Monday, 8 April 2013

West country canals – a forgotten dream?

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I grew up in Devon but by the time I lived there, there wasn’t much in the way of navigable canals left. I remember going on a school trip to see Cann Quarry Canal, a two mile waterway that connected with the Plymouth and Dartmoor Railway. I think it was only working for ten years. There’s a little five mile long canal in Exeter from Exeter Canal Basin to the River Exe estuary. There’s also a little canal near Tiverton which I think runs a horse drawn boat trip. There are several more abandoned canals around Devon but they have long since fallen into disrepair. So it wasn’t until I grew up and boldly went to seek my fortune in London that I really began to discover the thriving canal network that is still navigable for 2000 miles across the UK.

I lived in a flat in Kentish Town near Camden and watched with fascination the painted boats that would pass through Camden lock. The romantic gypsy in me began to realise, some people actually live on these boats! A seed was sown, and I have since become someone who lives on a narrowboat, and has travelled the canals of London and Hertfordshire.

I can never take my boat on the long forgotten canals of Devon where I grew up; the short canals that remain are not connected to the main system. By default then, I have always thought that the way to connect my boating life with my West Country roots would be to travel west as far as I can by canal. This is why the Kennet and Avon canal has become the journey that I have yet to do.

Having spent my adult years building a career, and then a family, in and around London, do I still hear the call of the West Country? Do I see a white horse carved into a Wiltshire hillside in my dreams? Or a famous flight of 29 locks at Caen Hill near Devizes?

This is the boating journey that I never got to do. Now that I am settled on a residential mooring near a good school my cruise down the Kennet and Avon must be done as a holiday trip someday. (If you are single or a couple, it is cheaper to go by hotel boat than to hire a boat.) I’ve seen the charming historic buildings of Bradford on Avon and the Georgian architecture of Bath on weekend visits before, but that is fleetingly, by car.

Exploring by narrowboat is a slower pace of life, more connected with nature. In a city we are surrounded by man-made creations. But travelling through England’s countryside on the water I feel more connected with real life.

“What is this life if, full of care,
 We have no time to stand and stare.”
(From the poem ‘Leisure’ by William Henry Davies.)

So one day, I will let the Kennet and Avon take me slowly back west. Where will it take you? Read more about the highlights of the Kennet and Avon on the Devizes to Newbury cruise or the Bath to Devizes via Bristol journey. Or read more about why Devizes is high on my list of places to visit by boat.

Disclosure: I was paid to write this post on the Canal Voyagers blog. I re-published it here because it tells a little about me, my narrowboat life and my dreams.

Canal Voyagers are currently offering a £50 discount on the first 12 cruises of the year.
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