The Northern Echo – December 2008

The art of slow

There are days when I think the fates conspire against me – and this was one of those days. It had started badly. An easy, two-hour drive to Sowerby Bridge , where my husband and I were to pick up our narrowboat, had turned into a four hour nightmare of nose to tail traffic that left both of us frazzled.

Nevertheless, we approached the waterborn stage of our journey optimistically. After a tour of the narrowboat and an introduction to steering and negotiating locks, provided by Simon and David of Shire Cruisers, we headed off through Europe's deepest lock, to follow the Rochdale canal as far as Hebden Bridge .

Full armed with the routine of opening and closing paddles and gates, we negotiated our first lock on our own with ease – and continued on our way.

And then the heavens opened. We were still some distance from our overnight mooring so had no option but to continue through rain so heavy even the ducks had taken cover.

Later, as the water ran off my coat and formed puddles at my feet, I turned to my husband, a narrowboater in his youth, and said “I thought this was meant to be fun”.

He had to agree it had probably been the worst of all possible introductions to the boating experience.

That night, as the rain beat down, we drew the curtains, locked the doors and thanked whoever had had the foresight to include central heating in our floating home.

I had not really known what to expect from the boat, other than, as its name implied, it would be narrow. What I found was that with care, a lot can be fitted into a relatively small place.

We had a fully equipped kitchen, a bathroom with a very effective – and hot – shower, a comfortable seating area and a separate bedroom. All the finishes were of a high standard, with wood panelling favoured over cheaper options. A television and radio were included as standard.

We were also provided with a plentiful supply of tourist information and easy-to-follow maps of our route, including details of all the locks, tunnels and mooring points.

It was also comforting to know that, should we need it, expert back up was only a phone call away.

In an ideal world, the next day would have dawned bright and dry – but this being the Pennines , it was not to be.

However, while the grey, threatening skies dissuaded us from travelling too far up the canal, they did give us the opportunity to explore the little town of Hebden Bridge, once reliant on the textiles industry, but which now, with its cafes, craft shops and antiques centres, has redefined itself as a tourist destination.

Thirty-six hours and one three-point turn later – not easy when you are unable to steer in reverse – we were heading home and I discovered the huge difference clear skies and a bit of sunshine makes to the narrowboat experience.

With only the gentle chug of the boat's engine to disturb the peace, I sat back and, as the kingfishers darted across the water and the ducks took their morning dip, the stresses and strains of the previous days gradually fell away.