Open Eye: Messing about in boats

From The Vice-Chancellor; Our little excursion into the wilderness park was brought into stark perspective when my wife broke her leg portaging on The Pig

We each have our preferred modes of recreation. Kenneth Grahame spoke for me when he wrote, in the first chapter of The Wind in the Willows, that "there is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats". This summer I had two boating holidays: a week cruising on the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal followed by a week canoeing in the Killarney Wilderness Park in northern Ontario.

They were different experiences. On the canal the 60-ft steel narrow- boat could carry plenty of food and drink and its well-appointed kitchen allowed considerable gastronomic scope. Although I would never qualify a canal holiday as sedentary, the locks which provide compulsory exercise on most other canals are infrequent on the 'Mon and Brec'. However, the mountain scenery and the interesting places to visit along the route offered attractive optional walks.

Exercise is not an optional extra when canoeing in a wilderness park. We had to carry our camping equipment and all the food for the trip in the four canoes. Even without the Killarney Park's ban on tins and glass bottles there would be a strong incentive to concentrate on dried foods. The canoe is an efficient design and propelling it is more a question of technique and teamwork with the other paddler than of stamina and physical strength. Portaging the canoes and gear is another matter.

The Killarney Park is a network of lakes separated by ridges of quartzite and pink granite and our route included ten portages, varying in length from 80 to 3,160 metres, to get from lake to lake.

The idea is that one person carries the upended 60lb canoe - which has a built-in yoke for the purpose at its point of balance - while the other carries one of the packs. Both then return for the other packs. You quickly learn that what matters is not the length of the portage but the height of the ridge you have to cross and the evenness of the path.

My least favourite portage, although only 1,800m long, climbed and dropped 100m on a path of wet scree. It is appropriately nicknamed The Pig.

The effort, however, was worth it, for the most beautiful of the lakes, much painted by members of Canada's Group of Seven, could not be reached any other way. The link between these two waterborne experiences, apart from the familiar sound of water slapping against the prow of the boat, is the key role that each mode of transport played in the earlier commercial development of Wales and Canada respectively.

Llangynidr, on the Monmouth- shire and Brecon Canal, is today a quiet and pretty village in the Welsh border country. In the last century it was a dirty and dangerous industrial site where rows of lime kilns were fed with stone brought down on precipitous tramways from the surrounding hills. The canal, and the communities along it, were developed to support the busy coalmines and the steel industry of South Wales that attracted my own paternal ancestors down from Worcestershire.

The canoe was instrumental to the creation of Canada. I cannot claim any family connection to the voyageurs who set off in their canoes from Montreal each year to travel thousands of miles to the west in search of beaver pelts, but having worked for some years in French Canada I understand something of the spirit of those hardy and adventurous people.

The months they spent away from home, living off the land and almost serendipitously opening up a continent, put our little excursion into the wilderness park into perspective. The contrast was brought home starkly when my wife broke her leg portaging on The Pig and was helicoptered away in an air ambulance an hour later. No such succour would have been available to the voyageurs, just as my Welsh miner forbears did not have much in the way of health and safety precautions in the early days.

My grandfather, who became an inspector of safety in a Welsh mine in the first half of this century, could still remark philosophically that "accidents will happen in a large colliery".

The commerce once conducted by canal and canoe now moves efficiently from producer to consumer by other methods.

But will today's methods leave the splendid legacy of recreational opportunities afforded by canals and canoes?

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Relations Officer

    £13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join ...

    Recruitment Genius: IT Help Desk Support

    £14500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An IT Help Desk Support individ...

    Recruitment Genius: Interim HR Advisor

    £27000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are going through an excitin...

    Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

    £37500 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Experienced Quantity Surveyor r...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
    Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

    Lost without a trace

    But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
    Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

    Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

    Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
    International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
    Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

    Confessions of a planespotter

    With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
    Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

    Russia's gulag museum

    Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
    The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

    The big fresh food con

    Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
    Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

    Virginia Ironside was my landlady

    Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
    Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

    Paris Fashion Week 2015

    The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
    8 best workout DVDs

    8 best workout DVDs

    If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
    Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

    Paul Scholes column

    I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
    Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
    Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

    Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

    The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable