Great Britain – Liverpool – 2003
England by Narrowboat
Liverpool – UK June 2003
Invited and accompanied by Ann and Kevin, our dear friends from Liverpool, we went two times on a boattrip through the famous canals and locks near Cheshire by narrowboat.
After arriving at het Liverpool Airport ” John Lennon ” we embarked on a narrow boat and left on our trips through the channels for miles and miles. We visited various beautful sites, typical local festivals and small towns, bought some beers in rural pubs and finally visited Liverpool Center on a very hot day.
On the canals we got in touch with very polite people on the other boats. Passing the locks one has to open en close the doors of the locks by hand and during the time to level the water on both sites of the locks one has to be in charge of keeping your narrowboat within the doors of the locks while the water is rising of falling… It takes a lot of spectators on the walls of the locks watching the boats drifting..
We noticed a lot of British couples living on their narrowboats for months and months accompanied by their dogs.
We had a beautiful stay in this region of England, had English breakfasts every morning, drank large pints of Bubbington Beer and thanks to you wonderful people we enjoyed staying in the Liverpool area very much!
Dear Kevin, Ann and Caroline, many, many thanks in showing the beautiful countryside by boat !!!!!
A narrowboat or narrow boat is a boat of a distinctive design, made to fit the narrow canals of Great Britain.
“narrow boat” refers to the original working boats built in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries for carrying goods on the narrow canals (where locks and bridge holes would have a maximum width of at least 7 feet (2.1 m); some locks on the Shropshire Union are even smaller).
The term is extended to modern “narrowboats” used for recreation and more and more as homes, whose design is an interpretation of the old boats for modern purposes and modern materials.
The key distinguishing feature of a narrowboat is its width: it must be no more than 7 feet (2.13 m) wide to navigate the British narrow canals. Some old boats are very close to this limit (often built 7 feet 1 1⁄2 inches or 2.17 m or slightly wider), and can have trouble using locks that are not quite as wide as they should be because of subsidence. Modern boats are usually 6 feet 10 inches (2.08 m) wide to guarantee easy passage everywhere.
Because of their slenderness, some narrowboats seem very long. The maximum length is about 70 feet (21 m), the length of most locks on the narrow canals. However, modern narrowboats tend to be shorter than this, so that they can cruise anywhere on the connected network of British canals – including on the “wide” canals (built for wider, but shorter, boats).
Boat drawn by horses on a towpath
The first working narrow boats played a key part in the economic changes accomplying the British Industrial Revolution. They were wooden boats drawn by a horse walking on the canal towpath led by a crew member, often a child. Narrowboats were chiefly designed for carrying cargo, though there were some packet boats, carrying passengers, letters, and parcels.
Boatmen’s families originally lived ashore, but in the 1830s as canals started to feel competition from the new railways, families (especially of owner/skippers of independent single boats) started to take up home afloat. This was partly because they could no longer afford rents, partly to provide extra hands to work the boats harder, faster and further, and partly to keep families together.
The rear portion of the boat became the cosy “boatman’s cabin”, familiar from picture postcards and museums, famous for its space-saving ingenuity and for its interior made attractive by a warm stove, a steaming kettle, gleaming brass, fancy lace, painted housewares, and decorated plates.
Although such descriptions rarely consider the actual comfort of a large family working an extremely hard and long day, and sleeping in the one tiny cabin, it is no doubt true that at the time there were many workers in harder, indoor, trades with less healthy conditions and worse accommodation where the family were separated for long hours rather than being together all day. Nonetheless it was impossible for such mobile families to send their children to school, and most boat people remained illiterate and ostracised by those living ‘on the bank’.
As diesel and steam replaced the tow horse in the early twentieth century, it became possible to move more cargo with the same manpower by towing a second unpowered boat, commonly referred to as a “butty”, “buttyboat” or “butty boat”. There was now no horse to look after, but someone had to steer the butty, unless on a wide canal such as the Grand Union Canal where the two boats could be roped side-to-side or ‘breasted up’, and handled as one while working locks.
Cargo-carrying by narrow boat was almost extinguished as a way of life between 1945 and the last regular long distance traffic finished in 1970. However some traffic continued into the 1980s and beyond including over 2 million tonnes of aggregate carried on the Grand Union (River Soar) from 1976 to 1996, latterly using wide beam barges however, and aggregate currently carried by narrow boats (and wide barges) between Denham and West Drayton on the Grand Union Canal. A few people are doing their best to keep the tradition alive, mostly by “one-off” deliveries rather than regular runs, or by selling goods such as coal to other boaters.
There are many enthusiasts dedicated to restoring the remaining old boats, often members of the Historic Narrow Boat owners Club  and there are also many replicas such as Working Narrow Boat Hadar ornately painted with the same traditional designs, usually of roses and castles. If the boat is not horse-drawn, it may have a refurbished, slow-revving, vintage diesel engine, and there are even some steam-driven narrow boats such as the ex-Fellows Morton and Clayton steamer President