03 July 2012

England (9): On the Canal

This is a bit out of order, covering the day before the Travel post. Sorry, I've been a bit distracted by trying to untangle my host's computer after some crapware got installed and took over a bunch of stuff.

England has a system of 3600 miles of canals and waterways that were first dug in the 1500's and used as a means of commerce up until the 1900's. The boats that plied these routes were called narrowboats, so named because their beam was only 7 feet 10 inches wide. Some canals are wider, and accommodate boats up to 12 feet wide, but these are in the minority.

Today, there is a whole community of folks who own narrowboats, mostly modern-built by boatwrights who specialise in creating these unique forms of transportation. They range from about 35 feet long up to a maximum of 70 feet (none of the locks are longer). Most of the locks are only 8 feet wide, so the wide-beam boats cannot get into these sections of the canals. The owners of such boats range from weekend "sailors" to live-aboard folks who spend all of their time plying the canals.

Saturday, we ran out to the Foxton Locks via car. This  is an excellent example of a flight of ten locks that can raise or lower the boats about 100 feet in elevation using a series of sluices and gates to either flood or empty each lock. Considering that many of these locks were first put into operation in the 1700's, it's an amazing engineering feat.

The easiest way is to post a bunch of pictures! (In no particular order, of course.)

The black vertical strip is a piece of cast iron. The grooves
you can see in it are from the tow ropes. Horses pulled the
narrowboats until steam, and then diesel and petrol engines took

These two little lambs greeted me each morning at
Murcott Mill Farmhouse.

A narrowboat in a lock...

The water level is dropping.

(Sorry it's sideways...this is a boat heading through a gate.

An engine in one of the boats...the plaques on either side of
the door show what canals and locks the boat has been through.

This is a holding pond, halfway up (or down)
the Foxton Flight. If a boat has priority, or somehow
two just meet going in opposite directions, one (or a couple)
can wait in the wide spot for the other to pass.

A statue commemorating the horses and boys
that led them along the canals.

Looking back along the top of the Foxton Flight of Locks.
There was a festival starting up, so there were quite a few
"working boats" moored along the top of the flight.

Not a large selection, but certainly a  good selection of beer....

...found at the Bridge 61 Free House at the bottom of the locks.
Bridges are numbered, sort of like mile markers, as they tend to be
plentiful, and are therefor an easy way to report positions as in "I'm at bridge 28
and need assistance". "Free Houses" are those that are independent of the
large breweries that tend to own many of the pubs these days.

A modern working boat. This boat sells diesel,
coal, wood, and other goods to boaters along the canals.
This is very similar to the original boats, which only had
a small cabin that the entire family lived in since the main
portion of the boat was taken up with goods.
I also saw a boat whose owner is a wood carver, another that was a book shop, and a third with FUDGE! YUMMY!!!

Later than afternoon, we went out on the canal in Rodney's boat. It was definitely a leisurely way to spend an afternoon as top speed is about 3mph, and you must slow down when you pass moored boats so you don't rock them. That's impolite at best!

The videos show us on the canal, and pulling alongside the fuel dock at the marina. Thought they were pretty cool, so here you go!

Here's a few references if you're interested:

The weather today, Tuesday 3 July, is again crappy. Gee, you'd think I was in Cornwall in the summer time or something! We headed over to Penzance (as in "Pirates of..." fame) to get some lunch and a pint or two, then do some shopping. Lunch was at Turk's Head Inn, the oldest pub in Penzance. I had a very nice crab sandwich and a Skinner's ale. We sat next to an older gentleman who told of of his trip to America...during WWII as a member of the RAF! He was sent from Manchester ("that's where you had to go to get your orders"), to Miami, Oklahoma, of all places ("stick a pin in it, and you're in the middle of nowhere!"). He told us they would hitchhike around to get places where there was something to do. Said the Americans were "lovely, treated us very well". It was certainly a very enjoyable lunch! We'll head out to Tinners Arms later on for a pint  or two, then we're fixing pizza in tonight.

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