I have written of the Grand Union Canal as providing the path for many a good walk, but it is not all about walking: there is the wet bit in the middle, the canal itself, and the canal is abuzz with life. Last weekend was the annual Rickmansworth Canal Festival; a celebration of the life of the canal, also with land-based stalls, events, live music stage and funfair. It is on the canal though that the festival comes into its own, and the narrow water throngs with colourful boats.
This is a celebration of the outdoors, if not a walk, but a life in the fresh air.
You would not know until you see them, or if you are of the fellowship of boaters, how many canal boats there are, and the variety of them. Some canals are very narrow, as on the Aylesbury Arm just 7 feet wide, and the narrowboats built for it are narrow. The main line through is a broader water, and by Batchworth they were moored three abreast with still ample room for passage past them, and here they gathered, brightly coloured in the canal-art style, or duller, working boats, and broad-bottomed boats that once hauled coal from Birmingham to London, restored with loving attention. Some are boats turned into floating stalls selling paintings, artworks, books and more, and others to remind us of the rescue services, including the canal chaplaincy. There is fellowship here and a unity despite the ill-matched types. All celebrated, bedecked with bunting.
On day 1 of Herts Embraced I crossed the Wendover and Aylesbury Arms, and saw the Wendover Arm cut off; dry and empty up to a dam, then brimful of water and ready the other – that is a tribute to the work of volunteers that still continues – that dam will be driven back as the work goes on until the Wendover Arm is full and operational. It is an artificial waterway, so it need maintenance or it decays, bursts and empties. that is worthy work, but I have not volunteered my arm yet.
The boats are shaped by their owners and maybe the names give a clue to eccentricities: plenty are named for wives and sweethearts and others, well, I did not see “Fat Bottomed Girl” nor “The Slowness of Cows” but I have seen each ply the canal. I am a walker not a boater, but I can give a cheer for those who take the tiller in order to enjoy the unhurried flow of the fields past them, and the slowness of cows.