What defines a holiday? I have been pondering this conundrum because somebody on a narrow boat interest group on the internet posed the question; “Do you feel like you are always on holiday no matter how long you have lived on your boat?”.
I would have said that a holiday is a break from work, responsibilities, worries and day to day routines. It normally involves lots of changes, such as location, activities, eating and drinking habits and people. I suppose you could wrap all that lot up with the word ‘different’. A holiday is very different from your normal daily life. So here’s a question; if you live and travel on a narrow boat all the time are you always on holiday or never on holiday? It feels like a holiday but it doesn’t match my definition. One or two of the respondents to the question on the internet replied that they had lived on their boats for five, ten or even twenty years and still felt like they were on one long holiday. Maybe if this wonderful weather breaks or something serious goes wrong with the boat it will all feel different but for now I’m just happy to just go with the flow and assume that the holiday will last forever.
We are now on our fifth canal, the Shropshire Union and very beautiful it is too. We joined it via a tight turn off the Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal and straight into the mouth of a lock. I’m still working on my manoeuvring skills in these situations so to see a small crowed gathering on the tow path as I began my turn was a bit daunting. They were ramblers and I assumed they would carry on walking but no, they all stopped and began to discuss my chances of success amidst speculation as to how much damage might result from failure. I was relieved to make the corner without incident but then bitterly disappointed that I actually had to ask for my round of applause. Really, some people want entertaining for nothing!
Yesterday was a bit of a landmark in our journey because not only did we come to the most southerly point in our route and begin to head north, we also said goodbye to two people who have become very firm friends over the last few weeks. A chance meeting when we were having maintenance done on the boat led to a vague plan to travel with Bob and Marie and their boat Rebecca once we came back from our Liverpool break. They just happened to be going in the same direction at approximately the same time so we agreed to try travelling together and see how we got on. These arrangement can be tricky of course and if it turns out that you don’t hit it off you can’t just part company that easily. When you are both going in the same directions and with a top speed of four miles per hour, it’s not easy to give another boat the slip. The solution was to a have a very frank, upfront conversation and agree that either couple could end the arrangement without explanation at any time. Well that turned out to be a wasted conversation because we got on like a house on fire from day one and we haven’t stopped laughing for three weeks. Sadly, Bob and Marie are on a different time schedule to us so we have had to say goodbye and agree to travel together again another day.
Since leaving Stone our confidence has been rising as we have cruised through the locks with calm efficiency, negotiated on coming boats at blind bends with casual aplomb and even dealt with our first visit to a marina full of boats to obtain fuel without causing any damage. Nothing has really phased us but then nobody told us about ‘The Narrows’. It seems that in this corner of Staffordshire the canal builders came up with a cunning way of dealing with changes of level that didn’t require a complex and expensive lock. They simply dug a channel through solid rock to maintain the even gradient of the water. That’s a fine idea but digging through rock is time consuming so they halved the problem by only digging the cuttings half the width of a normal canal and only slightly wider than our boat. Some of the cuttings are short and you can see if there is another boat coming and hang back. Others are longer, not straight and you enter them with your fingers crossed and You Tube videos of how to reverse a narrow boat running through your head. So far we have been lucky and not met anybody head on but I know you are all now just waiting for our luck to run out because that will make a much better story. I hope I never have to tell it.
Photos by Gill (mostly)