Lancashire’s waterways are sailing ahead and pulling in growing visitor numbers, research shows.
More than 1.1m people took to the water across the North West for activities last year, a rise of 97,000 on the previous year, according to the annual Watersports Participation Survey.
Popular pursuits included boating, fishing and coastal walks.
Lancashire’s canals are home to both a rich history and a vibrant future. In the first of a three-part series, boating enthusiast Stef Hall tells us why she loves the local waterways.
Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than those you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from safe harbor. Catch the wind in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. “
The wise words of American author Mark Twain - and a mantra I adopted 18 months ago when I took the plunge and bought a boat.
Granted, she isn’t a glamorous yacht, or even a sailboat - my very basic 23ft Norman cabin cruiser, with its ancient diesel engine, is dwarfed by some of the bigger, more modern, expensive boats in the marina.
But for just £2,500 she was mine.
Bobatu’s previous owners, Jim and Marjorie Garlick, from Euxton, had been adventuring on her well into their retirement, but had become unable to climb onto her.
Someone once said to me boating is the fastest way to slow down.
Lancashire’s canals provide a slow paced but rich and fascinating living tapestry, weaving through Lancashire’s towns, cities and countryside.
What were once our industrial highways now host to a vibrant community of live-aboard boaters, leisure boaters, holiday makers and traders.
Since advances in transport and technology meant the original purpose of the canals fell by the wayside, people have harnessed the uniqueness of Lancashire’s waterways in other ways, creating a canalside community, and building up its own economy.
The Lancaster Canal is now home to 1,173 boats of all shapes and sizes, with hundreds more on the Lancashire stretch of the Leeds Liverpool Canal.
The Canal and Rivers Trust (CRT) charity, which looks after 2,000 miles of waterways, report even more getting on deck as the waterways enjoy a renewed interest, particularly after celebrities Timothy West and Prunella Scales embarked on a canal adventure for a recent TV series.
I too was lured by the opportunity to escape the pressures of modern life and drag my youngsters from the draw of their X-box console.
But it wasn’t all plain sailing - at first it was a series of mishaps! Confined by a shoestring budget I had to reupholster the front cabin, make cushion covers and sew curtains after a crash course in using my nana’s old sewing machine (thanks Nan).
I dropped a fellow boater’s tools in the canal as I tried to drill and fit my own fenders (sorry Denis), lost a shoe when I first tried to refuel, and ended up resembling a Smurf when I tried to paint the underside of the boat in blue antifoul.
Bobatu broke down at least three times due to an overheating problem, with smoke pouring out of the engine, to the horror of friends I was trying to impress. Man the lifeboats!
None of this matters in the grand scheme of things - for in the months since I took that impulsive decision, I have learnt skills I never knew I had, and created special memories.
I don’t take it for granted that I’m lucky enough to work and boat in what I consider one of the most beautiful parts of the UK - even the Queen suggested in her biography that she would consider ‘retiring’ to Lancashire one day.
What better place to holiday than alongside our beautiful countryside, market towns, canalside inns, and fascinating cities? Sometimes we forget the treasures on our own doorstep.
Even in the rain, I can think of few nicer things than being snug on my boat, reading a book, consuming my own body weight in tea and biscuits and listening to the pitter patter of raindrops.
My children have toasted marshmallows on a firepit while admiring the ruins of the Greenalls (Greenhalgh) castle just outside Garstang, and we have gazed in awe at the vast sands of Morecambe Bay and magnificent mountains of the Lakes as we’ve sailed with slight trepidation across the 16 metre high Lune Aqueduct.
Traditionally boating has been seen as “something old people do” but this is changing as new blood pumps through the veins of the waterways.
As families find it increasingly expensive to go abroad on holiday, boating is becoming an option for growing numbers.
In my case it costs around £1,500 a year - £500 for a canal licence each year, £900 in mooring fees and less than £70 insurance. Arguably some families would spend more than that on a single break.
Some joke boating is the original social network - you become part of a community of people who share a mutual love of the water, the outdoors and having fun.
Perhaps this series will inspire you to embark on your own adventure. Welcome aboard!
The Watersports Participation Survey is conducted annually by a consortium of leading marine bodies including British Marine, Royal Yachting Association (RYA), Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), British Canoeing (BC) and the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas).
In the North West alone, over 1.1 million people (18.8 per cent of the local population) took part in water-based activities in 2016, a rise of 97,000 more participants. This includes the 12 core boating activities and growing watersports activities, as well as activities such as sea angling and coastal walking.