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Last week I hired a canal boat for the day on the Llangollen Canal. It was a Father’s Day gift from my brother and I – our Dad absolutely loves canals and we knew it would give him something to look forward to with everything going on for him at the moment. Unfortunately my brother and his (very pregnant) wife couldn’t make it, so it was just me, my Mum and my Dad.
This is my blog series in which I talk about the things I’m so glad that I’ve done despite my chronic pain.
I’m so glad I did this as we all had a brilliant day and I loved seeing my Dad so happy and relaxed – my Mum not so much, as she hates boats, but she had a good day too and was grateful that Dad enjoyed himself.
I’d booked the date in advance of giving the gift to my Dad on Father’s Day. This was so he knew when were going and, obviously, I had to book the day off work and sort out someone to look after my two Westies. As much as I would have loved to have had them on board with us, I knew they’d be a handful. And Milo loves being in water so he’d have probably ended up in the canal.
I booked the canal boat through ABC Boat Hire who have numerous marinas all over the country. I decided to book the boat from Whitchurch marina, as the stretch of the canal that you travel for day boat hire doesn’t have any locks. I thought this would make the journey easier and less stressful as it’s one less thing to think about. I didn’t know that there were lift bridges instead, and other road bridges to navigate through. None of this was marked on the PDF that came with the confirmation email but Dad had delight in telling me about the number of bridges when he dug out his canal and waterways book!
Have you read my previous I’m so glad I…posts?
We arrived at Whitchurch marina at 9:30 and had the pre-hire talk by (who I’m calling) Marina Man, about the route we’d take, the facilities on board, and everything health and safety including what could go wrong with the boat and what we need to do.
We’ve been on several family canal boat holidays in the past so I kinda knew what to expect, but it can make any relaxed boater slightly apprehensive at the though of dealing with engine fire, unwrapping material from the propeller, and rescuing ‘man/woman overboard’ whilst trying to manoeuvre the boat. Dad didn’t seem?too phased by it, and by this point Mum had gone and settled herself indoors and left the Captain (me) and the Skipper (Dad) to it. She didn’t want a role – she was quite happy settling inside doing nothing but managing her nerves, bless her.
We set off down the canal, still with our Marina Man on board, and with me driving (or steering?) the boat. I was expecting my Dad to drive but he’s lost the sight in his left eye and, understandably so, along with that he has lost a lot of his confidence.
This added quite a bit of unplanned stress (something I struggle to cope with these days based on how my pain can easily be triggered by stress). I also had the pressure of driving the boat with Marina Man on board and making sure I didn’t bash in to the canal wall or a moored up boat. There was even more pressure when I had to get our boat under a bridge that was probably about two foot wider than our day trip canal boat. I’m proud (and grateful) that I did it.
Next my Dad was tasked with getting off the boat (once I had steered it to the towpath) and Marina Man showed him how to handle the lift bridges. After holding the boat to the side with the rope, I was then faced with setting off and getting the boat under the lift bridge. How I did it, I will never know, but I did.
Marina Man left us to go on our merry way, departing with some wise words about getting in touch and they can easily come and sort us out if we got stuck. I felt he didn’t have much confidence in our boat crew, but it was encouraging that we would be no more than a 20 minute drive away. Dad jumped back on board and off we went.
We decided to head for the first turning point at Preese Junction. This was so we could take it steady, have a relaxing lunch, then be heading back to the marina to return the boat by 16:30. In theory it should take 2 to 2.5 hours to get to the Presse Junction. It took us 3! I put this down to the slower speed when passing moored boats and boats heading towards us, as well as not really knowing what speed we?were going. (The limit on the canals in 4mph. Anything faster and you get complaints due to the wash from the boat and how this rocks moored boats, on which some people live.) Oh and I grounded the boat at one point, and for the life of me I could not get it moving. Out came the pole and we pushed ourselves away from the canal side with no lasting damage – phew!
We eventually got to Preese Junction and I didn’t realise that these Winding Holes were designed to literally turn the boat around. I did a 3 point turn instead. It did the trick (and was one of my best manoeuvres of the day) and then we moored up facing towards the direction we came and settled for some lunch.
Inside the boat was like a greenhouse. How my Mum was coping in there I will never know. I thought it was hot on deck what with the sun above us and the engine below us, but at least there was a slight breeze which kept us cooler. Realising that if it took us 3 hours to get back to the Marina we knew we had to eat quickly and be on our way. By 13:30, Captain Ali gave her orders and we set off on schedule.
My confidence certainly grew in the afternoon. I was moving the boat at a slightly faster rate, whilst slowing down when passing other boats, and I navigated the bridges without any hiccups at all. I was so pleased when my Dad managed to take over steering the boat for a while too as he thoroughly enjoyed it and it gave me chance to move about more and relax my muscles a little.
Throughout the day I was able to manage my sitting pain by not sitting, but I certainly had an increase in my neck and upper back pain. I was struggling, and late in the morning I really wasn’t sure if I would be able to manage all day and get us back to the marina. The more we travelled, the more my confidence grew, and the more I enjoyed myself, which didn’t stop my pain, but it made me determined to carry on. I think I must have been on an endorphin high and this got me through it.
Looking back over the day I had such an amazing time, and the best thing of all, was seeing my Dad so happy and relaxed. He kept saying to me throughout the day, how good it was of me and my brother to do this for him. And he said he would do it again – so my driving (steering? I still don’t know) can’t have been that bad.
I would highly recommend anyone to hire a canal boat for the day. It makes you take stock of things; the slow pace of life and being among nature and such a friendly bunch of people on the canal, can recharge anyone batteries and do us the world of good. The Canal and River Trust are really promoting the canals in our area, which I thought was very timely for our trip.
Have you been on a canal boat trip or holiday before? How did you find it?