A Grand Union Canal day out
Sunday, 19th April 2009

Gliding AwayGliding AwayGliding Away

On Sunday we had a very pleasant day, seeing how my sister's family was faring on a narrow boat holiday on the Grand Union Canal. The weather was very benign, a sweet refreshing breeze that complemented the clear shadows. If it had been raining not so much fun, but the heavens were smiling.

The holiday narrow boat (not a barge) slept six, and came with a TV and DVD player. The boats are narrow enough that two fit side by side in the locks. There was a good range of boats on the river, from holiday boats through private boats festooned with moving gardens to even a floating smithy! The speed of the boats is about walking pace (one should slow down past other boats and fishermen.) It is this forced slowness that made the day so pleasant, no choice but to slow down and relax and unwind. Like stepping back in time out of our stressed strained suspicious modern age. There was time for me to have a chat with my nephew Andrew which I rarely do, and find how he's spending time on customising Firefox tabs with Javascript.

Canal StretchCanal StretchCanal Stretch

In some areas there was a lot of activity. Cyclists clad in gear like cyborgs dashing frantically along the towpaths, families taking the dog for a walk, fishermen dotting the riverbanks with their gear. Some fishermen had rods which practically spanned the river, as we passed they raised their rods as if they were knighting us with a sword. In other areas we only had the swans and herons and ducks for company. My niece Beth spent quite a bit of time trying to feed the ducks with bread visibly past its sell-by date.

Leaving LockLeaving LockLeaving Lock

The locks on the Grand Union Canal aren't as modern as some, hand powered rather than press button and the electrical motor does the work. On the up end of the lock there were normally two sets of paddles (sluice gates which control the flow of water) to be worked, one in the gates and one on the ground of the lock. You raise the ground one first to avoid accidents. There's a ratchet to stop the paddle falling back as you use a lever (three came with the boat) to turn the axle which rotating raises of lowers the paddle. The lower end of the lock only has a gate paddle. The lock gates themselves have to be dragged or pushed which requires a certain strength, there is a track with raised bricks to help give grip as you strain away. A crew is useful to do this, but some people were navigating down or up the canal by themselves.

There wasn't perhaps dramatic scenery, or rapids to be run. The White Lion cut into the hillside was advertising Whipsnade Zoo rather than being an Iron Age relic. But it was a very pleasant time.