When I was little, my village organised wonderful play-schemes during the summer holidays. They were the highlight of the long school break, with a dozen exciting trips or games or crafts to choose from each day. As each activity was allocated first-come-first-served, we’d all race to school each morning, eager to see the day’s offerings. Once I picked to go on a canal boat outing, which was great fun… until we came to our first lock. I was terrified! I remember sitting in the boat at the lock bottom, surrounded by 10 metre high ( 😉 ) algae-covered walls… feeling trapped. I was certain the big lock doors were about to burst open and drown us all, especially as there was a slight dribble seeping through. After the relief of surviving that lock… I then had to endure another and another! I was much relieved when we eventually disembarked. And I never joined the queue for the canal boat trip at play-scheme again! 😛
Thirty years later, and I’ve still not been back on a canal boat! However, keen to see if the lock walls really are ten metres high when you’re at the bottom, we eagerly accepted an invite to a jaunt with my Mum and her friends. Her neighbours own a 66ft boat currently moored at Kings Bromley Marina on the Trent and Mersey Canal. Complete with beds and toilets and kitchen… nothing like the rickety boat of my childhood! And to Phil’s delight, the boat was Isle of Man themed, with a Celtic name and Manx tartan curtains! The trip was to be a belated birthday treat from them, for her big 60th last year. Yep she is still celebrating!
It was an amazing day. It turns out canal boating is perfect for someone with an illness as it requires very little energy. Eight hours of reclining in a comfy chair, watching the world go by. Eight hours of drifting past trees and fields and bushes and hedgerows. Eight hours of spotting birds and ducks and geese and fish. Waving at fellow boaters, snapping photographs, chatting to my Mum, drinking litres of water. Peaceful, relaxing and quiet- an ideal trip for me.
Phil and Mum had a much less relaxing day. They worked for their ride: opening and closing the locks, steering the boat, and pulling it in with ropes. The lock jobs looked particularly tiring in the scorching heat- winding the paddles up to let in water, then pushing against the large wooden beam to open the gate. Lottie jumped off to help them each time, but then preferred to lie in the shade watching. Sensible! After one lock, Phil had to rescue a mother duck who had been squashed by our boat, so was dazed and barely afloat. He lifted her out to rejoin her squawking ducklings. However moments later, in her vulnerable state, a male duck ‘attacked’ her then pushed her over a weir. Fingers crossed she was reunited with her ducklings later!
For the majority of the day, there were very few people on the canal path. However our turnaround point was next to a busy canal-side pub. I didn’t envy Tony doing a three point turn with a hundred spectators watching! Barbara had prepared a mighty feast for lunchtime. So we spent a couple of hours pulled up in a shaded spot- eating, snoozing and scooting along the canal path. For the last half an hour of the day, I had a go at steering the boat. Tricky! I had to counter-intuitively push the tiller in the opposite direction to where the boat needed to move… initially very confusing. Although I was happy steering when I had the whole canal to myself, I ensured Tony was nearby whenever another boat came around the corner!
The sun shone on us, literally. It shone and shone and shone. Blue skies, no wind, scorching heat- it was the hottest day of the year! And boating down the middle of the canal meant we were rarely in the shade. Luckily, my Pulmonary Hypertension does not worsen in the heat. In fact I often find that the sun gives me an extra energy boost! However as some of my medicines make my skin prone to sunburn and cancer, I wrapped up in a shawl and hat and smothered myself in suntan lotion. Although we only covered about 4 miles in distance- we were actually on the canal for eight hours! An amazing duration of time for my body to cope with. In fact I had no increase in symptoms as the day progressed, presumably as it was completely relaxing. Although I obviously slept the whole of the next day!
And as for the locks.. no they’re not as scary as I remember from my childhood, and no the lock is not 10 metres deep! Even taking in to account my added inches, the lock walls were only a couple of metres higher, so I didn’t feel trapped. Moreover, as I can now (vaguely) understand the physics behind why the doors will not open and drown us, it was not intimidating to be standing aside them. In fact the locks were my favourite part of the trip! Probably because I didn’t have to do any of the hard work involved!
We’re now thinking of going on a canal boat holiday next summer. A week of peace and quiet, watching the world float by. I wonder if we can train Lottie to be Phil’s deck hand… so I can still spend the day in a comfy chair at the front? 😛