A Boat Named Sussex: The Prison Barge Diaries

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Hi Catarina,

As promised (sorry it’s late, been competing at a national level and that), I’m writing a day-to-day account of my canal trip in Sowerby Bridge (with pictures!!!).

So, on Day 1 before we boarded, we ate lunch in the pub situated in the dock. It was super chic – like fish-in-the-stairs chic, with ornate mirrors and lights made of tree branches – and I wanted something light and healthy so I ordered a watermelon and feta cheese salad with pomegranate garnish and sweet potato chips. It was a mistake, because I don’t actually like feta if it isn’t grated. We then loaded up onto the prison barge and I was irritable to say the least. The weather was shit, naturally, and my dad had already managed to flood the toilet of the barge before we’d even set sail (this was easily rectified though – the bogs had a very dodgy flush mechanism so it wasn’t really his fault).

Here’s me looking cute and deadly:

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The barge was like a TARDIS, it was so efficient on the inside and everything folded out into something, including privacy doors. This said, I would not like to have the maximum 8 people on board, as we still couldn’t really pass each other in the corridor.

This is my cosy little cubby:

We basically had to get through 3 locks (including the deepest one in England which they do for you) and it’s weirdly scary because there’s all this water rushing in while you’re slowly rising/falling. Every time the mossy, massive doors opened and we glided through I felt like I was going into some jungle temple or forbidden badlands full of creatures. It was often very still and quiet as well, and it got me thinking about how hilarious a concept it would be if you were escaping a zombie apocalypse by barge.

Anyway, after the locks it was smooth sailing and, naturally, as the sky started to brighten up so did my mood. The second the sun hit the roof of the barge I was up there checking the acrobatic potential of the Prison Barge.

We navigated on clean canal for a while. We came across a lot of ducklings, including this gorgeous family on the wall (who had one adopted yellow duck) and the prettiest mother duck you’ve ever seen. Like, some real Beatrix Potter shit.

Adoption among waterfowl seemed to be a common thing, as we also saw a whole army of Canadian geese, who were chilling with a single white duck (we saw them more than once so it wasn’t just a fluke). One thing I learnt on this trip was that Canadian geese are extremely polite compared to English geese, as is to be expected. I took to feeding all the critters I came across, and these lovelies would look up with beady eyes but never beg or flap. However the English geese, standing and probably twice the size, took to hissing and chasing me round the docking car park with their scary-ass serrated beaks, but more on that later.

The houses on the banks were lovely, quaint with a touch of Florentine charm over the waters and it was clear that the residents loved to make their homes pretty for the boats which passed them every day. My favourite house was one with a tree grown through its deck (or rather, its deck built around the tree) which had tiny bird feeders suspended on the walk way and butterflies, lanterns and watering cans in soft purples, greens and yellows stuck to the fences. If you could put ‘Easter’ and an architect in a blender and pour the resulting mix into a house, this is probably what it’d look like. The photos don’t do them justice.

 

We moored up not far from the Easter house after seeing some big ol’ hairy highland Moos(!) and then had a curry and drinks in a couple of the local pubs.

To finish up the night my brother and the SIL introduced my parents to Cards Against Humanity. Both of them found the game hilarious and were surprisingly adept… I’m ashamed to say all three of us kids were mercilessly thrashed, with Mum taking the title with a whopping 21 black cards and Dad tailing her with 18. To be fair, my hand was consistently shocking, but even so.

Love you, more tomorrow,

love from Lockmaster Eris.

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(Dis your lock lol)


Hi Catrina,

Day 2 on the prison barge mostly consisted of travelling. After a quick cooked breakfast, our goal was to reach Hebden Bridge (AKA the alleged Lesbian Capital of England AKA Studio Ghibli IRL) and moor up before the turning point. The canal, while still peaceful and quiet, became more of an obstacle course as the locals (who actually LIVED on their boats) were moored up on both sides and we actually had to concentrate on steering our wild, 4 mph beast. I proved to be quite good at this, because unlike driving you kind of have a feel for the whole boat and where it’s going as you’re behind its mass. However, it was much easier to let Dad and the bro argue over steering, and I like lazing on the roof or hanging off the side as we went through willow trees and tunnels.

We stopped at a midpoint and went and explored the nearby town. I had avocado and sundried tomatoes on sourbread in a quaint little vegetarian cafe called ‘The Blue Teapot’. This is where I learnt that pink elderflower exists (and also that Leah is secretly an artist).

We reached Hebden bridge and were met with a colourful menagerie of boats, moorside art studios and friendly Northerners. Everyone you passed (on a boat or on a bike (they had a big thing about bikes here – there were yellow ones on the walls of every other pub and I think it was for the Tour de France or something… or like, a gay version of it)) greeted you, and one party boat threw my dad a Skipper’s hat, which was our souvenir of the trip.

This was probably my favourite part of the trip. The weather was stunning (for a while, anyway) and the house marking the bridge was straight out of Howl’s Moving Castle. In fact, the whole mooring point was. The second I saw it I imagined it pulling up on two steam-powered legs and striding away. It got me thinking about us as witches, and how I’d probably live in a house that never stayed in one place, and would probably walk off without me commanding it to – this is exactly what it would look like. Some of the boats had gardens, greenhouses and even animals on their rooftops. All the boats from our company had county names like ours, so very so often you heard charming calls of ‘Northumberland! Back up a bit.’ and ‘Durham, bear left.’ I must say, it was refreshing after a particularly depressing and flatlining year, drinking in all this nature and having all these colours to taste was a creative blessing. I had so many racing thoughts about book premises, characters and illustrations. Unfortunately too many to catch – I used to refer to these kinds of thoughts as ‘Fireflies’, as they sort of glow briefly and then flit out of sight if you don’t grab them in time. But when you do catch one, they’re full of magic.

 

Even the names of the surrounding pubs seemed to pop out of a fantasy town; the houses had bikes and hula hoops on their outside walls – as decoration! After feeding more geese in the (now pissing) rain and hopping off the boat, we had tea in ‘Stubbing’s Warf’ – a gorgeous hearth-heralding pub sporting antlers above the door. I think if you guys can handle the first 5 minutes of boat-rocking before leaving the initial dock, you’d really love a canal trip.

I started to get a case of the sads after dinner (VERY close quarters with the fam for two days straight was exhausting for me) so I had some me-time playing Pokémon and then called it a night.

See you,

Eris.

 

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Hi Catmondo,

Day 3 was more travelling – and turning! We had a little lie in and then got straight on it. The boat had to be back at 9am on Monday, so we had to do the rest of the route and turn around before mooring up so we could do the journey back in one fail swoop. This was where I really started getting peeved with Skipper, because the first turning point was so narrow and crowded with other boats that we actually didn’t realise that we’d missed it, and the next one was an hour (and three locks away). I was starting to feel a bit surplus and got bored of being yelled at by my dad, who tells you to do things whilst you’re doing them (it’s impossible to drive with him in the passenger seat for the same reason). So I had an indignant nap and sat out of the rest of the last three locks (though I did practise my splits with the SIL on my share).

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I stopped being a grump at one really scenic lock, however. This is where I thought the Other Brother really missed out; it was full of green, party boats with dreadlocked youths and people sat on art sculptures who were NOT shy about smoking weed. This kind of lazy river living would be his exact dream lifestyle. A lot of people and their curious kiddies stopped to watch us fill the lock (which was slightly embarrassing because we just happened to beach a few metres up, and a bashed-up booze cruise barge full of sexy young things was waiting at the top of the lock to come down. We eventually reached the turning point after a few more locks (a turning point is a deeper, tear-dropped part of the canal which you’re supposed to go forwards into the point and then do a three-point turn… we did it backwards lol) and did the whole thing again. When we came back out of the scenic lock we had a break. There was a lovely traditional market where we picked up a big bulb of Italian garlic for the Other Brother, and some bread for lunch. Mum also bought me a souvenir bracelet off a lady and their son (the purple one just happened to have witches’ charms!) and a tiny clay golden goose for herself. We boated a bit further, all the way past Hebden and made it back to the original dock. We had the choice to go home at this point but I was the only one who didn’t drive and didn’t have to face three hours of that after the trip. So we moored up and went and had stir fry in a Mongolian buffet (I put kangaroo and venison in mine… flash-fried kangaroo is actually really nice). I bought some herb oil and char Sui sauce from their own brand, so we can make some exciting dishes in the new house. After stuffing ourselves stupid I showed off on top of the barge to the diners opposite the canal with some acro and hooping, while the SIL did her splits. What another great story a barging circus would make.

I fed the leftover bread to the ducks (word spreads between them – I’d been followed since Hebden and a flock came running). There seemed to be a lot of crossbreeding because there were some very pretty dark, iridescent ducks and flufflings. My favourite was a beautiful, seemingly independent duck who had humbug stripes on her head and purple under-feathers rather than blue (I spent ages trying to get a close up of her but a stupid boy duck kept bullying her and the flufflings).

Home soon,

Eris the Duck Whisperer.

 


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Here’s me ruining a photo.

Hi Jez,

The final day wasn’t anything to shout about. With half an hour to kill, we did a small loop of the dock and went through the final lock (in the rain) and then moored up. We said our goodbyes in the car park and then I was assaulted by a pack of geese.

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Overall it was a lovely trip and I think it could have only been made better with a bit more time to explore the towns. The locks are a bit of a chore (they go VERY slowly) but it was nowhere near as boring as the safety DVD let on. I think Leah would really love the landscape and nature, you’d like the mechanics and navigation and Feebs would like sunbathing on the roof. Maybe we should have a party barge one day – with a shorter route and more booze.

Hope you liked this!

Eris, certified boater.

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