Geriatrics afloat column: Boating holiday that made waves

Judie Surridge column
Judie Surridge column

After running a Sail’n’Dine business on Windermere for 20 years, a Hornby couple decided to sell up shop and pursue their hobby of exploring the English and Welsh waterways in their narrowboat Halcyon.

Here in their first column Judie Surridge looks back to the start of her and husband John’s canal adventures.

In the weeks to come the couple will share more of their “geriatric” experiences on their narrowboat.

They gave us the talk, explained the intricacies of working the locks, sold us the relevant maps, then we were left alone to unpack and explore the interior of the narrowboat we had hired for a week in October with friends.

Lancaster Canal.

Lancaster Canal.

Quite a daunting prospect for the four of us, we had never set foot in a 70’ long tin bath afloat on a canal.

The spur of the moment decision, made after a good dinner and several wine bottles three months previously, seemed a fantastic idea at the time, but once on board reality set in and we felt slightly inadequate to the task of manoeuvring it anywhere, never mind through the mysteries of lock gates, windlasses, cills and the likes.

Obviously stern measures were called for so we opened a bottle of wine... we were well stocked for the week along with enough food to feed an army.

The first lock loomed up shortly after we had cast off and veered our way along the canal.

As it was a Saturday, the usual changeover day for hirers, nobody looked twice at our fumbling attempts to steer a straight line, but when we got to the first lock sightseers were there in force to see us make complete twits of ourselves.

We duly obliged but managed not to do too much damage to the boat.

We found out that canal sightseers are called gongoozlers, a gregarious species who always appear at times of stress and foolishness, ready with glib advice – and even a helping hand on occasions.

The first night was relatively uneventful if you discount both our border collies vying for position on a 4’ wide bed that was scarcely wide enough for us.

We gave up the unequal struggle and got up at 6.30am to take them for a towpath walk. What a wonderful start to the holiday – for them.

A few snags along the way, we had no idea how to turn 70’ of boat round a 90 per cent bend.

It took over an hour to accomplish and we had to go back for one of the dogs who had decided that land was a securer environment than lurching about on water.

Television was a bit dubious too. I must explain that John is a Neighbours addict and at 5.30pm we needed to moor up so he could get his daily fix. OK but no reception on large areas of the Shropshire union canal, so we opened a bottle of wine instead.

Actually the holiday was a great success. Nobody fell in the canal, we only had to call the boatyard once when we got stuck in a lock, and by day three John and I were looking to buy our 
own narrowboat. But that’s another story!