Easter is the real beginning of the boating season. Suddenly there are dozens of hire boats, released from their winter depots to make short day trips, or to tackle one of the ‘rings’, the circular routes that link several canals and bring you back to the start. The lock near my boat is alive with conversation and confusion – ‘How do we do this, again?’
The canals are also full of liveaboard boaters like me, planning our longer adventures, or just continuing to move in a constant journey with no beginning or end. We aren’t sailors of the high seas, and even our longest trip would hardly threaten Ellen McArthur – but still, there is a sense of discovery and of shifting horizons when you travel by water. As I planned my journey for the summer, I got to thinking about the Anglo-Saxon epic poem, The Seafarer – and I pinched its first line to serve as my own in this poem.
I sing my own true story, tell my travels
small as they are, of episodes on shallow channels;
working up to Wolverhampton through the Twenty One
or drifting into Diglis, gagging for a cup of tea.
It’s all about me: my boat, my slow-mo marvels,
my lockside affairs – a spaniel saved from death,
a bon mot for the fat gongoozler. That day
on the Llangollen, storm-glazed, glad together.
The overgrowing straits that carry me
from one pub to the next, the shallow river mouths
and long-dead ferry points where knackered boats
would carry sheep across at dusk;
I sing their praises daily, bank to bank.
A narrow span, a slight adventure
of slight travels, yes. But still my own, and true
and still, for all that, sung.
[Read more about Jo and her life afloat in the Telegraph’s Weekend magazine on Saturday 26th April]