Dublin Again

The Paramount Hotel, our digs for two nights, is in the Temple Bar section of Dublin, meaning it is a tourist destination.  To quote our taxi driver on the outbound trip “Temple Bar is full of damned tourists and is shiite if you want to see the real Dublin”  Oh well, we already had reservations, so we stuck with our plan. The taxi driver was right, it was shiite. The hotel was originally either a whorehouse or was fifteen different slums bashed together and called a hotel.  There was nothing wrong with it, except getting to your room meant walking in ever changing directions up and down tiny flights of stairs at odd angles in strange directions in some kind of triangle pattern.  Temple Bar is the neighbourhood and it is somewhat famous from books and movies, which also means it attracts tourists looking for something memorable.  By comparison, the Byward Market in Ottawa, or the Distillery district in Toronto would be equivalents, meaning lots of shops, restaurants and bars interspersed with historical structures.

We dined that first night at the Porterhouse Pub, simple fare, as we were tired from our trip across the Irish Sea and retired comparatively early, still on boat time mentally.  This was disturbed at 0600 by the sounds of kegs. Bars, of which Temple Bar has hundreds, require beer. Beer is transported in steel kegs. Empties must be removed and full ones delivered each morning to keep the thirsty patrons at bay.  We lay there, half dozing and hoping the sound would cease, allowing us to nod back off on a Monday morning. No. It would seem that Monday is the prime delivery day and 0600 the prime delivery time, for at least a friggin hour. Bang, clank, rumble, Bang, clank, rumble.  Repeat until you wish to do someone harm.

If we’re going to be up, then at least we can eat, so we adjourned to a joint just across the street that said it had breakfast.  Pinocchio’s was the name and yes, they did have breakfast. You could have toast and coffee. Groggily we agreed to toast and coffee, then noticing a large fiberglass Pinocchio head over in the corner, glaring at us the whole time.  Why an Italian pasta joint would have a fiberglass Pinocchio head, football mascot sized is the first puzzle. The second puzzle was why do you advertise breakfast if all you have is toast?

Our first stop was luggage.  Rob’s rolling bag decided after the miles of travel to blow a handle.  The telescoping handle wouldn’t retract any more, so rather than sacrifice his bag to Air Canada in a couple of days, we found a luggage store and obtained a new bag.  Since my contribution at this point was to stand around and look handsome, I figured I would help the staff load in a shipment of a couple of pallets of bags that were kindly dropped off in the road in front of the store. 

Across the street from the hotel was a place we both noted in our brains for sensible reasons.  If we returned home without some kind of treasures for our beloved partners in life, from an epic trip to the UK and Ireland, then we might as well just chain concrete blocks to our necks and drown in the River Liffey now and skip the flight home.

Being practical men we recognize that art is always appreciated.  We adjourned to Fab Cow and perused their wares.  Francis Leavey is the artist and one of the pieces of his that I had seen before was his single line drawings. They’re stunning pieces and getting to meet the artist is something you should always try to do, because then you understand the nuance and inspiration behind the work.  We bought modestly, because of luggage room, but we bought direct from the artist, which is always better.

Francis Leavey is a fascinating artist with a background in Chinese medicine and longish stays in China, as well as study of his art at a very deep level.  We compared notes, Francis speaking from how art reflects culture and me speaking how culture is reflected in food.  Eclectic and kind is the kind of mix one likes to be near.

Liquor was next on our list, Dublin being home to two magical distilleries, one that actually produces in Dublin and the other that has converted their old digs into an excellent display of the history of distilling in Ireland.

First stop, Jameson’s.

 

Return to Dublin

After returning the Lapland Bunting in Wrenbury, we did the wise thing and hired a taxi to get us and our luggage to Crewe.  We overnighted at a hotel near the train station in Crewe and did enjoy at least one hot, all over, plentiful showers to soap away nine days of boating.  Yes we had our own rooms. Then a longish walk to a pub for Sunday Roast and a chance to sleep in a real bed, with reliable electricity.

Overnight, the Irish Ferries did not disappoint us.  Our ferry, the Ulysses, was running with no issues. We would be getting to Ireland, without a five hour layover in a hateful holding pen in Holyhead, unlike our outgoing trip.  Skies were clear, winds were pleasant and the local news was filled with reporting of the damage caused by Storm Callum two days before. We did not avail ourselves of the complimentary copy of The Sun to see who’s titties would be featured on Pg. 3.

Again to a Virgin train, with their talking toilets and fine service, we train to Holyhead, then stroll the 90 meters to the Ferry Terminal to embark, stopping for a coffee at the same place as our outbound trip.  This time, instead of the insane, we were merely accompanied by someone who needed a major adjustment to their prescription medications.  Either the UK is filled with crazies, or we just seem to attract them.  Perhaps we look too Canadian?  Or, they behave that way because they are trying to speak in Welsh.  For those who can, congratulations, but for the rest of it, trying to pronounce the words correctly hurts your mouth.

  

A shuttle bus boards the ferry and we seek out the Club Class forward.

The Ulysses was at one time the largest car ferry in the world and plies the Holyhead to Dublin route for Irish Ferries.  On our outbound journey we saw not much more than a quick tour with our objective being sleep after a hellish flight over to Dublin.  Plus, it was a dark and stormy night and nothing much to see of the Irish Sea. This time was different.

Club Class is reasonably plush, with free food and not free beer, but the particular joys of wide windows at the bow of the ship to allow you to see where you’re going.  Food and beverage obtained, we settle in to see the Irish Sea.

We followed another ferry from Holyhead, also transiting to Dublin, the Stena something or other, which launched a few minutes before us.  The safety briefing was conducted by the ostensible Captain of the ship, who near as we could discern was the Irish equivalent of The Simpsons’ Sideshow Bob, with the same sonorous voice and deliberate intonation.  Perhaps he was hired for his public speaking traits, not his seamanship, as his comment regarding muster stations included “If we are sinking, you unwashed proletarians had best get the hell out of my way, or I will kill you with my bare hands”

One thing we have noticed on this trip is that the majority of positions of the ‘service’ industry are occupied predominantly by members of former Soviet Union countries, working away from home in more prosperous environments than their home countries.  All pleasant and polite of course, with a willingness to serve well.

Captain Sideshow Bob kept the Ulysses well-aimed at the green stripe on the horizon and eventually we hit land, fortunately at the actual Irish Ferry Terminal in Dublin.  This made unloading much easier, but the signage was now in Celtic as well as English.

Taxi to the hotel, the Paramount, near Temple Bar and we unpacked for two nights

 

Thomas Telford was a Smart Guy

There are smart guys all along the narrowboat canal, but the smartest one was Thomas Telford, the Scottish lad who engineered the parts of the canal that we’ve run on.  Some context is in order. Telford died in 1834, or about two years after the Rideau Canal was opened here in Canada.  Various parts of the Shropshire Union Canal were built and running commercial traffic before work even started on the Rideau Canal in 1826.

We’ve explained earlier why there are so many canals in the UK:  Canals were the superhighways of their day, lugging large quantities of goods from place to place as horse drawn wagons could only pull a limited quantity of something a short distance on the unimproved roads of the day: A horse-drawn narrowboat could regularly ship 20 to 30 tons of something along the canals simply because a floating boat has almost no friction.  It isn’t fast, but it makes up for the lack of velocity with the increase in capacity.

Telford started out as a stonemason’s apprentice at the age of 14, learning how to bash rocks, then through various contacts in London became an engineer and surveyor eventually winding up in Shropshire. In 1790 he built his first Iron bridge, iron being the modern building marvel of the day, much as we look at carbon-fiber today.  

Telford was a bit of a maverick in that he tested things.  Would this kind of casting in this dimension, stand up to this kind of load?  We are talking before super computers. Telford’s tools were paper, pencil, perhaps a rudimentary slide rule and keen observation with a nimble mind.  Victorian-era high technology.

On our trip we got to try out a few pieces of his craft, the top three being the Chirk Aqueduct, the Chirk Tunnel and the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.  You could argue that almost all of the canal system we traveled from Wrenbury to Llangollen was his work and you might not be far from wrong, but we’ve picked the more impressive pieces.

The problem with canals is water doesn’t run uphill very well.  The idea behind the canal is to have the least number of locks on a route that is not always a straight line from one place to another.  

Where it gets complicated is the land.

Unless you’re on a perfectly flat geography, there will be things that get in the way like rivers, valleys, hills, towns and fields. To change heights or to detour around things like rapids and waterfalls with a 30 ton load of slate or coal on a horse-drawn boat takes some engineering.  Locks work and in the day that was the choice. Wales, however, is hilly and there is no escaping it.

The River Dee cut a swath through the route for the canal, making things difficult.  If Telford had done locks there would have been at least a dozen, six down the valley, a short canal, then another six back up to where the canal would run, essentially a staircase on either side and at least a day or more to pass going up and down in 20 foot increments.  

An aqueduct was a wiser choice. It took ten years to build the stonework and put a cast iron canal trough on the top of aqueduct, to allow boats to pass in 20 minutes, instead of a full day. Telford then did the same thing at Chirk, not quite as long, or as high as Pontcysyllte, but the same concept of an aqueduct topped with a navigable canal.  In between? The Chirk Tunnel, 460 yards of hard work, lined by bricks containing the waterway and the towpath to pull the narrowboats through.

Crossing the Pontcysyllte and Chirk Aqueducts is a marvel.  There is a fenced walkway on one side, the former towpath for horses, but the other side is a sheer drop to the valley below.  We’ve included still photos for now, as the real-time video shot in high-def is too large for WordPress.  We’ll add links to a Youtube source later so you can see the whole thing as we transit.

A fun aside, on the outgoing trip a charming couple said they had never crossed the Pontcysyllte on a boat and could they come along?  There was plenty of room on the tiller deck so Rob had company on the journey as they marveled at the view and thanked us profusely for our hospitality when we made the other end.

Today, the whole area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a very impressive memorial to the days when engineers used their minds and hands to solve problems.  Thank you, Thomas Telford.

 

Food And Drink – Chippy

If one watches enough Coronation Street, you understand that a Chippy is the local Fish and Chip joint.  In Ellesmere on the return trip we decided to go truly local. Knowing the local Tesco would be open late after we moored up, we headed instead of to the Black Lion Hotel Pub, we went a few extra blocks to the local chippy, with a warm up stop at a local pub that did not serve food.  

A quick pint and a gab with a couple of locals “Ahh you’re Canadian then, we were worried you would be Yanks…” was not an uncommon comment that we heard more than once.  After our pints, we stepped next door for actual solid food.

What we call French Fries in Canada do not exist by that moniker in the UK:  Chips thanks and they have nothing to do with anything from McCain frozen, or from the Golden Arches drive-thru.  Chips start out as potatoes, cut into lengths then deep fried.

Since nowhere in England is more than 76 miles from the sea, fish is plentiful and almost always wonderfully fresh.  Again, battered then deep fried, a chippy trip is not for those without atorvastatin readily to hand. You can also get things like fried chicken or curry, but there had to be at least one meal of fish and chips from a real chippy.  With mushy peas, if only to keep to the stereotype.

Was it good?  Certainly it was.  We both ordered a small and the portion size would have fed a family of four, but the fish tasted like fish and the chips tasted like potatoes.  The mushy peas were the expected radioactive green and tasted somewhat like garden peas. A perfectly satisfying dinner after a day of hard work fighting the rain.

 

Locks, Bridges and Storm Callum

By now you might have an appreciation of the roles and responsibilities of our trip on the Lapland Bunting.  Rob pilots for a sound reason: He has the experience and expertise of many years of boating, knowing how to maneuver and take advantage of things like winds, current and the tiller.  That doesn’t mean I didn’t pilot, I did and yes, the boat is a handfull of near-constant corrections, but on the occasions where I was at the tiller, we didn’t hit anything or anyone, so it is considered a win as far as I am concerned.  The duties that did come my way were more of an Enabler of Passage.

Locks have been around since pre-history on the Nile River as a way to get a boat laden with stuff around rapids or to make changes in elevation from one navigable part to another.  Locks rely on gravity to fill or empty the lock chamber. Gates at either end keep water in or out depending on what direction you’re going. The essential operation be it the Wileymoor Lock, Beveridge’s on the Rideau Canal or the Gatun Locks on the Panama Canal, they all work the same.  The Rideau Canal, has Parks Canada Lock Keepers who do the work of doors and draining or filling the locks. As a boater you listen to what they tell you and ride the boat up and down as need be. Gatun Locks in Panama are merely orders of magnitude larger.

The Shropshire Union Canal has manual locks, which means someone has to open the doors, close the doors and work the windlasses and winding gear to fill or empty the lock, open the appropriate door to let the boat continue, then close the various doors and windlasses to allow whomever is next do their thing.  Since someone has to pilot the boat into the chamber, that would leave someone else to be the Lockie.

It isn’t a particularly difficult thing to do and gravity being reliable on this planet, means the locks work as they should when operated as they should, which we did about two dozen times.  Up and down, gravity and water pressure being our transportation friend.

Lift bridges along the canal are also a feature.  All but one were manually powered, meaning crank the windlass around 30 times or so to raise the bridge and crank it another 30 or so the other way to lower the bridge, the road being generally a dirt track or cow path from one field to another.  Hydraulics are good, reliable things. Again, since someone has to pilot the boat, that means someone else has to operate the lift bridges. The whole process of locking and lift bridges can be done solo and hundreds do, but it is easier with two people.

 

Where locking, lift bridges and boating become less fun is in the midst of a named storm called Callum.

We knew going into this trip that there was always potential for less than idyllic weather, the UK being the UK.  There was a cold night in Whitchurch, frost on the Lapland Bunting when we opened the hatch in the morning, but we also knew we had packed rain gear and boots to cope with the occasional downpour and soggy ground.  

In the course of two days Calum dropped a month worth of rain on the part of Wales we were in, along with rather bracing winds. Wind and rain, when you’re in the house is not a problem. On a narrowboat, it is simply miserable, especially since a narrowboat is essentially a 230 square foot, under powered steel sail and the wind is always blowing in exactly the wrong direction on an open tiller deck.  

Rain gear or not, we both got soaked to the skin for two days with a cold Welsh gale. After mooring clothing was hung on the interior radiators in a futile attempt to reduce the moisture content from cold terrarium to only modestly sodden. We did forebear with frequent cups of tea for the pilot and lockie to ward off the chill and the damp, but standing next to the heating radiators after mooring up was very welcome.

We were rewarded for our perseverance with a double rainbow toward evening on the second day of rain.  A good omen.

It was a Dark and Stormy Day

It’s a gray day, rainy and wet the wind blowing hard and making navigation difficult as the boat is pushed into the wall. A challenging day to remind me that boating is not always fun and pleasant sunny days but that there are days you’d rather stay tied to shore and watch the day blow past. And that sometimes that is not any option. We have to get the boat back to whence it came and ourselves off to Dublin for a few days to get adapted back to world time from canal time.

We fight the rain and wind moving off the safety of the mooring and into the channel, looking a little like the Michelin man with all the layers – only in blue as that is the colour of my rain gear. Not on the pull today. As we’ve noted narrowboats are, well narrow, but also they are long. The canals are also narrow, the one we are in now is 14 feet or so wide. We are pointing the wrong way and have the choice of backing out of the section we are on or going to the other end where there is a winding hole – a space large enough to turn a narrowboat using the power of the engine or of the wind or in the day, of horses or of the crew.

On my boat back in Canada this would be a simple matter of putting the transmission in reverse and using proportional thrust to steer out, around the corner and if I’d wanted, wherever we needed to go. Narrowboats don’t reverse that well, I can get it going fairly straight but the precise steering of twin engines is not possible.

We push off and slowly move past all the moored boats, at the speed of a 6 month old toddler crawling. As we get to the end I judge the distance, what I have learned of the boat, slowing to a near dead stop.  I use the prop wash in reverse to start turning the boat around the center. When it starts to move backwards I hard over the tiller and change to forward using the prop in forward with the tiller to continue moving the boat around it’s center. I’m now committed to this process switching between forward and reverse to keep the boat still but moving around its center.

As we pass the quarter turn, the wind comes in to the port side of the boat, I try to hold it but the 47 feet by about 5 feet above the water makes a very good 230 plus square foot steel sail. There is nothing for it, get the horses, oh wait you don’t get horses anymore, and the wind is causing the issue. Muster the crew, Dave. Bravely Dave whose physic is not that of an Olympian but more of a older techie with a mix of writer that smokes too much, tries to use the pole to push the boat against the wind. Wind 1, Dave 0.

So Dave jumps off the bow and tugs the rope much like the small ponies of yesterday would have. He pulls and pulls, I help we the engine a little. At last like the Little Engine That Could he has freed the boat, the engine now able to push us out of the Ellesmere branch of the Llangollen canal. There will be more pushing today a then a little scotch and some food when we find a find a place to moor that is fairly sheltered.

 

Tour the Lapland Bunting

This is more of a photographic tour of our boat, the Lapland Bunting, so you can appreciate the dimensions and location of the features. Yes, we are messy, no there is not a lot of storage space available.

The Pointy End, or as the more nautical call it, the Bow. There is a small well at the bow and there are two doors that lead to it from the forward berth

 

 

 

The Arse End, or the stern

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moored up just below a lock at dusk.  Consider it a picture of the side

 

 

 

 

Engine, lights, horn and gauges at the stern in easy reach of the pilot

 

 

 

 

 

 

The little Isuzu diesel lump under the floor at the stern

 

 

 

 

 

Scrim at the tiller, the Isuzu lump and weed box are under his feet along with the engine batteries, blackwater tank and fuel tank

 

 

 

 

 

 

Entrance to the galley from the stern.  Wellies were important during the storm.  The shot of Scrim at the tiller was shot from the top step of the stairs to the stern

 

 

 

Reverse view into the diner area

 

 

 

 

 

We do insist on certain luxuries

 

 

 

 

 

The diner area that converts to Rob’s bed and the flip up and down seat that always provided Rob with amusement.  It was designed specifically to catch your kneecaps or arm with a spring-loaded latch much like a sofa-bed convertible circa 1958 before Health and Safety lawsuits

 

 

 

 

Diner area looking forward. The way forward makes you scuttle sideways like a crab and that piece of bloody trim almost always tried to rip off my right nipple

 

 

 

 

 

Head and lavatory.  There is a blackwater tank on the Lapland Bunting from the head only.  Greywater, meaning shower, galley sink or lavatory water goes out the side

 

 

 

 

 

Shower opposite the lav and head.  It is scaled to allow you to wash and rinse one ball at a time, but nothing else

 

 

 

 

 

 

Forward berth, technically a twin bed if you’re 9 years old

 

 

 

 

 

Reverse of the forward berth, the extra cushion is the second half of Rob’s bed in the diner.  Stowing it ‘correctly’ was a pain in the arse, so we just put it on top of the forward berth.    The doors lead out onto the smallish well on the bow.

 

 

And that’s the tour!

 

 

 

 

Food And Drink I – Pub Fare

One wag has described navigating the Shropshire Union Canal to Llangollen as a slow pub crawl on a boat.  Public houses seem to proliferate in the middle of nowhere next to the canal, ostensibly serving locals (Population of the village, 11 people, 1,400 sheep and 24 dogs) but in reality are there to provide a comfortable place for boaters to pause and refresh.

During high season when the canals are clogged with holiday-makers, business must be very good, but in the off-season, perhaps not so much.  Our trip, essential the first two weeks of October, is considered on the cusp of the off-season, as it can be cold, rainy and damp, sunny, or a blizzard, depending on the vagaurities of the UK Met. Office and their reading of the entrails.

Pub fare is the subject of much discussion among those who are self-proclaimed experts as to what is and is not actual pub fare.  Perhaps they know, or perhaps they are talking out their arse, but we do know what pub fare is not:

There are no micro-greens involved in or near pub fare

Peas of some sort must be served, or available to order

Gravy is a food group

Chips must taste like potato, not starch tubes and be served hot enough to scald

Yorkshire puddings are also a food group

No pub fare will feature a 50p sized piece of ‘artisanal’ salmon with an eggplant slice the size of a book of matches and cost £45, especially if served by someone wearing a wool hat named Campbell or Daffyd

There must be local, real ale.

You must be offered, or have readily available ‘brown’ sauce, which we know as HP

Vinegar must be malt vinegar

An appetite is required

Pub fare is not complicated food by any means.  Roasted meat, a couple of veg, potato of some sort, gravy and more often than not, Yorkshire pudding, especially if it is the Sunday roast special.  It is home-style cooking. Where else could you get cold, hand-carved real leg-of-pig ham, a small salad (instead of chips) and hot peas and carrots with palate-melting hot mustard except in a pub, or at home.  Portions are generous and you find that your membership in the clean-your-plate club is always threatened by the size of the meals.

When it comes to beverages, the most common accompaniment is ale.  Real ale, quite often brewed within a few miles of the pub, reflecting the local tastes and desires.  You will see taps for Heineken, Peroni or other commercial brews, but the most common is the hand-pulled pint of what is local and what pairs perfectly with the food.

Which is exactly what you want.

A Trip On A Real Rail Line

Our hotel in Holyhead was a masterpiece of adequacy.  Originally booked to enjoy a lovely view of the sea from the hotel, our 0100 (Zero Dark One) arrival in the depths of a cold, rainy night after very little sleep, precluded any possible sightseeing.  The view from the rooms was of a dark, wet night without lights.

The room was clean, warm, indoors and had a shower. Very kindly they allowed us a very late check-in, the capable clerk attempting to inveigle us into committing for the Full English Breakfast the next morning, was met by sleepy grunts from both of us.

Up and out the door by 0700, we taxied to the Holyhead Train Station under a sky leaden enough that it would have depressed Sylvia Plath on downers.  A convenience store awaited, offering coffee in various strengths, as well as our own free copy of The Sun  (Headline – “See Rita Ora’s Big Titties on Pg 3!”) because we had made a purchase. Rita’s pigmented areas were covered as The Sun is a Family Newspaper, but we did appreciate the first hand knowledge of her surgically augmented protuberances and did wonder if she could sleep face down without unduly straining her neck.

As train time approached, we felt obligated to find the actual train.  Virgin it said on the tickets, so we found a sleek, modern sliver Virgin train.  It was easy to find as it was the only train on any of the five tracks and it was pointed away from Holyhead. There was no conductor, or customer service yob as there would be on Via1 guarding the entrance to the car: You find the car number printed on the ticket, press the green button and get on the damn train.  Since we were a dozen minutes early, there was no one to say we could or could not enter, so we did and settled into the finely upholstered seating and leaned back.

Five minutes before departure a pleasant fellow asked for tickets and said that the car attendant would be by shortly to take our orders.  Spot on departure time, the train rolled.

Virgin Business Class is quite plush, with comfortable seats and tables, with room for your luggage.  You do have to mind your own gear, as there are no longer porters to attend to your possessions, but this is 2018 and there is a certain obligation to do some of your own work.

Food commenced shortly after we rolled out of Holyhead.  Choices were generous.  A Full English for Scrim and the first of several Bacon Sarnies for RoadDave.  A Full English, for those who are unfamiliar with the term is Eggs, Sausage, Bacon, Beans, Tomato, Mushrooms and Black Pudding.

A Bacon Sarnie, or as Virgin calls it, Bacon Roll, is no more complex than you might think: Fried bacon on a soft roll.  We were, this being the UK, offered Brown Sauce with our meals.  Brown Sauce is HP Sauce, that peculiar combination of tamarind, spices, vinegar and salt that seems to accompany every meal, at least as an offering.  There were more healthy offerings, a yogurt parfait, herbal teas and other comestibles of that ilk, but we were having none of it.  We did question the wisdom of HP Sauce with a yogurt and fruit parfait, but decided to let others investigate that culinary oddity on their own time.

Rail travel in the UK is different from Canada.  In Canada, Via does not own the tracks or the schedule.  CP and CN own the rails, ties, lights, signals, crossings, and most importantly the schedule.

CP and CN set their priorities on where the money is:  Freight.  Freight doesn’t care about a smooth ride, level crossings, or much else except get this 90 car load of double stack well-cars to where they’re going as fast as you can haul ass with the smallest possible crew, then do it again going the other way with oil cans, auto racks and hoppers of iron ore pulled by honkin’ fast ES44AC’s in notch 8.  Via trains are at the mercy of CN and CP when it comes to schedules, meaning get the hell out of the way of the freight trains.

The UK by contrast, sets the priority on passengers.  The lines are silky smooth, no jerking, rolling or pitching about for the passengers.  Speeds are routinely above 100 kph and we noticed almost exactly four level crossings in our journey and one twenty-car freight, parked off on a siding out of the way.

Two hours later, with only a few stops at intermediary places including one in Wales that seemed to be pronounced “Llanfairpzmrqzlmb” with the accent up at the end, we arrived in Crewe.

 

The Pace of Peacefull

When we are questioned about the pace of a narrowboat there are a few things that we can compare it to: Walking slowly.  Walking at a medium pace. Walking with a minor irritation and a dash of determination. The speed limit of the Shropshire Union Canal, for that matter all the narrowboat canals, is 4 miles per hour.  And that is about all a narrowboat can do, the little four-hole Isuzu diesel can muster pushing 4 to 5 tons of steel narrowboat and the passengers along with their suitcases, food and drink provisions.

For those of you familiar with boats, or imagining the idea of a high winding speedboat slashing through the water, a rooster-tail of spray soaking the air, and a wake flooding the shore, you are wrong. The Shropshire Union Canal was laid out by getting a dairy cow piss-drunk, then following it across the fields.  Sir Thomas Telford then said, ‘Dig the fucking canal there then!’

Actually is was more complicated than that, more of an actual feat of Victorian engineering before the railways.  The canal does meander a great deal, the longest semi-straight section we’ve encountered has been about a half-mile.  Towards Llangollen the canal is actually half the way up the side of a mountain, overlooking a valley that near as dammit looks like Mont Tremblant in the summer, the village of Llangollen falling down the hill from the canal along the river.  

Dairy and sheep farms butt right up against the canal, one side the former horse-drawn towpath, the other side unimproved scrub bush, bits of swamp and the occasional minuscule watering hole for cows and sheep.  Ducks abound, along with herons and the occasional grey squirrel grabbing up the last of his horde for winter.

There are rules of velocity of course, slow to a dead crawl passing other boats, under bridges or approaching lift bridges and locks.  Dead crawl in a

narrowboat is the pace of a leisurely stroll with no particular place to go while dragging a bale of hay on a rope. Invariably, when passing other boats there is a friendly hello, or good afternoon exchanged with the other boaters, an insider code that tells the others we know exactly how much fun we’re having and the rest of the humans have no idea exactly how satisfied we are with our lot right now.

The canal system is set up under the assumption that as a boater you have at least the sense to not look into your gas tank with a lighter and wonder if the tank is full.  This system would not work in North America, as we must be protected from all potential possibilities of using anything more than the simple brain-stem functions of respiration, elimination and an occasional heartbeat that seems to be the lowest common denominator that lawyers and lawmakers have decided we must have to be a society.  

There are tradeoffs of course.  Our boat, the Lapland Bunting, is 47 feet long, has a galley, a head, shower and a dinette that converts to a twin bed, as well as a twin bed forward.  The passageways between sections are not much more than 18 inches wide. You pass along sideways, trying not to hit your head on things like the ceiling, or a light fixture.  A certain piece of interior trim has tried, almost successfully twice now, to rip my right nipple from my body, as I scuttle along. If you have any time in a small recreational vehicle, you have the drill and the scale is readily apparent.  

Technically the boat sleeps five, but it would have to be two grownups and three children under the age of 6. For two strapping Canadian lads it is enough space but only just. Four grown up couples? Space is at such a premium that you would essentially be committing adultery every few minutes performing such mundane things as getting a cup of tea.  Had we brought out significant others along, there would have been a real and apprehended insurrection, possibly by the first lock on hour 2 of Day 1. It is not roomy. Roomy was never the objective.

Peaceful?  Oh yes. We’re not entirely certain as to what day of the week it is and we don’t particularly care and that is the true objective of the holiday.