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Life in the slow lane

A week on board a narrowboat called Ragnar

View Life in the Slow Lane - Canal Barging with Lyn and Chris 2015 on Grete Howard's travel map.

For the next seven nights, Ragnar will be home for the five of us: Captains David and Chris with deckhands Grete and Lyn; plus Bruno, the Deputy Dawg; as we travel slowly along the Llangollen and Shropshire canals from Whitchurch to Chester and back.


Picking the boat up is smooth and painless, and as soon as we manage to load our mountain(s) of stuff, we are on our way.

Our stuff (minus clothes) before we left home. The others have about the same amount again...

As the boat is facing the opposite direction to the one we want to travel, our first task is to find somewhere to turn the boat around. At 57ft, the boat is not exactly easy to manoeuvre, especially as the canals are generally no wide than 30ft. Fortunately, there are a number of turning circles – otherwise known as winding holes in boating speak – where there is enough room to turn your narrow-boat.

To say the the captain of the boat in front of us is inexperienced is a grave understatement – he has obviously just picked the boat up from the marina like we did. Unlike the roads in the UK, on the canals you drive on the right. Well, most people do; this guy is all over the place, and eventually he gets stuck in the reeds on the left hand side of the canal, just before the winding point. Not sure whether he is trying to turn the boat around completely or just totally messing up a right turn, we decide to overtake him and get our own boat facing the correct direction. Captain David makes a smooth turn but our passage is now completely blocked by the wayward boat which is diagonally across the canal. Chris jumps off to try and hold our craft in place while the other captain sorts himself off. There is quite a strong wind today, and both boats are fighting against it. Chris pulls hard on the rope to try and haul Ragnar to the side of the canal, walking backwards across the tow path that follows the length of the canal.

The tow path is much used by joggers, fishermen, dogwalkers as well as people from the boats; and usually everyone gets by with a little mutual respect. Not so with this afternoon's jogger. Maybe it isn't obvious to her that there is a 60ft boat across the canal in front of us? Maybe it isn't obvious to her that there is a strong wind today? Maybe it isn't obvious to her that Chris is trying desperately to pull the boat to the side of the canal? Maybe it is too much for her to wait until everyone has their crafts under control? Whatever her problem is, she voices it loudly and then impatiently tries to climb under the rope. Oh well, you can't please all the people all the time...

Our next “obstacle” is a lifting bridge. We have just a couple of these little bridges on this trip, as well as a total of 66 locks to negotiate. It does not help that I managed to sprain the navicular in my ankle (as well as tear my facia which causes plantar faciitis) less than a week before we left home, so a lot of the hard work is down to Lyn today (and very probably for the next few days).


Before we even reach the first set of locks, the engine starts whimpering and we lose power. Nothing. No forward, no reverse, no power. We manage to drift into the bank and tie up while the captains look at the engine. No sign of life. We ring the boat yard who promise to send an engineer out. Getting someone out to help you can be quite a problem as a) you are never quite sure exactly where you are, b)the nearest road may be some distance from where we are for the engineer to reach the boat from where he can park his car, and c) not knowing what is wrong with the boat engine, he may not have spares, or even be able to repair it. Not a good start to the holiday.

The repair man arrives reasonably quickly, and assesses the situation. The problem is down to a very dead hydraulic seal. He has a spare one in the van, and manages to eventually get us going again. As long as we can get to the Grindley Brook Staircase (a series of three locks joined together) before the lock keeper goes home for the day, we'll be OK.

No problem. We get there with plenty of time to spare.


The “cheerful” lock keeper comments that helping boaters these days is becoming more and more like “care in the community”. I later find myself understanding what he means as we encounter a man with a terribly irritating laugh like the comedian Paul Whitehouse in one of his roles; who is travelling an extremely talkative woman.

The rest of the afternoon goes by uneventfully, and as the sun is going down we pick our spot to moor for the night. We set out the table and chairs on the tow path, chatting to passers by and enjoying a drink or two (or three or four). Before we know it, time has passed and we are beyond trying to cook dinner, having snacked on crisps and nuts all evening.


Posted by Grete Howard 05:53 Archived in England

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It is all lies, we were just too tired to cook.

by Lyn Gowler

Lyn, I have been around Grete.

I believe her version.

by Stephen Sullivan

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