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This is a review of my first 6 months narrow boating, why it’s a similar experience to hiking and wild-camping and why I love it.

The name and painting of Striding Edge on the side of my narrow boat

Introduction

I’ve now owned the Striding Edge narrow boat for half a year and I’ve learnt a lot in that time, much of which I didn’t have a clue I’d need to learn before I started. I purchased my boat without a test drive or ever having been on one before. I originally thought boating on a canal with a maximum speed of about 4 miles an hour, would be relaxing and stress free. How wrong was I. Owning a narrow boat is stressful and in no way relaxing and I lose weight every time I take it out, though I love it all the more because of that.
I’ll explain more:

Striding Edge Narrow Boat

Why I bought a narrow boat

I purchased my narrow boat as a spur of the moment thing during my divorce and I was looking down the throat of my 53rd birthday. Realising that I’ve more of my life behind me than I’ve ahead, I was determined not to waste what was left of it, but mainly I wasn’t going to let the divorce get me down. Luckily I was financially secure and my two children were independent at 18 and 21. So it was the first time in my life that I was free to do exactly what I wanted.

Camped beside a canal on my Lands End to John O’Groats walk

I say that I purchased the boat on the spur of the moment, and I did, but it wasn’t without a lot of thought. A couple of years previously I had spent two months walking 1200 miles from Lands End to John O’Groats. This had introduced me to the canals and mainly the gorgeous Lancaster canal, which I had walked the full length of.

The lovely Lancaster canal

I enjoyed being by the canals so much, that the following year I planned my 1100 mile Dover to Cape Wrath walk to follow as many canals as possible. So I had spent hundreds of hours thinking about the narrow boats.

Watching the sun rise over the canal

I’ve been surprised by how much my 18 and 21 year old children have enjoyed the boat. They often join me on trips, which is handy because narrow boating is a lot easier with a crew.

My kids helping me through a narrow lock on the Llangollen canal

About my boat

My Striding Edge narrow boat is 45 feet long and 6 feet 10 inches wide. It was built in 2002 and cost me £40,000.

Striding Edge Narrow Boat

It has got one bedroom. Bathroom with cassette toilet, sink and separate shower. Kitchen with oven, sink, hob and fridge. There is a lounge with 2 swivel chairs and a table.

Kitchen/Galley
Looking into the lounge and kitchen from the back of the boat
Looking into the bedroom and shower room from the front of the boat

There’s a large water tank on the boat and a pump to pressurise the taps. This lasts me over a week, even if showering every day. The tank can be refilled for free at various locations along the canals, as part of my Canal and River Trust licence.

Hot water is stored in a tank that’s heated by the engine and is only available if the engine has been run for a few hours.

There’s 2 gas bottles in the front of the boat to supply gas for hob, grill and oven. The gas seems to last forever, I’m still on my first bottle.

The electric is mainly 12v and stored in big batteries, which are recharged by the engine. There is a 1000w inverter to convert 12v to 230v but this flattens the batteries fairly quickly, so I mostly use 12v appliances.

There are radiators on the boat that are heated with a diesel heater and there’s also a multi-fuel stove for heating.

The boat has a cruiser stern with seats so there’s plenty of space for people on the back while cruising, or sitting outside when moored up.

Cruiser stern – on the scary Pontcysyllte aqueduct unchanged since it was built in 1805

The truth about the Canals

The canals are old, very old and it often shows with heavy, worn or broken lock gates and paddles. These can be hard work and slow to use, some even look like they shouldn’t be used. I went into one in Manchester that I couldn’t believe was useable and would actually work, it was so overgrown.

Locks are old and often worn but I wasn’t sure this one was actually useable

The canals were not all designed and built by the same person, each canal was designed and built by different people. So they all vary quite a bit, some will take wide beam boats and others will not. Some canals can accommodate 72 feet long boats and on others you will not fit in the locks. They even vary with how the lock gates and paddle mechanisms work.

Tunnels can be quite small and they’re often not straight

There are lots of challenges that slow your progress to possibly 1 or 2 miles an hour. Lift and swivel bridges are fairly common on the narrow canals. Some are electric but mostly they’re operated by hand with a Windlass.

Hand operated lift bridge

The canals can be busy and sods law there will be someone coming when you least expect it. It’s not uncommon to hit other boats. I heard a saying very soon after buying my boat “well Narrow boating is a contact sport”, totally see what they meant now. If its not another boat it’s a bridge or the entrance to a lock.

Wide canal lock and no ladder to get on or off the boat when worked single handed, Not good when the lock gate swings shut unexpectedly

There are a lot of boats on the canals and it can get very busy so queuing at locks is not uncommon, It usually takes me an hour to get through Grindley Brook locks but has taken over 4hrs when it was busy.

Lovely people working the lock gates and paddles for me so that I didn’t have to get off the boat

I’ve found the canals a very friendly place and there’s often people willing to help or stop and chat.

The truth about narrow boats

Narrow boating is not easy or relaxing for the inexperienced. You might be steering it at the back but the boat turns from the middle. They also don’t want to go straight and will crash at any slight loss of concentration.

Boats are expensive to buy and to run. The licence to use the canals and moorings are charged by the foot. So the longer the boat the more it costs. Shorter boats are cheaper and also easier to manoeuvre, which is handy because you have to do that a lot.

Vision can be a problem as you are on the back of a long boat and the front can be actually passing through a bridge before you can see if a boat is coming the other way.

Praying a boat doesn’t come the other way

There’s also the issue of going past other boats slowly, there can be a ‘lot’ of boats moored. There is an area well known on the network called the Golden Mile because there is a mile of moored boats. This can be mind numbingly slow, passing these on tick over at 1 to 2 mile an hour.

Information – Narrow Boats

Choosing which boat to have is a minefield of designs and sizes. There’s important choices to make, do you want a narrow or wide beam, standard or revers layout, a trad, semi trad or cruiser stern and how long should the boat be?

The size of the boat is important, there is a choice of narrow or wide beam and boats up to 72 feet long. 57 foot long and a narrow boat seems to be the optimum size for maximum living space, but that can go nearly anywhere on the canal network. Most locks on the network will accommodate this length.

Locks are interesting and sometimes complicated

Wide beam boats have more space in them but you can only use the wide canals in the south and north of the country. They will not fit on the narrow canals in the central belt, so this limits your touring opportunities.

The size of the boat also has cost implications, most things are charged by the length. The canal licence fee, mooring charges and painting the boat are all charged by the foot. So the bigger the boat the more it costs. For instance the 2021/22 Canal and River Trust licence is £1225 for a 72′ boat but only £913 for my 45′ boat.

I love life on my narrow boat

I’ve enjoyed having a mobile base to get me out in to the countryside and do walks. It’s been a really nice change to return to a base and have shower or sit in a comfortable chair and a comfy bed at the end of the day, instead of camping.

Relaxing in the sun

Having the Striding Edge narrow boat has given me the feeling of freedom that’s so rare in our busy lives now. I used to get it travelling around in motorhomes, however this has been lost as it got more popular and busier, you now have to plan and book campsites months ahead. The canals are still pretty free and I don’t have to book anything, I just travel as far as I like and moor up nearly anywhere. There’s also very few rules and I can even drink and drive, obviously sensibly because there’s water all around and you’re on a boat that has a mind of it’s own if you’re not concentrating fully.

Colemere
Colemere

The canals are so old and worn that every time I take the boat out it’s an adventure and I never know if I’ll get back as planned. Narrow boats are quite complicated, being a house and a vehicle all in one. They take some looking after and effort to use, with locks to work and bridges to lift or swing, mooring ropes to tie up.

Cruising through historic Chester

I love being out in the weather and mooring up with a different views every night, usually in the middle nowhere, with a glass of wine and a sunset. PERFECTION.

The view from my boat on my Cheshire Ring trip

Further reading

Canal and River Trust – Home page

Link – Canal Map – UK

Canal walks

The Lancaster Canal walk

Wey Navigation walk

The Grand Union Canal walk

Oxford and Coventry Canals

The Union Canal + Forth and Clyde Canal walk

Wildwalkinguk is a blog run by myself in spare time, and I pay for its running costs myself. I do have some Amazon affiliate links and adverts on the site. If you click on these adverts or links and buy what you need (it doesn’t have to be the item I’ve linked to) the company will pay a small commission to us. This money goes towards the costs of hosting the blog. I would be extremely grateful if you could consider using our links when you next need to buy something from our advertisers. Alternatively, you can buy me a coffee here. Thank you so much for your support. Mark.

4 Replies to “Striding Edge Narrow Boat”

  1. What a lovely post. Something I wish I had done years ago. Schoolboy trips on a 72 footer still hold a special place in the box of memories to this day. A canal backpacking walk is due to be planned soon for 2022/23 of 80 to 100 miles or more. (We’re walking TGO Challenge again in 2022 – deferred 2020/21). I would appreciate any advice you can offer on joining up inland canal towpaths. We live in Cockermouth, Cumbria and, as a new blogger, LighterHiker on WordPress. Best wishes.

    1. Hi Trevor
      Thankyou for your message. I’ve walked the Llangollen canal leaving it on the Montgomery canal, following it to join the Offa’s Dike path up to re-join the Llangollen canal again, following it back to the Montgomery canal. Nice walk over hills, aqueducts and through Chirk tunnel, on good paths but unknown mileage.
      There is also the Cheshire Ring at 98 miles. I have done it by boat but not walked it. Very interesting walk on good towpaths, even Manchester is interesting but big and would need accommodation planned. Happy to help with more info if needed. I do have plans to write up the above walk and boat trip.
      Best of luck with the TGO, I’m jealous.
      Mark

    1. Thank you very much for your message, it’s much appreciated. I’m still planning hikes but can’t get months of work like I used to, so I’ll be doing shorter walks and walks from the boat. Thanks again. Mark

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