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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Link – Canal Map – UK
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