Thoughts, quirky insights and experiences in my meandering life.

The care and maintenance of a canal life

Clearly not Little Star, but inhabited.

This morning we woke to high wind. Clouds are scudding across the sky in a hell of a hurry. So we are staying put until about noon when the BBC weather apps says the wind will drop. Little Star is a lighter boat, specifically recommended for me to be able to handle her on my own, but she is pushed around a lot by wind. I now try to have the next lock gate open before leaving the previous lock when going up or down a flight so that the wind can not push the boat around while waiting for the gate to open. I hope that makes sense.

Life on board a narrowboat highlights managing the basic necessities of life. The boat has to be fed and watered, and so do I and my rotating crew. The Nicholson guide is studied in detail to identify where the next diesel stop is, next water point, next toilet emptying station, and next food store and canal side pub. All of these activities take time to accomplish, so that has to be figured into the day, and how much time it will take away from traveling along the canal. A bit of a balancing act, especially when you add in other activities, such as looking around a town, and in Banbury, visiting Banbury Cross

Banbury Cross

Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross, To see a fine lady upon a white horse, With rings on her fingers and bells on her toes, She shall have music wherever she goes.

Had to be done, this a well known nursery rhyme from my childhood. Not sure if it is known in Canada and elsewhere.

Also in Banbury is Tooleys Boatyard. Tooleys refitted the Cressy for Tom Rolt to live on with his wife. They went on a canal journey for their honeymoon in 1939. He wrote about it in his book “Narrowboat”, published in 1944 and is credited with beginning the revival of interest in canals. They were beginning to fall into disrepair because they were no longer being used to carry goods to ports and markets, although they did have a resurgence during the second world war. A canal version of Land Girls worked on them.

Canals sprang up in the late 1700’s, although there had been transport by water before that along rivers and small canals. There was a need to get the industrial revolutions products to their markets, and to get coal to the industrial centers of the country to manufacture those goods. Roads were not paved and the horse drawn carriages with heavy loads were very destructive. Canals were a solution. No environmental assessments then, they were built by people with money hoping to make more money. Competing companies built competing canals and the network was born. However, it was quickly super-ceded by the railway, which was much faster than the top rate of speed on a canal, 4 or 5 mph. Canal companies merged, and some were bought by railway companies with the sole purpose of shutting them down. Now of course, to some degree, railways have been super-ceded by trucks on roads. I can’t help but think about the oil pipelines which big oil companies want to build in Canada and the U.S. Environmental assessments are being challenged and Indigenous people not consulted about their land rights. All for an industry whose end is just over the horizon as we develop more and more renewable energy.


We are presently on the Oxford Canal, which winds and winds its way around the countryside. It is called a contour canal because it follow the contours of the land rather than using locks to lift it up and lower it over rises. There was a move to fill it in when Tom Rolt’s book was published and the revival began. I am beginning to think that the second life of the canals will be longer lived and create more income from those that supply the needs of canal dwellers, either live aboards or holiday makers than the original use of the canals did. Chandlers, boat builders and restorers, marinas, narrowboat rentals, narrowboat sales and resales, canal side pubs and supermarkets, and all the towns and tourist attractions along the way are generating jobs and boosting the local economy, and providing some wonderful experiences for those on the canals. Including all the volunteers who have formed charitable foundations to restore and maintain canals and who give hours of their time in a myriad of ways. Including opening and closing locks during the summer months at busy points along the way. I can’t wait for that if I am on my own! It will make my life so easy!


Almost, but not quite


Trapped on the Thames


  1. Aileen

    Hello. My mum used that rhyme! My goodness, I hadn’t heard it in ages. Thanks for jogging a lovely memory. This is so interesting. Very please to hear that canels are still being tended and used., by folks Love the pictures, and history. The last pic. Restored building now used as a ?

    • Maggie

      Hi Aileen,
      I am so glad that someone in Canada knew that nursery rhyme. I remember that kids were bobbed up and down on adults crossed legs in time with the tune, imitating the bobing of the “ride a cock horse”.

  2. Marilyn Perreira

    Hi Maggie!
    I am truly enjoying reading all about your adventures on the canal, and may I add what a fantastic writer you are?! My Mum always recited that nursery rhyme (along with many other little ditty’s she remembered from her childhood in England) and I passed it on with many other Nursery rhymes to my kids? Loved seeing the pic of Banbury Cross.

    • Maggie

      So lovely to hear from you and that you passed that nursery rhyme along to your kids! How is the table working out? My hands have become quite stiff since stopping work, have to keep them moving!
      All the best

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