Friday, 13 August 2010

Narrowboating On The Ashby...

Hello everybody. Now, something different(!); railways to waterways. Today, for my grandad's 70th birthday, we had hired a Narrowboat for the day on the Ashby Canal. (He used to live on two Working Boats). The Ashby Boat Company, operating from the sleepy village of Stoke Golding near Hinckley, gives customers the chance to holiday on Britain's inland railways or simply to hire a boat for the day; as we did. I have holidayed on the waterways before, traversing the beautiful Llangollen Canal in North Wales, back in 2007. I make no bones about the fact that I enjoy the waterways; even though railways are 'my thing' of course (it is nice to have a change, just for a little while!). We arrived at Stoke Golding at about 10am this morning, in pouring rain (typical), but we soon boarded our boat, "Heron"; a standard short-ish narrowboat and the family made it back into the dry. However, I had to stay up on deck; I was driving! Narrowboats are powered by a variety of engines; ranging from electric through petrol to steam! This boat is a Diesel model, powered by a small Lister engine under the floor. 'Steering' (if you can call it that) is provided by the 'Tiller'; the large 'S'-shaped handle which is rodded through the stern to the Rudder, located under the Waterline. Therefore, as the engine turns the prop, the Tiller is used to divert the powered water into the desired direction, thus steering the boat either to Port or to Starboard. With myself driving "Heron", we set off from Stoke Golding at about 10:20am, unfortunately travelling behind two very slow but very beautiful Fellows Morton & Clayton-liveried Working Boats, working in 'Motor and Butty' mode and fully loaded with tons of Hardcore. Within just over 3 hours, we reached Market Bosworth where "Heron" is spotted after being moored...Driving a Narrowboat is what you make it. I personally enjoy it but it does require concentration. Unlike a railway locomotive, a boat has the tendency to go wherever it likes; depending on what the Driver is doing of course! The fact that the boat is simply 'gliding' on top of the water doesn't help matters as any 'current' will push the boat in its direction. There are of course no brakes or anchors on a Narrowboat, you use the Tiller and Reverse Thrust when stopping, whilst also, in some cases, sending one or two of your assembled crew off to 'pull in' the ropes and guide you neatly to a stop. Reverse gear on "Heron" was in a 3-1 ratio with Forward; meaning that you had 3 times more power in reverse; to account for stopping quickly! The biggest problem is that, due to the arrangement of the Tiller, there is NO steering in reverse. Therefore, if the boat drifts on top of the 'wash' that your reverse thrust provides, then you could end up drifting anywhere; especially in windy weather! In full forward though, "Heron" steered beautifully and I was very surprised at how responsive she was. I couldn't drive the boat all day without having a gander at the engine. After raising the floor at the stern, the Lister engine is spotted. It sounded much better than a more modern engine!...
After leaving Market Bosworth we approached Carlton (around 3/4 mile further on) before I swung the boat around in a 'Winding Hole' (a cut away area designated for turning boats around). Since Shenton, the Battlefield Line Railway; my standard gauge concern where I do all my firing turns; had been coming in on the right of the canal. The railway follows the canal for almost all of its 5-mile length and thats why I'd seen "Heron" before today; I'd passed her on "Mayflower" two months before! On the return run, with the Working Boats' out of the way, we could give "Heron" full forward throttle (not very fast with the gearing) and we made it back to Stoke Golding after another few hours driving. It's great fun driving a Narrowboat in my opinion. You stand there, Tiller in hand, looking at the scenary and the wildlife, whilst the 'Galley Slaves' below bring you cup after cup of hot Tea as well as lots of food; what could be better?! (Well, I'll tell you, no rain would have been better; we got it for most of the day; "Get the brolley up, Skipper!"). Below, the smallest of a group of baby ducks approaches "Heron"s stern; the family were throwing bread to the group; brought every duck in sight towards the boat!...
After returning to Stoke Golding at just after 6pm we cleaned off "Heron" and locked her up ready for storage overnight; no doubt she'll be booked to operate tomorrow! Narrowboating on Britain's inland waterways continues to be a popular past-time and one that even I (the 'railway buff') enjoy! Maybe we'll do another Narrowboating holiday next year? (Hmm, "Mum..."). Another great day. Thanks for reading folks. Good Evening...

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