I struck up a conversation with Sandra and Alan by commenting on a newly started greenfield housing development alongside the canal at Gargrave. They’ve lived on the canals for 34 years and are still in lockdown – The Canal & River Trust (CRT) have ordered that the locks should not be used during Covid lockdown and have also advised to minimise use of the canal towpaths by walkers. There are large numbers of moored boats where one might normally see very few.
I found out useful things through talking with them. They were careful to say that their experiences cover many years and things may have changed since they last visited places.
- The Leeds & Liverpool Canal is generally quiet (not like some others they visit). I asked what about Liverpool end, as I’d not yet visited it. Apparently, until 5 years ago a police escort was required to take a boat into Liverpool, as vandals would throw bricks at the boats. This surprised me and I made a mental note to be cautious when I venture to that end.
- It is difficult for boats to get on and off the canal – either the Aire and Calder Navigation, which is tidal and difficult for narrow boats that were not designed to be steered in fast currents. Or at Wigan, which I was told has a flight of locks that are painfully slow to pass through. I silently wondered if this is one reason it isn’t populous.
- What about Rochdale Canal I asked (since it is within driving distance)? They don’t go there after an experience many years ago when they were threatened by drug dealers and advised by the police that it is best treated as a no-go zone. Another mental note to be careful if I venture onto that one!
- I asked what they like about the canal, was it just the travelling? They have met some wonderful people over the years and enjoy the freedom of wandering. They don’t necessarily move everyday, but when the feeling takes them. It is difficult to move freely in the winter months as many locks are shut for repair. They tend to moor near Gargrave (where they have family) and find work for the winter.
Sandra and Alan’s appearance was similar to many along the canal, sporting ‘outdoor clothing’. However, their willingness to talk did make me think that even if I don’t manage to find people that are visually interesting, it might be that I can bring people into my work through their words.