Talk to people about canal cruising and the picture that springs to most minds is a lazy summers evening on a boat outside a country pub, miles from anywhere. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that (I’ve even been known to try a pint or two myself), but the narrowboater who never ventures into an urban environment is missing a trick.
A short journey on one of the many trip boats around the Gas Street Basin area of the Birmingham Canal Navigations shows just how the urban canal environment has changed over the years. Canals are now regarded as an urban asset rather than somewhere household rubbish is dumped. Mind you, that’s not always the case, as I remember having to navigate around a washing machine in the canal near Bow, Central London some years ago!
Canals are becoming ‘trendy’ in some urban areas. The regular trip boats from Little Venice to Camden Lock Market are testament to this, and mooring for the casual or passing boater is at a premium. However, a short distance further on brings the narrow boater to moorings at Islington, and a real surprise. Instead of the expected noise and clutter of the inner city, boaters find themselves in a small hidden oasis, with the rear of ivy clad, expensive houses forming a sylvan backdrop.
And don’t forget – you’ve much more likely to encounter congestion on the cities roads rather than on the canal passing secretly through it – It’s one of the few occasions a boat will beat a car, and I will never forget crossing the aqueduct over a crowded North Circular Road and watching opened mouthed motorists gazing up with a mixture of annoyance and envy at our progress.
So why not give the urban canal a try on your next trip out? You might find more than you expected.