Thrilling Tillering

Anna Jobling of the Champollion Group describes her first narrowboat holiday:

Over the last decade we have seen the renaissance of the canal network in the UK. Our once neglected waterways have been brought back to their former glory and are now a national treasure looked after by the Canal & River Trust, who we have been working with for the past year.

Thanks to the lovely people at Drifters, we had the opportunity to experience being on the waterways first hand, joining the ranks of the boating community for an intrepid weekend canal boat holiday.

So on a slightly blustery Friday afternoon the Champollion contingent jumped on the central line and headed to Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Willowtree Marina in Greenford with a sense of adventure and excitement.

When we arrived we were given an instructional tour of our boat, ‘Alesha’, and shown the ropes (quite literally). Then we were off to navigate our way through London’s waterways on the Paddington Branch of the Grand Union Canal.

Some of our tillering skills were admittedly questionable, but it is normal for beginners to zigzag along the canal right? Thankfully we picked up Andy on the way who was a natural.

However, our trip still wasn’t without minor dramas. In one quite spectacular moment we managed to wedge ourselves across Little Venice – much to the amusement of watching tourists. Or the time when we were a little stuck on mud. Or that other time when we were in the trees, actually there was a few of those.

However, people were quick to help and give advice, which is a great thing about the canals – there is a real sense of community. People look out for each other, whether they are boaters on the water or an active by-passer on the towpath. A complete stranger warmly greets you and it would be unthinkable not to say hello or at least smile to a passing boat.

Once we mastered ‘Alesha’ and relaxed a little more it was evident what a peaceful place the canals are. As we chugged along, I found myself happily musing about nothing in particular and despite being in the city where we all live and work, it was complete urban escape.

Canals really are special places which capture your imagination. The landscape was subject to constant change, trees with autumn leaves giving way to green fields or the novelty of gliding over the North Circular. It’s like London’s secret garden, with beautiful settings just a stones throw from the concrete jungle of Hanger Lane.

On the central line heading home, where fellow commuters hardly make eye contact, I realised I would miss the community and tranquillity of the canals. But I needn’t worry, with the 2,000 miles of network across England and Wales, an escape is never far away.

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