Friday, 22 April 2011

A Leisure Treasure.

Time Constraint.
In our normal everyday life we rush around due to the pressures placed upon us to go to work, go shopping, take children to school and a whole myriad of other everyday tasks. There is little time to spare for just being aware of anything else that is going on around us. We are locked away in our own world of time constraints.

Even going away on holiday can be just as stressful. Packing bags, checking passports, ensuring that this that and the other have all been taken care of, prior to departure. Hours of travelling on the ground and in the air bring us to our “holiday destination”. A sun tan is to be achieved as a measure of how good the holiday was. This is done by broiling our bodies on a beach. Done in the sure and certain knowledge that we are enjoying the relaxation.

However, the tension builds again as we prepare to return back the way we came. More hours of travelling on the ground and in the air – bring us to back home, with suitcases full of washing and the realisation that we are back to our taskmaster the clock, for another year. Even when we relax, it is still done at a pace. Timed and measured to fulfil our self imposed time constraints.
Leisure treasure

Yet there is a little known “leisure treasure”, that can be experienced at any time of the year. This treasure is the inland waterways of the United Kingdom. A canal and river system can create a real family holiday like no other.

It's a curious feeling that I get whenever I start to think about the waterways of England. In the main because it does not bring to mind a single mental picture. Each day on the river or canal brings with it, a whole new series of experiences. The first few days are spent winding down to synchronise with canal time. Then comes the realisation that a boating on a canal is a real family holiday where everyone including the family dog has their part to play.

I own a narrow-boat, it is a place on which I choose to spend a great deal of time. Yet is is much more than that, the boat is my personal tardis. Where, like Dr Who I can roam at will across open countryside, moorland and even through forests. England is criss crossed with rivers and canals and I am part of a community of people who have all discovered the hidden secret of a narrow boat holiday is time travel.

Side hatch
I like to moor our boat in a given location to relax and watch the world go by. I can observe the change from daybreak through to night fall. The side hatch on the boat acts as my instant picture frame. A frame that is throughout the day framing a stream of fleeting ever changing images. Images where the light is ever changing from the red glow of dawn to the indigo twilight as night falls. Clouds sometimes diffuse and soften the light and clear skies can make the image crystal clear to the distant horizon. Calm, still, days leave an inky, glossy, reflective sheen to the water surface. Whilst rain, creates a pattern of intersecting rings and the wind a ruffled surface of tiny waves. All the time through the riverside trees comes the dappled light both golden and green. With occasional shafts of bright sunlight bursting through to inch slowly across the water.

Time for the narrow boat based canal traveller, starts to take on a whole new meaning. Our bodies and mind quickly adapt to a more natural cycle of waking with the light and sleeping with the dark. Clocks are soon forgotten and we measure time in days on a calendar, rather than the hour hand of a watch. We choose our starting point and often never arrive at our chosen destination at the appointed time. Not because of a problem, we fail to arrive because the destination becomes no longer of any great importance. We have discovered the narrow boat secret of time travel.

Seasons also play a part in this image through the side hatch. From the bare, grey and black of the waterside hedgerow in winter with only the occasional evergreen of Holly. The stark hedgerow sometimes highlighted with the hard rime of winter frost. The button bright pinpoint of the red plumage of the Bullfinch or Holly berry bring a sparse touch of colour. Sometimes, we get the rare and silent fall of an overnight blanket of pristine blue white snow. Yet we time travellers are tucked away in our snug, warm and comfortable boat with a roaring fire in the stove.  Boating in winter can be a good family winter holiday.
We can even time travel to see the bright green shoots of spring. Where catkins hang in bunches of yellow tails. The white flowers of the hardy Blackthorn arrive before the leaves and the snowdrop comes and goes seemingly in the flicker of an eye. The isolated scatterings of narcissus catch the last rays of the sun before the canopy of trees slowly filters the light from the ground. This is the season of lambs and primroses, stagbeetles and pristine bluebell woods. Boating in spring can also be a good family holiday.

We can also travel time to arrive in the warm days of summer. Where at the vantage point of our place on the canal, we can watch and learn from nature. Now the canals have more boats moving and the tranquillity can sometimes be broken as some other time traveller family passes us by. All done with a cheery wave, smile and a brief hello. Boating in summer can be a good family holiday.

Time travel to later in the year and the browns and golds of the trees give warning of a change of seasons. The browns and golds are the harbinger of shorter days and longer nights. The cold sharpens the pinpoint of star light on black inky nights. The full moon can cast shadows with its ghostly light on a clear and cloudless night. We have time travelled to the autumn. In the day we will often see end of the cruising season boats moving towards their winter moorings. Boating in autumn can be a very rewarding family holiday.

Once more we are back to where we started. Winter, is one of the more deeply relaxing times on the waterways. Many boats are hunkered down waiting for spring. Only the more adventurous families will travel to this time zone. Yet even the winter on the inland waterways has a singular beauty of its own. A time to relax, to read, to enjoy, to write and to watch.

Canal sounds at any time of the year also play a significant part in this leisure treasure. Sharp ethereal bird song with the dawn chorus in spring. Remember that wildlife like people, are attracted to the peaceful and thriving habitat that makes up Britain's canals and rivers. The soft mellow insect hum of the countryside on long hot summer days. The soft slop slop of the water on the side of the boat. The splash of a jumping fish and the shrill creak call of the Moorhen. Then there is the short period of deafening silence as day turns to night and the countryside in an instant goes quiet to an unseen or unheard signal. Rising once again to a seemingly crescendo of soft background sounds. Bats replace the swallows and swifts wheeling and diving in the gloom. Still there is the occasional sound of gentle rain falling on the waters surface at any time of the day. Occasionally the sudden noise of a gust of wind to warn of a much heavy shower approaching.

Movement also adds to this leisure treasure. The fluttering flight of small birds fighting over some morsel in the hedgerow. The vertical rise and fall of a trilling skylark. The wheeling and turning of gulls as they glide on still wings. The sudden bright blue dart of a kingfisher flying close to the water surface. Leaves that flutter on the smallest of breeze. Invisible wind creating a movement, sweeping across fields of standing corn. The quiet water slowly drifting by.

Smell also plays its part in creating this special leisure treasure. New mown hay and other smells given off by the farmyard. The feint scent of hedgerow flowers and the smell of wood burning on the boat's stove. The damp scent of soil that is freshly ploughed. The musty scent of the water itself. Then comes the sudden realisation that we have a sense of smell. A sense that was being blunted by the overpowering smell of everyday life in a town or city.

This timeless experience of time travel only comes when we adapt our ways to those of the canals. When we allow the pace of the canal to dictate the pace of our life. With that change of pace comes an inward awareness of all the other senses alerting to all that surround us. Things that we are normally unaware of, now take on a new meaning. All this leisure treasure and we have not yet moved an inch.

The last sense is the feeling of movement and that comes from the boat. Movement on the canal is slow, as we potter along at a very gentle pace. The engine just ticking over and the world sliding by. Each corner brings a new vista. Sometimes industrial, sometimes woodland, sometimes open countryside. With only the occasional lock to pass through to halt the steady pace. Locks are an invention from the early days of the industrial revolution. They have changed very little in the intervening time. Often treated with undue reverence by the first time boater. As is steering the boat, which like the the locks should be done at a slow steady pace. The freedom of spirit that canal holiday offers should not to be underestimated.

For our children a boating holiday brings with it the chance of a real adventure that is sadly now missing from our health and safety conscious environment. Everyone must take care not to fall in the canal, or trip over a mooring bollard. Every boater has a sometime fallen into the canal. Every boater has at sometime tripped on something or other. The difference comes from being prepared for each eventuality and not fearing an eventuality. The canals are a safe and welcoming place to those who are aware, but we must respect its dangers. Its the dangers that create the sense of adventure.

This is your chance to nurture the children’s understanding of safety as well as nature. Do this by encouraging them to get involved in the running of the boat. Take time to explore the beautiful countryside along rural canals. Take time to enjoy travel through the waterways of towns and cities. There are activities on the boat to keep the whole family busy such as steering the boat, operating locks or swabbing the decks. There are off boat activities to enjoy as well. You can go for a walk , try your hand a fishing and remember that most canal side pubs are kid-friendly. With all the fresh air they'll get, they're sure to sleep soundly at night!

Narrow boat holidays provide an exciting and inspiring holiday for children. Boating holidays can even become a team building event for all the family. The dog will enjoy all the scents, sounds and walks as well as getting to spend a holiday with you rather than incarcerated in the kennels. You can enjoy boating during the different seasons of the year. If you want a very relaxing holiday then choose a part of the canal system with few locks for you to encounter on your travels.

I have however, just one warning. Boating holidays on the canals of Britain are seriously habit forming for both children and adults alike. If you get hooked by the boating bug, you are addicted for life.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Please put your name to your comment. Comments without a name may automatically be treated as spam and might not be included.

If you do not wish your comment to be published say so in your comment. If you have a tip or sensitive information you’d prefer to share anonymously, you may do so. I will delete the comment after reading.