Monday, 8 September 2014

The Four Counties Canal Holiday

Hello!!! Hello, hello, hello. That's it then, the second (and last) of my holidays for 2014, how I wish it had gone on for longer!! The slower, watery pace of life is obviously for me as I absolutely loved it!!! You meet the nicest people along the canals, all with an interesting story to tell, and because you aren't rushing anywhere, you get the chance to hear them and share your own.
We did The Four Counties Ring in a week (quite a fast paced achievement in the narrowboating world, usually it takes about two weeks), and it goes through Cheshire, Staffordshire, Shropshire and the West Midlands (although to be honest, half the time we didn't know what town we were in, never mind the county!).

I took some little friends along with me for the ride- travel sized of course! This cheeky chappy is the travel duck, a present from The Mother in one of her university parcels, but who fitted in really well with the idea of the Rosie and Jim narrowboat with the duck on the top.

The boat we hired was 70 foot long (the biggest narrowboat you can fit into a lock!!), and had four very sweet little double beds in their own little bays. This was my little bay, right next to the kitchen, great for early morning coffees without waking up anyone else. (We had a whistling kettle.)

I quickly settled into an early morning routine. Always the first one up I would get dressed, sneak into the kitchen to make a coffee and then find a comfy spot for a bit of quiet stitching (more on my holiday project in the next post).

My little friends would come with me and enjoy the early sunshine, playing around on the roof or sunbathing in a secure spot.

Canal etiquette demands that you pootle quietly and at your slowest speed past moored boats (so you don't jog their mugs of tea I imagine), which gives ample time to have a nosey and peek inside. All of the boats were so different and it was lovely to see how their owners had personalised them.

The most usual sights were water birds and bridges. Lots of both! I am very pleased to say that I learnt how to drive the boat, successfully navigating around the very narrow bends of the canal and through the narrow bits underneath the bridges. There was only one small bump and that was on a difficult turn under a bridge from a bend with a boat coming the other way. Nobody panic!!

The water was so still as we nosed on through that there were the most amazing reflections!

And looking up was just as pretty with all of the different trees silhouetted against the blue skies. We didn't have a drop of rain all week, and even on the days when it was more cloudy than sunny, it was so bright we all got a little brown.

Locks were good fun but hard work. Hard on the hands especially. (Handy tip- take gloves!) All of the regular narrowboat goers wore gloves and I can see why. You have to do a lot of winding to open the paddles and a lot of pushing and pulling to open the doors- the hand cream was out in force.

I think I mostly enjoyed the times when my assistance wasn't needed and I could sit on the boat whilst in the lock, slowly going up or down depending on the direction. Some of the locks were really deep and you could only see the algae covered walls, but some were much shallower (one only about an inch different!).

Ah, there she is, the lovely Andromeda. We hired her from Napton Narrowboats who were very good and have a few starting places around the country so you can find your nearest one. (We went from Autherly Junction.)

We did see a few strange sights whilst chugging along, like a dead tree in the middle of a lush green field and a half sunk, abandoned boat which did look very sad.

One of my favourite places on the boat was at the front where you get a first hand view of all these sights and can sit with a mug of something delicious and just sew, taking in the scenery and just being in the moment.

We made lots of feathered friends. I saw 3 kingfishers, flashing their amazingly blue feathers as they flew away, there were lots of herons and different birds of prey, and of course the swans, ducks and moorhens. We were just in time to see lots of baby birds as well, in different stages of growing up which was lovely to see.

At one point in the journey, you have to pass through an immensely long and dark and narrow tunnel. There are no lights in the tunnel and it is only wide enough for one boat to go through at a time so you have to go through a few at a time and alternate the direction to keep the flow going. We went through with about five other boats and the lights you can see in front of us in the below photos are from their (and our) spotlights. You have to turn all of the lights on inside the boat as well so that you can see the sides of the tunnel. It takes about 45 minutes to go through, bearing in mind the speed limit is about 6mph- walking speed.

We made it safely to the other side, thanks to the expert driving of our captain who had to concentrate very hard, even with the uneven roof forcing her to bend down for most of the journey.

Overall it was a fantastic holiday, totally different to anything I have done before, and one that should have gone on and on and on and on.... I am already looking at places to book a narrowboat for next year...maybe Wales or France or Amsterdam....

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