Friday 10 August 2012

How to Get Fit on the Canals

I wrote this article for Canal Voyagers hotel boats, but I quite liked it and thought I'd share it here. I wanted to show that narrowboating can be quite active, contrary to the popular image of drifting lazily along on a summer afternoon...

Canal Boating is Not an Olympic Sport!

Did you see that picture in the Guardian of the narrowboat-shaped water jump as part of an Olympic equestrian event?! That may be as close as a canal boat has got to being involved with a sporting event this summer.

A few months ago I asked the wisdom of Twitter, what are the best things about the canals? Of course people mentioned peaceful moorings, a sense of calm, the sound of water running through a lock and the sun reflecting the pattern of the water on to the ceiling.  So I then wrote an article that described the freedom, tranquillity and closeness to nature that attracts me to the waterways.

However, an even better kept secret of the canals is that they have a wild side!

Here are seven ways to get active on the cut.

Working the locks. As you approach a lock as part of a crew you may be the one to leap to the bank holding a rope and haul the boat in, then tie to a bollard. To fill or empty the lock you will need to wind paddles with a simple device called a windlass, and some of these mechanisms can be quite stiff! Then there is opening the lock gates by pushing the balance beam. Some can be quite heavy and require you to put your back into it.

Lock wheeling. Traditionally this meant going ahead of the working boats, up the towpath to set and prepare the next lock ready for the boats’ arrival. This was often done on a bicycle but some people still call it lock wheeling if you charge ahead on foot.

Bow hauling. Not something that is often done these days unless you have a butty (a boat without a motor). Hotel boats usually travel as a pair; motor and butty. Occasionally manoeuvring the boats requires pulling the butty by hand, on a rope, to get in or out of a lock for example.

Walking. Take a picnic and ramble away from the beaten track (towpath) across buttercup meadows to discover ancient villages. Or stay alongside the boat and hop back on for tea and cakes when you need to refuel.

Jogging on the towpath. The towpath is such a picturesque running track, usually far from any noisy traffic sounds. If there are a lot of locks you may find yourself well ahead of the boats and need to wait a while with a cool drink in a canal side pub.

Mooring up. As well as leaping off with a rope and hauling the boat towards the bank, this can often involve using a mallet to bang mooring pegs into hard ground. Great for releasing any repressed anger by bashing that peg on the head!  

Barge poling off the bottom. Again, not so common if the canal is deep enough, but you may occasionally get caught on an underwater obstruction and need to push the boat off using a barge pole. This is done by standing on the roof of the boat.

Several of these perhaps should not be attempted for the first time without supervision. That’s where the secret of hotel boats is really revealed. Our skipper and crew have years of experience between them and are more than willing to show enthusiasts the ropes, if guests want to get involved.

So if you’re looking for an active holiday with a difference, this could be what you are looking for!

We are currently finalising and publishing our routes for 2013. Will you join us on an adventure?

PS. I also saw a bloke rowing on the canal last week, the whole length of the Grand Union (Birmingham to London). That'll get you fit! Rowing the Grand Union? Yes Really!

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