There and Back Again: The Boat Trip

Considering the fact that the last thing I wrote about was how rubbish it is to live on a boat and that I haven’t blogged in ages, you could be forgiven for thinking that I’d packed up boating entirely and moved to one of those less wobbly living spaces.

You would be wrong, presumptuous reader.

Instead, I have been learning exactly why boating is not rubbish by undertaking an Epic Boat Trip.

The idea came about when a very lovely friend of mine announced she would be having her second wedding in Oxford (Yes, second wedding. How many weddings did you have? If it’s not two, it’s not enough). We wondered whether it might be nice to take the boat all the way to Oxford.

Then we realised that, by some weird blood magic, all of my immediate family currently live on or near the canal — in Tring, Newton Longville and Banbury.

“This is perfect!” we said, “We can take the boat to Oxford and see everyone along the way.”

We got on to and started to organise our trip, the only proviso being that we were back in time for a boat blacking booked on the 10th of August.

This is how far we planned to go:

Screen Shot 2014-07-11 at 12.16.38This is how far we actually got:


I’m not sure what Canaplan is on about with those ‘Day 1, Day 2’ markers. All I can think is that perhaps Canalplan thinks we are boating in an aeroplane.

You see, you know when I said a while back that everything about boating takes forever, it turns out that this applies to boat trips too. It took us a week just to get to Tring (45 minutes on the train, in case you’re wondering) and that was with six eight-hour days of hardcore boating.



After collapsing in Berkhamsted, we soon realised we couldn’t keep it up. We decided that it was probably best to go as far as Fenny Stratford then turn round and come back again, giving ourselves space to take our time on the way home. This would mean boating for, say, five hours a day instead of a million. Plus it gave us more time to go to the pub.

So far, the trip has been amazing. I had intended to write a Captain’s Blog as we went along but it turns out that, after an eight-hour sixteen-lock day, what you really need is less writing, more wine, so I never got round to it.

Instead I have made a list of…

10 Things You Learn on a Boat Trip!

(A foreword for non-boaters: This is basically going to be me complaining about locks. Feel free to skip ahead.)

1) THERE ARE SO MANY LOCKS ON THE GRAND UNION. So, so many locks. Too many locks. Before this boat trip, the most locks we’d been through in one day was probably about four or five. Now the most locks we’ve been through in one day is sixteen. THAT IS TOO MANY LOCKS.

This is my life now.

This is my life now.

2) Some locks have two sets of paddles. In London, the locks only have one set of paddles to open. In The Countryside, the locks often have gate paddles as well. If you ignore these because you don’t know what they are and you’re scared of them, you’re going to spend a very long and confusing time waiting for the lock to fill up. Local lock keepers will find this amusing.

3) Gate paddles hate your boat and want to see it drown. 
When you eventually work up the courage to try the gate paddles out, you’ll find that opening them just releases a furious jet of water that is seemingly designed to sink your boat in the shortest time possible.

Screen Shot 2014-07-11 at 18.01.22


4) Always read the sign that advises you not to open gate paddles until the lock is at least half full. See above.

5) There is no one good way to go up through a lock. No matter how many times we think we’ve got it down, there’s always that one lock that sends the boat crashing over to the other side, even when you’re sure you’ve done everything right. Luckily there are also hundreds of boaters waiting at each lock to tell you how it’s done.

6) If you look under the age of 40, people will assume you don’t know what you’re doing. We don’t find this as often in London since there are lots of other young boaters around but, since we ventured north of the Big Smoke, lots of people have been doing advice at us. At best, this is lovely, well-intentioned and sometimes helpful. At worst, people have strolled over to give me lock instructions I know to be wrong, which I’ve then carried out just to be polite and ended up nearly sinking the boat.

7) Boating is a lot easier when you have a full crew. Having so many family members around means we’ve enjoyed lots of free labour on this trip. I now expect to lie sunbathing atop the boat while things happen around me.

8) Boating is hard work when there are just two of you. We have come to learn that about six hours a day is our limit. On the plus side, I now have muscles on my muscles.

Me (artist's impression).

Me (artist’s impression).

9) Your liver will need a holiday after a boat holiday. There are so many pubs on the canals. So many.  Each a wondrous place full of food that requires no cooking or cleaning up. There are also many wines. I don’t think there’s been a single day of this trip where we haven’t been to the pub. It is simply The Done Thing. We had no choice.

10) If you are going to go to the pub for lunch, make sure your mooring pins are hammered in properly. Otherwise you’re going to face an embarrassing sprint down the towpath while a beer garden full of drunk people laugh at your boat floating away.

There you have it. I’m sure there are lots of other things I should have remembered to write about but I’ve forgotten. Probably on account of all the wines.

I did remember to keep a record of our trip in visual form however so check out my photo blog of the trip if you’d like to see all the beautiful, weird and wonderful things we’ve encountered so far.

One thought on “There and Back Again: The Boat Trip

  1. Pingback: A really complicated engine problem | A Narrow Escape

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