Now and then when you stroll down the canals of London, I bet you’ve tried to imagine how it must be to live in one of those charming narrow boats that have become a symbol of the life surrounding the waterways of the UK.
During the May bank holiday almost 130 boats moored in Little Venice in London, for IWA Canalway Cavalcade, the annual celebration of the canals.
With narrow boats dressed up for boat pageants, one as a shark another one as Noah’s Ark, you could sense this year’s theme: Canals Alive, and the canals were certainly lively as 30.000 curious Londoners visited the site for boat handling competitions, food stalls and live music, among others.
I went to the site to observe Treshold taking part in a competition and sense the atmosphere.
The site was run by 120 volunteers every day, who sat up stalls, directed the public and made the canal festivity run smoothly.
One of them is Christine Smith from Worcestershire who’s the publicity manager for Inland Waterways Association and owner of the green and golden narrow boat Tickety Boo.
For her a very special activity is the blessing of the boats:
It’s being carried out by the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres. He goes along the quay and blesses the boats and the boaters, so they stay safe. It’s like Jesus blessing the waters. A long held tradition.
Together with her husband, Christine has traveled the canals to Liverpool, Birmingham, Manchester, across and under the Pennines. They prefer to go cruising in their narrow boat, when they go on vacation:
You can see the wildlife, the birdlife, but you can also see the reason why the canals were built. You can see how the goods were carried all around the country. I mean they were the motorways of their time.
The canals were built from the mid 18th century; which makes some of them nearly three hundred years old.
The waterways were created as the demand for industrial transport increased and they became a crucial part of the industrial revolution.
In cities like Manchester, pottery was carried by pack horses before, but due to the big amount of it being smashed up on the way, they decided to move it by boat instead.
As the waterways faced a decline in the middle of the 20th Century, Robert Aickman and Tom Rolt formed the Inland Waterway Association in 1946, to conserve the waterways and bring them to people’s attention, to show them how beautiful they can be.
Beautiful that’s what they were, those first days of May, when the colorful flags were waving on the boats and the quays were filled with people admiring the boats with the culture and history they encapsulate.
By Astrid Hald