There is something so very British about canal boating as a pastime. The canal network in Britain is large (though not as large as it used to be), and is still full of boats who now use the canal network for leisure, and a significant number who live on their boats full time. For the international reader, a canal is an artifical waterway. The canal itself is a flat piece of water, and you gain or loose height as you travel, using a series of locks, that allow you to move the boat to a new level stretch of water. The canals themselves were used for all sorts of goods movement, in my old home of the Potteries, the canals were particularly important for moving the product of the pottery industry as the canals were flat and smooth, in distinct contrast to the roads of the day. Networks of canals link various industrial areas. The boats that use the canals are long and thin, due to the deisgn of the lock gates, living on them requires a certain frame of mind, a willingness to adapt to small bathrooms, and a bed that turns in to your dining room table.
Twenty odd years ago a challenge was set up to promote the exploration of the more obscure parts of the Birmingham Canal Network. The idea was that by proving the canal was still used, parts couldn't be closed down, and it was a chance for the community to socialise and have some fun.
My good friend Jill built her own boat, for a while she lived on her, but Cobbett is now just a leisure boat. Last year Jill did the challenge with a group of blokes, and this year decided to enter an all female crew. Which is where I came in...
One crash course in how to work a lock later, and 4 hours after the official start time we finally reached the outskirts of Birmingham.
I should at this point mention that the weather this weekend was dire, dreadful, and the epitomy of a British Bank (Public) Holiday.The rain was bouncing off the roof of the boat, and I have never been so wet, for such a sustained period of time.
Those of you that know the M6 well will recognise this view, though it's from a different angle. As you leave the centre of Birmingham you drive past the same electric sub station. The photos from this weekend are rather dreadful, I did have my proper camera with me, but it stayed safely inside as it wouldn't repond well to being stuck under a shower like jet of water.
This is my favourite photo of the whole weekend. Until then I had no idea that the whole of Spaghetti Junction ran over the top of an already intertangled network of canals, as it's where 3 different canal networks meet. It should be noted at this point that living in the country has meant that I actually quite enjoy seeing cities, and industrial estates. I have such beautiful green views at home, that I quite like the novelty value.
By this point we were so wet that we abandoned Plan A, and the option to score lots of points, so instead Jill humoured this country mouse and we went right through the centre of Birmingham.
Look closely and you can see Cobbett part way up a lock, with the BT tower in the background.
Just to prove that not all of Birmingham is industrial, it is in fact a very lovely green city.
Our final approach to the finish was via a couple of tunnels. The first one was very wide, and very long, it took nearly an hour travel through. The final one was much shorter, and much narrower, with hardly any extra room. It is boat size, and not much more.
I had a lovely few days escape, so much so that a more leisurely performance is planned for August. Maybe there will be a repeat of this...
Yes I even got to steer, I only hit something once, though the butter dish didn't survive the impact!
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