Bright colours, beautiful paintwork, and surprisingly comfortable: the narrowboats carry the crews & passengers through woods and fields. Across many parts of the United Kingdom you can find quiet waterways, calmly meandering between towns and through cities. They link industrial areas, skirt national parks, and bear testimony to a past age where much bulk transport was sent by water.
There are still a few “working” boats- but most are now leisure craft, houseboats and travelling holiday homes.
Once on the water, life is different. Speed limits are slow; 3 or 4 mph is the fastest, calculated to avoid damage to the banks and locks from the wash of a heavy steel-built hull. Going slow also minimises the risk (and consequences) of collisions- many of the “Captains” have little experience, and some have little skill. But it is a slow life and often charming… the pace brings peace to mind and body. (The previous generations of working crews would be amazed at how easy canals are to navigate now!)
Learning to steer, pump the bilges, start the diesel, and open/close lock gates and swing bridges are the skills we had to acquire.
Then off to see the world! Slowly.
Canals run through beautiful English countryside, up Welsh valleys, and link Scottish lochs. Ingenious engineering has survived and still works, carefully maintained, and the whole experience has changed from hard labour to gentle leisure. It’s a grand way to holiday!
It is a different way of life- with its own challenges- that offers a wonderful change from the usual rush and bustle. Choice of direction is limited. The canals are shallow and narrow, and the boat is confined to the water!
Passage on a narrowboat gives people the chance to unwind, relax, and find peace.
Being invited to be part of a crew means a different way of life (at least for a few days). Accepting the berth means turning away from “normal” life: it is a journey of discovery. Apart from the countryside or city outside, folks have to get on with each other, share the facilities, and not fall off!
Doesn’t that sound a little bit like discipleship?
“Follow me” said Jesus- and they went with him on a three-year journey that actually only ended at death. Or, to be theologically correct, was the beginning of a NEVER-ENDING encounter with Eternal Love. They shared their lives, money and food: there was a common purpose and only One in authority. The Way was set out before them, and their lives were forever different… and BETTER. Once begun, the relationship with Jesus led to reconciliation and forgiveness, hope and joy.
Sometimes we just need to step outside “normality” and engage with a different way of life. Jesus said “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” Just think about that for a minute! Are you on board?