Some of them were extremely well kept. Shiny coats of paint, solar panels optimistically placed along the roof, neat pots of flowers placed on the deck. It really added to the serenity of the walk alongside the canal.
It’s some years since I last walked down a towpath. I used to live in Lancaster and used to love strolling by the canal there, stopping off for a pint in The Water Witch. But I’d sort of forgot that the canals are there, and when I went up to Skipton last week to research a couple of walks for a new book about railways in the Dales, I honestly felt like I’d been missing out. There’s something unique about it, passing locks, going under old bridges, over aqueducts that must have been incredibly futuristic when constructed.
But it must be very different actually living on one of the boats, when darkness falls and the cold sets in, when the little stove needs huddling round and the rain pelts on the roof. Would this be romantic, quaint, idyllic even? Or is it just your idea of a complete nightmare? Well, walking between Skipton and Gargrave on Friday, there were plenty of people at home on the water, chopping wood, tending plants and doing the shopping. I’m not sure I could stomach it as a way of life, but that wander by the waterside did make me want to have a go at it for a week – although how I’ll manage to park one of those things is quite beyond me.
The walking book I was writing was more concerned with railways than canals, but the two were important in shaping Skipton and developing transport links in the Yorkshire Dales. Money is being spent preserving the canal and carrying out maintenance work, both for those on the towpath and on the water.
So what do people think? Is a canal somewhere you could live for a few years? Do you have a barge, and if so is it the idyllic dream some may see it as?
* Peak District Walks on Moors and Tors is out this month through Sigma Press.