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Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Life on the Canals of England

It was our 60s Up meeting, and Robin’s duty as a committee member was to arrange for guest speakers for each meeting.  And what a great morning we had, our friends Dot and Derek  related the story of their time living aboard their narrow boat, Gypsy Rover. 

Friend and fellow caravanner Selwyn kindly provided the technical know-how with his projector.  It was just as well that he has remembered to bring along a heavy duty power cord, as there wasn’t one to be found in the hall.  The bright yellow cord snaked across the carpet and Selwyn hoped that none of the members would trip over it on the way to collect their cuppa.  (Luckily no one had an accident).

Selwyn was the projectionist

Dot had done a marvelous job of selecting and arranging the photos of their five years or so as they travelled around enjoying life “on the cut”.  The lights were dimmed, and Derek’s talk got underway.

Derek ready to begin his talk

The canals were the highways of their time, with heavily laden narrow boats pulled by horses who walked along the adjacent tow-paths.  These days, although there still are some working narrow boats, most are used for pleasure.  Individually owned, as Gypsy Rover was, or part of a hire fleet for tourists to indulge in a taste of canal living for a week or so on their holidays, the canals are full of people and boats slowly travelling this way and that.

Derek showed examples of the many different types of bridges over the canals, and the ingenious locks which take the boats from one level to another.  They experienced all sorts of weather, including being held up with flooding in Oxford for three long weeks, to snow on the towpaths and ice covering the canals in winter.


They were happy years, with good company from fellow boaties, seeing the country and wildlife at a peaceful pace, exploring little out of the way places, and travelling by canal through big cities, such as Birmingham, and also travelling along the River Thames in London.

We were lucky to spend a little time as guests aboard Gypsy Rover way back in 1999, and will always remember our week travelling along the picturesque LLangollen Canal.

Gypsy Rover travelling across the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct 

The highlight of our trip was travelling over the magnificent  Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. This is 1000 feet long structure was finished in 1805, passes 127 feet above the River Dee and is supported by 18 stone pillars. We glided gently across the canal, appearing to float in the sky.

The aqueduct in the distance – with a narrow boat crossing over

Crossing the Aqueduct was such a thrill that we took several trips across it – just because we could!  Robin had the experience of a life time when he took charge of the tiller on one of of trips across.  Just look at that study of concentration on his face!

Robin’s in charge this time

It was a very interesting talk indeed, and gave the 60s Up members a little taste of what living aboard one of these 7 foot wide boats was like.  Many thanks to Dot and Derek for such an interesting talk, and to Selwyn for his technical help.   


Marilyn McDonald said...

Very good to see that Robin stood on the gunwale on the path side, rather than right next to the 120' drop ...
Not sure if Dot and Derek read Paul Smith's newsletter (searching on living on a narrowboat should find it) - he and his about to be new wife are buying a campervan so they can tour southern Spain during the winter. We on the other hand, come home for the UK winter!
Cheers, M&Dx

Janice said...

That would have been an interesting talk. We visited that canal and viaduct in 2011. We went for a short ride in the horse drawn canal boat. We then started to walk out onto the viaduct, but it was rather windy, so we turned back. It must have been a wonderful experience crossing on the boat.