that River Bend is really on the Canal rather than the river, though the two rejoin a little further down the way, at West River. All of these are very loud burbles!

BLACKSTONE RIVER AND CANAL IN MAY – Marilyn Armstrong

Bridge and canal in May

We had just enough sunshine to get out of the house and down to the canal. About an hour in total.

Reflections in the water. You can see the fallen pollen from the oak trees floating on the water

A quiet day with the river shining like glass. May telling me that summer really is here … or nearly so.

Peaceful

PAST MEETS PRESENT

THEN AND LATER


October 2014 canal and river

February canal and river (2017)

May – Canal and river (2017)

August Canal and River – Photo: Garry Armstrong (2017)

Canal and river October 2012

April canal and river (2016)

I’ve been watching square sky flying past me and decided I would give the next challenge a try.  These are the rules:

  1. Post at least two pictures, they don’t need to be #square!
  2. One of them though must have been taken by you and the second needs to be of the same view (or similar) as the first but taken days, weeks or years before.
  3. The second picture doesn’t need to be taken by you it can be a postcard or a painting.
  4. Don’t forget to use the tag #pastmeetspresent, and to link back to here.

Here are my past and present photos. Considering that I tend to shoot the same places repeatedly, this is a really good challenge for us!

THE BEST TRIP EVER – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Our all time favorite vacation is renting a canal boat and spending a week or two driving it through the English countryside. England has a network of canals that run throughout the country, from London up to Wales, with many circular routes or ‘rings’ in the center of the country.

The canal boats are not like any boat you’ve ever seen. They’re called narrow boats. They are basically long and thin steel barges, about 7 ½ feet wide and ranging from 45-65 feet long. They are like houseboats and can sleep anywhere from two to eight people. There is always a living/eating area, often with comfy chairs and a wood burning stove. There is a kitchen and bathroom in addition to at least one bedroom. They are amazingly roomy and comfortable.

The outside of the boats are painted in distinctive bright colors with classic patterns on them. They are beautiful and each boat is unique. The style is country craft meets gypsy. Lots of stylized floral motifs.

All the boats also have a small outside deck area where you sit or stand and steer the boat – from the back. The boat can only go about five miles per hour and you steer it with a single tiller. When another canal boat is coming in the other direction, you may only have six inches or so of space between the two boats. At first driving the boat is daunting and intimidating. But after a while, it becomes second nature and it’s no big deal.

Locks are something unique to canals. They are part of the allure and the culture of the canals. To get up and down the numerous hills and valleys, you go through locks. These are sluices that raise or lower the water level to the water level on the other side of the lock. In England, they are all manual and the boaters have to work the locks themselves. I don’t have the space here to go into lock technology. But it takes time and requires physical labor by the lock person, while the navigator drives the boat into and out of the lock compartments.

Locks add to the charm of the canal experience, except in the pouring rain or in 95 degree heat. We have experienced both.

The canals and the scenery alongside them are beautiful. You can drive through scenic farmland, dotted with cows and sheep. You can also go through heavily forested areas, suburbs with gorgeous canal side houses, or even swampland. There are also industrial towns along some of the routes. The canals were originally built in the eighteenth century for industries, like the famous English china factories such as Wedgewood. The canals were for the transportation of supplies and marketable goods back and forth around the country.

Canal boating is a very self-contained and independent type of holiday. If you see a pub that appeals to you, you stop for a beer or a meal. And there are lots of picturesque pubs along all the canals. When you get to a town, you walk to the stores and shop for food or just putter around. When you’re ready to stop for the night, you pick a spot, pull over and hammer down stakes to hold the boat in place.

You get totally caught up in the peaceful, slow-paced world of the canals. You get friendly with other boaters camped near you or going through the locks with you. Many English boaters live on the canals for months at a time, often with their cats and/or dogs. That sounds idyllic to me!

I’ve been on three canal trips. One was with another couple and four young children and two were just with my husband, Tom. It’s one of the only vacations I want to go back to again and again. To reduce stress, when I think of a peaceful, happy place, I transport myself to a canal boat in the English countryside.

THE BLACKSTONE CANAL AND NOW, IT’S SUMMER

Summer has come. It is raining. What a shock! We had a nearly full day of sun on Monday. It didn’t begin to rain until late in the afternoon. Just enough time for the guys to fix our front hall and door. Big improvement. As soon as it stops raining, I’ll take new pictures. Meanwhile … from summer days by the canal …

Photos by Garry Armstrong and Marilyn Armstrong