Narrowboating in England

The Canals of England and Wales
Probably the most unique trip I ever took was narrowboating on the canals in the U.K.For those of you who don't know, England is criss-crossed with canals built before the invention of the steam engine, and subsequent development of railroad transport. The many locks on these canals are 8 feet wide. So, imagine a boat, 50, 60 or 70 feet long, and only 7 1/2 feet wide!Narrow boat indeed.

And seeing as how these canals predate the Industrial Revolution, the locks are manually operated. So, you pull up to the lock, someone hops out, makes sure there is no one in the lock, or waiting in the other direction, then cranks a handle to open the lock, letting the water in or out, then swings the gate open, then you pull the boat in, close that side, and crank open the other side to let the water in or out, open the gate and proceed on your way, as the crank turner hops back in. Sometimes there is 5 or more miles between locks, but one particular stretch we hit had 11 locks in less than 2 miles, as we descended into Stoke-on-Trent.What a morning that was!

There are many devoted narrowboaters in England, who own their own boats and hit the canals on weekends and holidays. Also (since the original canal boats were pulled by horses or mules) the towpaths that run alongside the canals are popular with hikers and campers. Since boats are limited to 3mph, you have time to exchange pleasantries with the walkers, and with other boats as you pass.

And aside from all that - what a fabulous way to see England. When the canals were built they were the "highways" and many old towns built up around the canals. Pubs, Palaces and Factories were built facing the canals. You can tie up and walk into a pub for lunch, or tour the Wedgewood Factory, or admire the gardens of the Earl of Litchfield, just a few feet from the dock. There are a few places where the canals are actually aqueducts bridging a valley, and subsequent motorways were constructed UNDER the bridge. Rather unique to be sitting in a boat watching cars and lorries pass below you.

Another stretch of canal (Harecastle Tunnel) goes several miles THROUGH a mountain. It is too narrow for two boats to pass, so the morning traffic goes one way and the afternoon the other, rather like the Suez Canal. For quite a time in the middle of the tunnel it is completely dark, with neither opening visible. And the ceiling is just inches above the pilots head (originally, boats were propelled through the tunnel by "tunnel walkers" who lay down on the roof of the boat and "walked" along the tunnel ceiling).Most importantly, most of the canals run through the small towns and countryside. If you have only ever been to London and such (nothing wrong with London, but, let's face it, big cities are big cities), this is a whole different England. The people are fabulous, warm and friendly, and the minute they catch your accent, you have made a friend for life.

So, if you are feeling adventurous, and up for an off-beat holiday, call me. I can arrange weekly or weekend rental of narrowboats on most of the canals in England, with reputable companies providing safe and reliable equipment. Just check us out at www.daveholmantravel.com