On The Shropshire Union Canal

I have take a few days off to join Molly and Kim on a British narrow boat aka a canal boat. Doing this in the middle of winter is probably not the best time and yes it’s cold but the countryside is beautiful.

The waterways in Britain were the first form of mass transit in the islands and were built in the seventeenth, eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries before being superceded by the railways. They were used for goods transport until the sixties and recently one of the big chain stores has started using them again to transport non perishable goods as it’s an extremely cheap for of transport.

Originally the horse was the motive power. One would be lead along the path by the side of the canal towing the boat. The exception being tunnels where the narrowboat men would walk the boat by laying on boards on the boat and pushing it with their feet against the tunnel wall. Now the ubiquitous marine diesel is used.

As the canals went out of favour many were left abandoned and some were filled in. But some converted the old barges in to homes. Canal boating became popular as a past time, a vacation activity and for some an alternative lifestyle. In the last couple of decades canals have been restored and rebuilt. Even some new ones have been built. There is a network of them all over Britain.

Our boat is typical of a holiday boat and a narrow boat in general. It’s about two metres wide, the widest you can get in a lock, and about thirteen metres long. Ours is actually custom built as there are several boat builders who make brand new traditional steel hulled boats.

The canal is quiet at this time of year. We’re currently ice breaking as we travel as we’re the first boat along this section. But there are people on it. Some live on it all year around and some have boats to escape everyday life. Everyone is friendly. I met this awesome hippy woman who had a long boat with a trailer. The front was a craft shop where she sold her wares and the back was her home.

The vacation didn’t have an auspicious start with snow but we left the boat yard and travelled through the first lock staircase before mooring up away from people. It was an early night and an early start. Engine on to warn the boat and then we had breakfast. We had a couple of sets of locks to tackle but now we have quite away with none.

I’m finding this very relaxing. You can’t be hurried when your top speed is walking pace and the only activity is the relatively physical activity of passing through a lock. It’s very pleasant!


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