Messing about in the water

We're going to need a bigger boat.

Who would believe my OU journey would take me on a boating journey? Meeting students at a Students Association conference, making friendships that have developed over the years…

I suppose it’s all part of being an OU student. And then being an active student within the Association means that your learning journey can go in any direction.


A new adventure

Sue Goodyear

So the direction my journey took was to end up designing a narrowboat and taking it on a recent trip. For the drivers amongst you, a car journey of about an hour can - and did - take two full days on the boat. So speed is not a factor here. It’s between two and four miles an hour. 

When someone on the towpath is overtaking you it can become quite surreal, so the journey from Nantwich to Ellesmere Port was scheduled for a week away. There would be two boats in our flotilla. Now at the best of times, I have no idea where I am heading. But on this occasion, even I knew that I just had to keep going forwards.

The above is a link to the waterways map and journey planner. You can select the beginning and end of journeys and see how the waterways are navigated. People have kindly added photographs so we can see bits of the journey too. I am quickly learning that an aqueduct can be navigated in the blink of an eye, as at times they’re not spanning huge areas, and just covering a ditch.

The canal I’m navigating is the Shropshire Union Canal – nicknamed the ‘Shroppie’. From Bunbury it has double locks, which meant the two boats in our flotilla could pair up in the same lock and chat away while the crew could work the paddles and gates. These weigh over 1300kg up to 4000kg. So on the hottest day it’s a sweat-inducing workout, requiring stopping at the next public house on route to refresh. Such a shame the canal water is not fit to swim in unless you are a fish, bird or water vole, or even a cow, as they walk along in the water. There are ramps for them to clamber out though occasionally they may need lifting out…

It’s spring so the wonder of nature is bringing new life into the world. Rafts of tiny yellow and brown ducklings paddling behind their parents chatting away to keep in contact. They become little hydrofoils of propulsion should even the smallest eddy of water rock their world. Moorhen chicks like tiny black cotton wool balls use long legs to claw through the water or cling precariously to weed bunches. They too chatter to the parents as they search for food on the surface of the water.

The defensive male swan protects his partner and cygnets by hissing and if necessary extending huge wings and rising out of the water on powerful webbed feet. As now advised, we feed them with fresh bread and fresh greens. And their beaks are powerful should your finger and thumb be in the wrong place as they reach for the food! The wonder of nature when a tiny cygnet head pokes through its feathery cloud of protection to view the world as it’s carried safely on its parents back never fails to please.

Sue Goodyear

Locks are one of the places on a journey where you really have to concentrate. Your boat likes to be in the water and on top. It does not appreciate a shower from leaking lock gates, it does not appreciate getting caught on ledges and cills. It does not appreciate its bow getting caught on the lock gates. Opening the paddles - akin to turning on a tap full blast - makes the boat feel like it has gone from calm and serene to washing machine spinning. Double locks also mean that entering and leaving can mean the two boats play a mini game of dodgems if care is not taken.

The wind is a problem, and it can turn 18 tonnes of boat into a kite. It will push the boat quickly at will. On this trip both the boats on a couple of occasions were subject to the wills of the wind. My boat required two fishermen, a barge pole, one engine and a bow thruster to get us back on the right track as we tried to enter a lock. The other boat had an engine and people pulling on the ropes to assist them. Scary, and we appreciated the help!

For all that, the journey at 2mph takes us through tree-shaded uninhabited areas. Cruising through Chester’s high Roman walls or through modern urbanisation brings a totally different angle to view a city. Of course, pubs that edge the canals offer a refreshing rest stop for dining and drinking. And for the opportunity offered by gongoozlers (idle spectators) to offer advice or a hearty cheer should boat manoeuvres go awry. I showed an interested party inside my boat. They marveled at the galley, the seating and all, but the crowning glory was the excited squeal of “there’s a shower!”

Are you shore?

We moored a 15-minute walk to Chester zoo. No quick getaway with smuggled animals. 2mph is even probably too fast for the sloth!

Thus my boating adventure came to an end. I met new people along the way, saw new places and from different angles. A bit like my OU journey.

Posted on behalf of Sue Goodyear.

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