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Power Cruising through the Midlands

Before 1840, beer used to be taken from Burton to the ports by canal boat. It was slow and expensive, often costing more than the trip form England to India. Not much has changed.

Canal holidays in the English Midlands cost more than a decent-sized chalet in the Mediterranean, with flights included. I have no idea why. The very nice people at Viking Afloat gave me a 25% discount off the market rate, and it was still more expensive than the cost of a month at sea on a tall ship.

Cost and logistics meant we couldn’t do the whole trip from Burton to London or Liverpool by canal. So we rented a boat form Rugby, 55 miles from Burton along a stretch of canal that was once packed with barges full of India Pale Ale.

You can only go so fats in a canal boat, with an average speed of two and a half to three miles an hour. Our journey each way was estimated to be three full days cruising. The only problem was, we didn’t have three days to get there. By the time we were allowed to pick up the boat, and then stock it with groceries, we only had about three hours’ cruising time left on our first day (you can’t cruise after dark). We had to start at first light, keep constantly on the move, with one person on the tiller while others made breakfast, showered, produced cups of tea, and we didn’t stop until dark. We were meant to be using this stage as a way of getting used to the concept of slow travel, getting away from the idea of speed being everything. Instead, we ended up inventing extreme canal boating by mistake.

And then my cruising companions all had to get back to real life, and I was faced with the prospect of piloting a 68 foot long boat on my own, which we had decided would be impossible. In desperation, I phoned my mum to see if she and her new boyfriend (her first in the 11 years since my dad died) fancied a day and a night on board. I was a bit nervous about meeting my mum’s new beau, and wanted to create a good impression. About half an hour after rendezvousing with them, I took a call telling me that Tehran were refusing to give me an Iranian visa, which I need because my container ship stops off at an Iranian port before it reaches India. Maybe it’s because I was flustered by this, but I took a bend badly and managed to crash the boat. We’d all done this several times, but this was a bad one. I’d got us wedged across a bend in the canal, stuck against both banks. I went forward to try and sort us out. And that’s when, carrying my blackberry and mobile phone, I fell in the canal.




“You can only go so fats in a canal boat”

Having gained a stone while researching for your last book, I bet you were pleased about the limited weight-gain possibilities of piloting canal boats.

Looking forward to reading more about your travels.


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