Friday, 25 July 2014

Canal Cuttings (36)

This is just one of a series of around fifty old newspaper articles that I have been reading. I have been researching from old newspapers and magazines. Covering the last 200 years or so of life on the inland waterways. With particular interest in the major issues of the day that were effecting the canals. The most active periods for evaluation and change, has always been just prior, during and shortly after the two world wars. It should be remembered that between the wars the ownership of some of the canals changed hands as the railway companies bought up the waterways to get reduce competition. What is not clear is the effect this early form of asset stripping had on the viability of the inland waterways. Its good to take a look back at what people were saying and doing in the past. Most surprising of all are some of the problems that beset the canals back then - are still prevalent today. Reading old newspapers can throw up some rather interesting stories. Here is what we would call today a public interest story. 

Caveat: Some of the articles are difficult to read and even using modern electronic scanning and text conversion methods. The odd punctuation, word or character may have been transcribed in error.

The Canberra Times. 
Sunday 25th July 1993. 
Turn Gongoozalar on Britain's Relaxing Canals. 
Robin Mead discovered a 200-year-old secret world of peace and solitude on England's inland waterways. 

AWAY from the rush and bustle of Britain's towns and motorways there is another, secret, world of peace and solitude where nothing moves faster than 4 mph and where the inhabitants speak a 200-year-old language of their own. Stay there for more than a few days and there is a serious danger that you will turn into a gongoozalar. You may find this strange, almost fairytale, world by diving through a hole in a hedge. On the other side, Mabel and Forget-Me-Not are waiting. Mabel and Forget-Me-Not are traditional English canal barges which have been converted into a floating hotel and spend each summer touring the 2000 miles of inland waterways that are part of Britain's industrial heritage.
This year the canals are celebrating their 200th birthday. Nowadays it is almost impossible to imagine the work that must have gone into planning and creating the waterways net work. In the eighteenth century the only way to dig the canals was by hand and rivers had to be diverted to fill them. But, at a time when roads were often impassable mud tracks and rail ways were no more than a gleam in the inventors' eyes, the canals provided the lifeblood of Britain's burgeoning industries. It is only recently that this vast, half hidden, holiday playground has been rediscovered. Visitors can hire a self drive boat on the canals if they wish but it is more fun, and certainly less strenuous, to holiday on a hotel boat.
But it must be stressed that canal hotel boats are like no other hotel boats. For a start, England's canals are less than 14ft wide: and in order that two boats can pass one another, canal "narrowboats" are indeed narrow. They are a maximum of 6ft 6in wide, but may be up to 70ft long. So, just as you may join your boat by way of a hole in the hedge rather than meeting it on a smart jetty, the cabins are small, en suite facilities are rare, the bar non-existent (although the boats do tie up beside a friendly pub most lunchtimes and every evening) and the atmosphere homely.
You will not need your tiara for this trip. In fact you won't need formal clothes at all the accent is on casual, comfortable, weatherproof gear around the clock. What you will need is a willingness to join in the fun, and perhaps the ability to learn how to be a gongoozalar. For just as the canals have their own historic architecture including barrel shaped little cottages for the lock keepers, and strange curly bridges that somehow enabled the horses which once drew the boats to cross the canal without getting tangled up in the tow rope so they have their own word for things. The canal itself is the "cut", and the stretch of water between two locks is the "pound". And anyone who spends long periods of time gazing fixedly at nothing in particular is a "gongoozalar".
There are a lot of gongoozalars on the canals because, although they can sometimes be a trifle unkempt in towns, they mostly drift through some of England's most attractive and least spoiled countryside. The ride is extremely relaxing. If you want to tour Shakespeare country, try taking the slow lane. The once-derelict Stratford-on-Avon canal, which has been restored and reopened by the National Trust, wanders through the Forest of Arden, near Warwick, on its way to the bard's birthplace and is much-loved by canal enthusiasts. The long flight of locks near the village of Lapworth can be an adventure: some of the lock walls are bowed with age and nobody is ever quite sure which is widest the lock or the boats.
Canal hotel boats, which are a lot more comfortable to live on than they look, travel in pairs because they have only one engine between them. The motorised boat tows its less agile companion the "butty". Each vessel contains half-a-dozen single or double cabins, there is a roomy saloon in the motorised boat, and the butty includes a kitchen and dining-room. Enthusiastic youngsters make up the crew: a husband-and wife team plus a couple of waitresses cum-chambermaids who also look after such nautical duties as steering the boats and opening and shutting lock gates. Volunteers who want to help with the latter tasks are welcomed, but of course there is no pressure on people who are, after all, paying customers. Hotel boats are particularly popular with visitors to Britain, but : those with their "sea legs" might prefer to hire their own narrowboat, or rent a cabin cruiser on one of the major rivers, like the Thames or on a man-made cruising ground like the Norfolk Broads, in East Anglia, where miles of ancient peat diggings have flooded and become a very popular and safe network of interlocking lakes.
All self-drive narrowboats and cruiser hire companies give an hour or so's tuition when you pick up your boat, and provide charts and maps as well as a "starter pack" of basic foodstuffs. Hire boats can cost, as little as $42 per person for a week.

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