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.

BLACKSTONE CANAL’S GEARS – CEE’S ODDBALL PHOTO CHALLENGE

CEE’S ODDBALL PHOTO CHALLENGE


We moved here in 2000. That’s 16 years ago this summer. It was probably the following summer that I really began exploring the valley with my camera … and discovered the canal and its locks.

The spillway where the water divides. The river is to the right and the canal, straight ahead.

Spillway where the river divides. The river goes right, the canal, straight.

The Blackstone Canal was built in the mid 1800s and was used by barges for just about a decade before being replaced by trains. The canal still winds its way along the river. Sometimes, it is the river. Other places, it splits off and runs alongside it. Uxbridge is one of the places where it separates. It’s also one of the places which has locks to raise and lower water levels. Rather like an elevator for boats and barges.

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The gears used to operate the locks at Uxbridge remain. Big, iron, and until recently, maintained in working order. For the past few years, no one has bothered to care for them. Probably a budgetary decision, but it’s a pity. How much did it cost to annually clean and oil the mechanisms? I’m sure it couldn’t be so much money the town can’t sustain the expense.

72-BW-Noir-Gears-Locks-Canal-082216_01Meanwhile, I’m still trying to get good pictures of the gears. These are the best (and most recent) photographs. I’m not entirely happy with them, but they’re the best I’ve done to date.

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Who’d have thought that so many years later, I’d still be hoping to get my first really good shots of the locks? If these don’t qualify as oddballs, I don’t know what does.

cob-banner-oddball

LOCK, STOCK, AND BARREL

There’s a mystery in that locked room.

Help me, I’m locked in!

Help me, I’m locked out!

My rifle is locked and loaded.

Red Ryder BB gun

Call the locksmith, the lock is jammed. Again.

I can’t get into the car, the lock is frozen.

Hey, I’ve got a lock on it! (I’ve put in my bid and I’m sure I’ll win  … )

Locks and keys and why would anyone want to break in here? We don’t own anything worth stealing?

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It takes forever to get down the canal. You have to wait for each of the locks to fill and open.

There’s a freedom that comes with poverty. If you’re an up and coming burglar or thief, you’ll have to go where the real money is. You don’t want our rags, tatters, and memorabilia. Even the art, the most valuable of our possessions is only worth something to a collector. Pretty hard to fence relatively unknown artists …

I saved a lock of his baby hair. I keep it in a gold locket.

Bagels and lox, anyone?

I’m not bothering to lock the computers. No one uses them but us.

padlock

“Put a lock on it! I’m tired of hearing you run your mouth,” she said, storming out of the room.

“That’s a lock!” shouted the director. “Let’s go home, folks.”

Locked

LOCKS ON THE CANAL

I don’t know why, but I’ve had the hardest time getting a picture of the locks on the canal with which I’m satisfied. I’m not there yet, but the locks are interesting.

Canal Locks

These powerful gears date back to the mid 1800s when the canal was built and they are still in working order today. This is one of two, exactly the same. They usually aren’t in my pictures of this part of the canal because I shoot to either side of them.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Focus – Tall, high and far away