Sunday, August 21, 2005

Messing about in boats

During the mid eighties, I went on a number of narrowboat trips with two other lads that Digger the lodger used to refer to as "the choirboys". I had met them both at Maidenhead Eighteen Plus and we were drinking buddies for many years. Alan was the odder of the two, still living at home and with an unhealthy interest in public transport & terrible puns. However he was very knowlegable about pubs & beer as well as being happy as the designated driver. Chris was more down to earth (although he also still lived at home) & we tried to avoid ganging up on Alan, although the temptation was always there.

The thing about narrowboating is that it is basically a very long, thin, museum of industrial archaeology. There is always something interesting to look at and there is the occasional lock or tunnel to navigate and break up the journey. The other thing that appeals to blokes is the large number of Pubs, most of which do food as well. We'd merrily chug along at 3mph, comparing the view to our Nichonson Ordnance Survey guides, with a short(ish) stop for liquid lunch and timed arrival for a pleasant tea. There would be the odd location where we'd have to break out the emergency rations (i.e. breakfast food) because the pub no longer did food or had closed down but mostly our planning worked out well and we must have enjoyed it or we wouldn't keep doing it.

I don't recall the last time we holidayed, although it was probably 1986 or '87. Needless to say, we developed other interests. For Chris & myself, it was girls and travel, for Alan it was Routemasters...

Anyway, today the Grey family had a brief canal trip, although it was only 500 yards into a tunnel. However this wasn't just any tunnel, it was the highest, longest, deepest & probably dampest one in Britain, the Standedge tunnel which is on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal that crosses the Pennines to reach Ashton under Lyne. The visitor centre is near Marsden, otherwise known as Skelthwaite in TV's Where the heart is. You can catch a 15 seater narrowboat (which will actually seat more than thirty as it has seats in the front and back cockpits) but if you are not in the cabin, the god of health'n'safety decrees you must wear a hard hat (in case the tunnel collapses on you, but only in a way that would otherwise protect you from head injury of course, you are perfectly safe in the glass roofed main cabin as it is obviously brick-proof...)

The tour boat is actually a sideline, the main function is to tow narrowboats through the tunnel on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, Westbound in the mornings and Eastbound in the afternoons, £6 one way trip. The flotilla is shadowed by someone in a vehicle driving through a nearby (disused) railway tunnel who will rendezvous at several key points on the journey, as the tunnels are interlinked with cross-gangways en-route. It is £2 for the trip & well worth it, the guide makes it come alive & the time flies by.

No comments: