While picking me up at the station, Sheila had told me that they don't come into town much, so I was surprised to find that they lived in a well-populated neighbourhood which looked, to the untrained eye, very much like "town". (You'll recall that Glenys had similar terminology.) Alas, I never get to ask a country-person what they think "town" is.
Now we're driving outside of all the definitions of "town" and into the country-side on our way to the Narrowboat. I'd seen these in Birmingham (with more miles of canal than Venice, Birmingham is also home to the world's only hydrogen-powered narrowboat), Scotland, and almost daily in Bristol. Narrowboats were originally used for transporting heavy loads between towns and, in this function, helped encourage the production of literally thousands of miles of canals. Today, the system is used predominantly for recreation. Other European countries widened and modernised their canals, but, in Britain, the rail companies owned most of the canal system and, considering obsolete, invested instead in tracks and engines. Though commercial carrying persisted into the 01960's, a particularly harsh winter in the early part of that decade made canal passage impossible and customers switched uniformly to other modes of transit.
|The canals are still popular today and new canals are even being built. The Drake Family had acquired a narrowboat at some point and were in the process of moving it to a winter mooring when I arrived. Today's quest is to move it through the Bosley Locks.|
This expertise is put to the test by the river's bridges. These provide perhaps four inches of leeway on either side of the boat, sometimes less, and there's no way to stop to align one's boat before entering. Ian bails me out when things start to go wrong and takes the tiller for the truly bad bridges (there's one where the canal makes a sharp curve just afterwards). Some of the bridges are cunningly constructed such that the horses originally used to draw the narrowboats could cross the opposite side of the river without having to be disconnected from the drawline.
Approaching a bridge!
The narrowboating experience is, for me, fantastically relaxing as we slowly glide along a beautiful river through a lushly green countryside.
I head inside and become distracted by a game of John's (he's a puzzler as well) wherein you construct a traffic jam and then try to get the goal car out by moving it through the holes produced by sliding cars along their tracks.
|The boat, as mentioned is about seventy feet long, and, as not mentioned, about seven feet wide. The original owner was a tall man, so it was especially constructed for his height and, as such, I'm quite comfortable inside, as is everyone else. We stop for lunch overlooking a meadow and some rail tracks. As we eat, the Drakes tell me that some canals flow over aquaducts more than a hundred feet high, along with other esoteric facts and plans for their future narrowboating exploits.|
|After lunch we begin taking the boat through the locks, which are constructed and maintained to appear as they would have many years ago, though some of the lock doors were installed as recently as 02006.|
|The locks are a slow process of moving the boat forward into the (very narrow) lock. Closing the gate behind the boat, using the windlass and opening the flood gates in front, opening the front gate, and pulling out. A diagram of the system is below, though we were going up, so you have to think of things in reverse.|
(Stolen and Edited from Wikipedia)
|Luckily the windlass is standard throughout Britain, but you'd truly be stuck without it. Likewise, there are standardised locks (of the normal variety) on various gates and equipments associated with the canals which have standardised keys that you can mail in requests for.|
|Following the locks, we moor the narrowboat and head home where we will watch "Groundhog Day" (excellent film) and John will evoke jealousy in my heart by explaining that British school loans need not be repaid until you make at least 15,000 pounds a year. Chris explains life at Argos, which is not a killer robot (as I think), but rather a store where you view a catalog, press some buttons, and boxes containing your purchases appear from a hidden warehouse.|