Carpe Diem, The Series: Return To The Colonies

canal boat in london

Paul Stevens


We recently returned from a trip to England, our first across the pond.  We have traveled throughout the western hemisphere but had never ventured eastward.  I don’t want this article to come off as a travelogue but let me share a few highlights with you.

The trip had been planned for months as we would be joining my two sister and respective brothers-in-law for some adventures in the land of knights, lords, and sheep.

Canal Boats

The first portion of the trip, after a couple of days in Manchester, would be to hop on canal boats exploring a system of waterways that seem to go on forever.  These are man-made water routes that were used in by-gone days to move goods and supplies between towns before the advent of rail. 

The canal boats were long, narrow affairs that in the day were pulled along the canals by horse.  The original boats have long been replaced and modernized to now include all the comforts of home. They are powered by small diesel engines that drive the boats but at only 4-5 mph which is about walking speed. The boats are only about six or seven feet wide but ours was 68 feet long, the largest available in the fleet! They don’t exactly handle like an F1 race car so it was fortunate that the sides of the canals could be used to ‘bump’ you back on course, not that there was much room to go off track as the canals were only the width of two boats maximum and often only one boat-width wide when going through locks, across aqueducts, or through tunnels.

We were due to pick up our boat in a little town named Trevor which is actually in Wales.  The route we chose would straddle the Wales/England border so it was a constant challenge to figure out which country we were in at any particular time. 

After a brief lesson on the workings of the boat, we were off and on our own. Go where you want, but have the boat back to the same spot at the appointed time.  It was within the first 10 minutes of the cruise that we were traversing the first aqueduct.  An amazing bit of engineering that was at least 100 ft. above the surrounding terrain.

Traveling Via Water  

Here in North America we enjoy some spectacular geography – towering mountains, broad prairies, deep valleys, rainforests, even deserts to name a few of our interesting features.  The British countryside has its merits in the gently rolling hills and the lush greenery that seemingly never ends. The relative slow motion of the canal boats provided an excellent opportunity to take it all in at a very leisurely pace with, of course, no traffic to contend with, other than the occasional slow moving boat coming the other way.   Traveling across the aqueducts offered a fabulous vantage point to check out the area which could be summarized as being ‘pastoral’ or ‘serene’ at every turn.  We would never tire of that.  I kept expecting to see Robin Hood poke his nose out from the surrounding forest and offer up a “Welcome to Sherwood” greeting. 

We would putt along the canal by day, stopping at the town of our choice for the evening.  This provided an opportunity to try out a local eatery that inevitably involved sampling the house brew as well.  This is  where our first and only disappointment creeped into our travels. 

There are probably two meals that are synonymous with Britain; bangers and mash and fish and chips.  The fish was good but the chips (fries) were of the frozen variety!  C’mon man! You’re supposed to be famous for this and you give me frozen fries!  I have previously mentioned that one of the gourmet pleasures of Sarnia are the numerous chip trucks that are integral part of the landscape here.  All of them offer up fresh cut fries that are one of the guilty pleasures during the warmer months. The Brits could have used a lesson here but since that was our only complaint and a small one to boot, we’ll let it slide. There would be lots of great experiences sufficient to let the chips problem fade to black.

London Adventure

After four days and four nights on the boats, we were due to return to Trevor and start the next leg of our journey.  One sister and brother-in-law returned home as they had been in England the previous week on a tour and my other sister and brother-in-law were headed off the southwest of England to visit some friends.  My wife and I made our way to London as what would our first trip to Britain be without visiting London?

We had arranged for a nice flat via Airbnb in the Paddington area of London, about a 20 minute walk to just about any place we had planned on visiting. And walk we did. My wife’s Fitbit recorded at least 30,000 steps each day which I am told is a healthy amount of pounding the pavement.

I grew up and lived in a large city, Toronto, but it pales in comparison to London.  If I had to come up with a word to describe the old town, it would be ‘intense’.  I have been to New York and yes, it too is intense but London’s shorter and winding streets just seem to amp it up a notch or two. There were people everywhere and lots of them. Cheek to jowl with strangers no matter where we went.  It may sound overwhelming in a negative way but there was a level of civility to it that created a high level of positive urban vibe.  OK for a vacation but not what I would want for day-to-day living.  I must be getting old as I think young people would really love the place.

Cycling In London

For me as an avid cyclist, it was amazing to see how many people were on two wheels as their way of getting around.  On the surface, that sounds encouraging at least on an environmental level but thinking about it, there would be no way on Planet Earth would I consider cycling in the downtown area.  Way too many vehicles, unclear markings on the road and a curious absence of helmets wearers.  I guess it’s a situation that you get used to but just looking at the potential for mayhem on the roads gave me the willies. It seemed like there was a disaster waiting to happen just lurking around the next corner.

Related Article: Carpe Diem, The Series: Crunch Time!

After six days enjoying the multitude of sights that London has to offer, it was time to return home and we were looking forward to that. A great trip and surprise, surprise, we had over the course of almost two weeks, about three minutes of rain. In London, temperatures were in the 30C degree range (about 90F) with the summer solstice day the warmest on record, which goes back decades. Very un-London like weather to say the least. We came prepared for cool, wet weather but needed light clothing and sunscreen.

Ahh The Jet Lag

Jet lag came home to bite us about a day later but the struggle to get back to our regular routine was very helpful in getting ourselves back in gear in short order.  For me, that meant getting together with my Mandito riding group and enjoying an absence of vehicles on quiet country roads.  Ahhhhh…that’s more like it.  I have a couple of long distance group rides coming up and I have been getting myself back in the saddle as frequently as possible to get prepared.  Travel is nice but I do enjoy the comfort of being home. 

I’m including a photo of the canal boat portion of our trip as it is something you may not be familiar with.  Everybody knows what Big Ben and Buckingham Palace look like so no need to show you those sites.  That’s me enjoying the foredeck (nautical speak for the pointy end of the boat) while crossing an aqueduct that I think was in Wales.

Here in the Great White North, a.k.a. Canada we are about to enjoy our 150th birthday on July 1st and good on us. We have lots of work to do on our journey but we have come a long and prosperous way.  Our U.S. friends will also be enjoying your July 4th birthday and if you need any help on what it takes to make really good fries, ask a Canuck!canal boat

Your friend, Paul. 

And remember – Carpe Diem (but in relaxed sort of way)!.

Related Article: Carpe Diem, The Series: Weather Permitting

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