National Geographic : 1974 Jul
Expkori zg By BRYAN HODGSON SENIOR EDITORIAL STAFF Photographs by LINDA BARTLETT WE HAVE SAILED TOO FAR. All day the canal has carried us through gentle English countryside, but evening finds us in a wasteland of abandoned factories. We plunge beneath dank, echoing bridges and scrape over reefs of drowned rubble. In the bone gray dusk a single human figure hurries along the towpath, eyes downcast as if we did not exist. We moor beneath towering smokestacks whose fierce breath once blackened the city. As our engine dies, only a drab wind gutters in their throats. Chilled and silent, we hasten below to the cabin's cheerful warmth. My wife Linda and I are unlikely mariners on a strange voyage. Our track is the Trent and Mersey Canal, part of a 2,500-mile network of man-made waterways that lace the heart of England, from London and Oxford through Birmingham to Leeds, Manchester, and Liverpool. It is late October, and the weather has been bad. But there have been consolations. Yesterday we awakened to the squabbling of wild geese on a misty lake. Last night we baked away the chill before a blazing fire in a 16th century pub. This morning a kingfisher escorted us for half a mile, etching its skyrocket brilliance of green and Two's a crowd as aptly named narrowboats squeeze through a lock at Stoke Bruerne on England's Grand Union Canal. Skippered by proud boatmen who still decorate cabins, gear, and lanterns (above left) with bright designs, the craft once carried coal to fuel England's Industrial Revolution. Now pleasure boaters use them to trace the old routes that vein the island heartland.