After returning from Australia, I found myself under the less-than-desirable circumstances of temporarily moving with my parents onto their canal boat, whilst they moved house and I waited to move into my own pad. In terms of space, privacy and connection with the outside world, things soon became very limited and everyday life was turned upside down for us all.
To coincide with the house move, the boat also had to be moved from Droitwich to Nantwich, which would take 8 days and 84 miles of gentle chugging along 5 canals and a river, across 4 counties, through 81 locks, 17 small aqueducts and 6 tunnels; come rain or shine (thanks for the stats dad).
During this time, which had its ups and downs might I add, I did learn some valuable lessons and in hindsight, I am exceedingly grateful for the experience. So grateful in fact, that I believe it is an experience all people in their twenties should dabble with, if given the chance. Here’s why:
It encourages you to slow down
With a speed limit of 4mph, walkers will be overtaking you. At first I found this tedious. 20-somethings are generally expected to jump out of aeroplanes, leap from ridiculously tall heights and live life in the adrenaline-fuelled fast lane. We think fast, work fast, sleep fast and eat fast food. So yes, at first you may worry that you have aged 40 years or feel like a hamster running helplessly in a wheel. But after a while, the sensation of time slowing down begins to feel quite agreeable, almost meditative. Worries begin to melt away, your mind begins to declutter and you experience a rare phenomenon known as ‘relaxation’.
It teaches you to live more simply
Life on the canal is simple. Your only real goal is to get from A to B, and you’re not in a hurry. The clothes you wear, your hygiene and beauty maintenance routine and the food you eat all become more practical and less time consuming, which is a nice break from the usual stresses and ridiculousness of everyday life.
It helps you appreciate your home comforts
Over my week’s journey, I had to make do without the use of a hairdryer, electrical kitchen appliances and even a real bed. There is no constant water supply or regular sewage system, so everyday tasks have to be treated with mindfulness and patience.
You get to see your world from a different perspective
Chugging along the canal, you see areas which you may have lived in or passed through a million times, from a completely different angle. It’s like stepping into somebody else’s shoes. The canal winds you along the backs of peoples houses, where secret gardens come to life and you pass through entire floating communities, otherwise hidden from the outside world.
You meet some genuinely nice people
There is a real sense of community on the canal. Everyone is incredibly friendly and greets you with a nod and a warm smile as you pass. Some folks even want to make conversation with you and go out of their way to help you, which can come as a bit of a shock to those used to the anonymity of urban living.
Not a day will pass by without you seeing something unusual
For example, there is always something odd floating in the canal. For me, it was a deer. I also just so happened to watch a cow fall in.
It’s a good way of getting some much needed ‘green’ exercise
Green exercise refers to any physical activity you partake in a natural environment. It is reported to boost your mood, self-esteem and impact positively on your mental health. And when does exercise come in to the equation you ask? Well let me tell you, working the locks is no walk in the park and requires some physical strength and endurance. In Audlem, Cheshire for instance, you’ll come across 15 in a row. Each lock can take anywhere between 10-20 minutes to complete – you do the math!
You will marvel at the beauty of rural England
Rolling fields, scatterings of old farms and quaint cottages, sleepy old towns and villages, dense, dank woodland, canal reeds lightly swaying in the breeze… ahhhhh.
And possibly get a glimpse of some rare wildlife
I saw my very first kingfishers along the canal, as well as a mink, which I mistook for an otter (you can only imagine my disappointment). Just beware of swans, they come knocking at your window expectantly and don’t take no for an answer.
And finally, because how many 20-something’s can actually say that they have been on a canal boat?
Over the 8 day’s I spent cruising across England, I only saw a handful of people from my generation. It’s not really something we do, is it? Well, I can confirm that it is definitely something to squeeze onto your bucket list. Try it, be different, I dare you.
If you are feeling inspired, check out The Canal & River Trust for heaps of information, including day hire and boating holidays.