One of the greatest, childlike-exciting moments must be coming down the tidal Thames in a small narrowboat.
The journey from the Oxford canal starts with rather a gasp when you first see the width of the river at either of the two Oxford junctions.
Some days and many large, automatic locks later and you are at Teddington, waiting for the next daytime high tide, for the river is tidal from here to the North Sea. Fine, even when it is 5.50 am. Through the lock the river looks almost disappointingly similar, but in addition to its flow the tidal current gradually gains strength as you head east.
Gradually, landmarks and bridges gain in familiarity. Hampton Court, Hammersmith, Battersea and the power station, the MI6 building, Westminster and Parliament ... and finally Tower Bridge.
Richard: "Born in Hampstead, childhood City visits were special. Tower Bridge became a symbol; a symbol of a gateway to the rest of the world. Think yourself, years later, onto the deck of a small inland waterways born vessel, the Thames eighteen inches from your feet, heading down towards the centre arch of such a gateway. It's small wonder that the small boy inside wants to punch the air and yell in excitement as he skipppers his fragile craft through such a symbol. The feeling of genuine achievement stays with you. You can tell."
There's a deal of seamanship needed too; after all, the Thames is used by large public vessels each leaving a large, public wash. In the concrete-lined pool of London the chop is enough to make nervous sailors queasy. Seamanship extends to having a VHF radio, and a mobile phone because the radio transmits too weakly. Reaching Limehouse, where you turn off the River, there's seamanship needed as you cross the tideway and head back to the lock entrance.
It doesn't always go right. The current hits the opposite jetty and rebounds, causing an eddy across the mouth of the lock. It can result in you wedging across the entrance and having to go round again. I know: I was that soldier.
It's a fairly massive circuit, this. It witnesses deep rural scenery, deep urban grot, and everything in between including a river, Spaghetti Junction and The Tardebigge Fight. Sorry, Flight. Thirty six locks are squeezed, somehow, into 4 miles between Tardebigge tunnel and Stoke Prior. Oddly, there's a pub at each end and another two thirds the way up. Add soft, unremarkable rain which nevertheless soaks efficiently through, and you'll understand why the photos are not of the most recent voyage up here.
Definitely an "occasionally uncomfortable moment."
Earlier in the circuit the Bumblehole and Bratch locks are memorable, the first because of its name and the second because of their design. Bratch is three separate locks compressed like a bulldog's nose, so the distance between them is about 10ft. Odd. Awkward. But there is a lock keeper, thank goodness.
Stourport gives a good opportunity to get lost in the basin as access to the narrow locks down to the Severn is not obvious. And in windy conditions it's easy to be blown against the many boats moored in the basin.
The river is a good and a bad place to break an alternator belt. Good because there's room to manouvre, bad because of the current. Thank you to the owners of 'Waters Edge' who didn't allow us to moor at their landing stage but would have done had they been home.
And then of course there are the canal pirates who duel with buddleias. Ask for details.
Solong is 58ft long. Two locks on the Calder & Hebble are 62ft long. The bottom gates intrude about 5ft into that. So the only way of getting the boat in is diagonally across. With 2 people that requires some little confusion and scrambling around. And then, just as you think you solved it all, you find the upper gates are either leaky or have water pouring over the top. The result's the same: you can get wet. Very.
However, the difficulties are worth it because the scenery and the challenge of the river sections are worth it. Once again, have a look at some photos.
Much of this is unremarkable, though inevitably attractive and rural. It has fun moments, requiring a crew to disembark with a windlass and wind up a lift bridge of which there are many. Then quite suddenly you're on a thin ribbon of water which is the Chirk aqeduct, and immediately into a tunnel.
As if that wasn't enough, some time later the canal banks approach from either side and then disappear completely as you start your tentative, and in my case uneasy, way across the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. To your right, a cast iron towpath with a cast iron fence between you and the view. To the right, a 3" cast iron lip to hold the water in and then nothing except... well, the view. The fact that if you tried hard you could fall out of the boat and plummet 126 feet to the Dee valley is neither here nor there.
Llangollen's attractive and you can recover your equilibrium. Until the return journey, that is. It also has shops, Plas Newydd (ask Google) Horse-drawn canal trips, and the Llangollen Steam Railway, so is a far-sighted little town.
Did you ever play with Meccano?
It's still around. Back in the day, though, it was what fired the imagination of small boys from 8 to 80 and encouraged them to build anything so long as it involved anything mechanical. Advertised then as "The toy that grows with the boy", the makers surely can't have imagined it literally growing to become the Anderton Boat Lift.
If you have a licence and your own boat, going up or down is free, though if you want to book in advance they charge you for booking. Taking your boat on it is quite an experience.
Once on the Weaver you're presented with a salt works, transporting salt to the rest of the country being the reason for the Lift's presence. Turning right you quickly find you're on a pleasant rural waterway until, that is, you reach the outskirts of Runcorn. Here the world to your right is taken over by ICI whose works continue for mile after mile. On the left is a high bank, the other side of which is the Manchester Ship Canal and the Mersey, on neither of which may you go...
Turning left at the Lift it's also pleasant and you end up at Winsford Flash, a wide expanse of mainly shallow water, but attractive.
And then you return to fight the Lift again.