A Rowing Tour on the Lancaster Canal

Posted by Amanda Jones | September 6, 2017

The touring boats are usually stable coxed quads. These are easier to control in locks and can squeeze through narrower gaps than rowing boats. Pedants may want the tours to be re-named “Sculling Tours”.

Daily routine. You get up very early. You regret staying up so late in the bar the night before (optional). Dozens of hungry rowers eat lots of breakfast before anyone else in the hotel is awake. You go to the loo, look for the things you will need during the day, think about spending the day in an open boat and go to the loo again. Coaches take us to the where the boats were stored overnight. Everybody helps everyone else to carry heavy touring boats to the river. This may involve lifting them over fences, going through holes in hedges and carrying up or down flights of steps. Eventually it is your turn to launch and you start paddling. After about an hour and a half you start looking for cafes, pubs, loos or even hedges that are accessible from the river. There is a planned stop for lunch, which may be sandwiches, then more paddling and looking for accessible amenities. At the overnight boat storage place everyone helps lift boats out of the river and over any obstacles. You might fall asleep on the coach that takes s back to the hotel. Re-hydrate in the bar, shower, change clothes, eat dinner, listen to announcements about the following day and make facetious remarks about the plan. Go to the bar to chat and stay there until late.

The organisers must have endless patience and limitless optimism. A strong sense of humour is very important. Peter Barker was an excellent organiser. He and his helpers had every detail of the tour covered. He was perfectly happy replying to the banter that met his announcements and his sense of humour never failed him.

The limerick competition. Saturday evening is always dress smartly evening and this year there was a limerick competition. It closely resembled I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, with Peter Barker playing the part of Humphrey Lyttleton, making up the rules as he went along. Broxbourne won (hooray!) with a rhyme composed by Jane, Rose and Jane and delivered with suitable majesty by Chris Lawn.

The Tourers are very cheerful and very helpful. If anyone has a birthday – one year it was the coach driver – they like to sing the traditional song at the tops of their voices. They don’t like to paddle past cafes or pubs without stopping.

The Lancaster Canal has no locks, so there was no sitting and waiting. It used to run from Preston to Kendal, following the contours of the Lancashire hills. In fact it curls around some very tiny hills. It is a very scenic canal. Sometimes you go between steep banks with overhanging trees. Sometimes you are level with pastureland and can look past grazing cattle to stone built hill farms. There are places where you can see the land falling away to Morecambe Bay. It runs over several inconspicuous aqueducts and at Lancaster you paddle across a big spectacular aqueduct over the River Lune. (We all got out to take photos.)

There are a lot of bridges over the canal. We rowed 38 miles during the tour and went under bridges 18 to 138. So if you do the arithmetic you will find that there are – er – quite a lot of bridges per mile. Most of them are attractive stone arches. The space taken up by the tow-path makes them slightly narrower than the bridge at the end of The Cut. At the command “Make the boat narrow!” you swing the scull handles behind you and if the boat has enough momentum it glides through. At the northern and southern ends of the navigable stretch, the reeds are encroaching into the channel. This gives you opportunities to practice the Make the Boat Narrow drill.

There is a tow-path along the whole length of the canal, so with a bit of effort you can always scramble out of your boat to find amenities.

Strategy. There is no point in being first to the finish during a tour. The coach won’t take you back to the hotel until the last boat has arrived and the last crew to arrive will have the most people available to help them lift and carry. And riverside cafes and pubs should not be deprived of income.

The Natives were nearly always friendly. We got lots of smiles and waves and encouragement. The powerboat drivers, with only two exceptions, were all very considerate.

We met Rosie Sanderson who rowed at Broxbourne before moving to Settle.

The following are my favourite comments from people that I didn’t know.

When I asked the coach driver if it was going to stay dry he demonstrated a Lancastrian’s philosophical attitude to rain and said “Hmm, possibly.” (It didn’t rain.)

A small lady called Beryl, who is probably even older than me, held out her hand to help me bridge the gap between the boat and the bank. I asked her if she was strong enough and she said “Oh I’m strong, don’t you worry about me love!”

A man with a Scottish accent watched us and said “I’m not seeing perfect harmony here!” Was he a rowing expert who could see some (modest cough) minute imperfections in our timing? Or was he just winding us up? We’ll never know.

Thank you Jane for doing all the trailer towing and for recognizing that when I offered to drive I didn’t really want to

Chris Moody
August 2017

And the winning limerick…

A flotilla of boats from the Lea
Mistakenly rowed out to sea
They realised quite soon
They’d turned down the Lune
But made it to Morecambe for tea.

BR Tour 2017 Group

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