There are three surprises for the family on this trip and they all happen to occur in the UK. The first surprise was the tour of Coronation Street. Even though that was first, due to technical difficulties, Firstborn will post about that soon. The second surprise is what I will write about in this blog post. The third surprise is a secret that even Fahbio doesn’t know about!
Our second surprise was revealed the day after our Coronation Street tour. We were all still high from that experience. In 1998, we did a tour of Granada Studios (Coronation Street). Firstborn was a toddler and the “Street” was a working set so you were very limited in what you could see. Still, it was great. Shortly after that, the set was closed for good as it was too disruptive to filming. But in December 2013, the last episode of Coronation Street was filmed on that set because a new set has been built about a mile away. The land on which the old Granada Studios sits has been sold to a developer for something like 100 million pounds sterling. The site will be redeveloped and the set gone forever. For six months only, beginning this April, the set is open again for tours. But this time, the whole thing is fair game so we got to visit the actors’ green room, the dressing rooms, the indoor sets, the production room and much more, as well as the street. We got to see Carla’s wedding gown and Hayley’s coffin. Right in front of us. We even saw the narrowboat where Ken had an affair! It might not sound like much to you but if you are a Corrie fan, you will be jealous for sure. So get your tickets and get yourself over to Manchester before October!
How would this appeal to the children you ask? Well, we have always been very strict with what our children are allowed to watch. Draconian, actually. But we’ve been watching Corrie every Sunday morning since way before we ever had kids and we’ve continued. As each child was born, they just grew up with all the crazy soap opera story lines playing out and one by one, they got sucked in. I must say that it has led to some real teaching moments over the years.
After the Corrie tour, the kids were begging to know what was next. They knew we wouldn’t have wifi for the next two weeks but despite hours of guessing, they didn’t come close to figuring out what was in store.
We drove back towards Manchester but then veered off and stopped in the small town of Middlewich to trade in our van for (DRUMROLL) – a narrowboat!!! About 15 years ago we came to England two or three times and it was always a dream of mine to spend some days on a narrowboat journeying through the canals. But, this is quite an expensive vacation. And with our dollar so weak against the British pound (2 dollars to 1 pound), it has always seemed like a ludicrous amount to spend when we could just rent a cottage instead.
This trip, I toyed with the idea again. I had decided con based on common sense, but somehow the narrowboats kept calling me and while planning a route through Vietnam and updating passports, I kept opening my saved tabs for narrowboat vacations. But then something amazing happened. My parents decided to give my sister and me some money. And the amount was the exact same as a fortnight narrowboat holiday!! It was a sign. It must have been.
Of course it would have been cheaper to go for a “short break”, or one week, rather than two weeks but the longer you stay, the more dramatically the price per day is reduced so in the end, a fortnight vacation is much better value for money than a short stay. In our case, we also were reaching the point where we needed to stay put for a while or risk losing our already tenuous hold on sanity. In less than a month, we have put over 6000 km on the van and other than a few hundred metres of Firstborn and I lurching around a parking lot in Portugal, all of that driving has been done by Fahbio.
So fourteen days on the quiet canals of England and Wales is just what we need. We did a big grocery run just before we boarded and then we got ready for our boating lessons. There are tons of narrowboat hire companies in England and the price varies little between them. And believe me when I say that I know this based on close to two decades of exhaustive research!
Most are independent family-owned small businesses. We therefore chose our company based not so much on price but rather on service and maintenance reputation. In the end, we decided on Anderson, a family company run out of Middlewich. The service was excellent leading up to the trip – we even had a phone call in Canada to answer some questions I had emailed. When we arrived, everyone was very friendly and they were happy to let us on the boat even though we were an hour early. Then because our shopping took so long, they were happy to take us out for our lesson an hour late! And they spent close to 2 hours on the boat with us, explaining everything and teaching us how to go through the locks.
Everyone in our family is well-versed with canals and locks and could explain the whole system to a stranger. But where we come from, the locks, though manual, are operated by a lock-master, whereas here, the manual locks are operated by the narrowboat sailors. Fahbio chose to steer and I to open and close the locks. I was given a lock key and led up the tow path to get going on the first lock. There is a lot to take in for both the captain and the lock person. When I was warned that incorrectly opening and closing the locks could actually lead to the sinking of the narrowboat (which happened at Anderson two years ago), the reality of what we were doing sunk in.
But talk about FUN! And PASTORAL! And QUAINT! And ROMANTIC! And GOOD EXERCISE! So far, it has been less than 24 hours on board but I am smitten. And nervous. Fahbio is overwhelmed with all the intricate maneuvering he has to do as well as the canal etiquette he wants to get right. The kids are apprehensive about how rural the route will be and whether there will be any McDonald’s or similar at which to get wifi. We’ve been told that most of the canal-side pubs have wifi so I guess I will just have to suffer and enjoy a pint of micro-brewed beer or English cider while uploading the blog posts! It remains to be seen whether children are allowed in – watch this space!
I’ll end this post with a final note to thank my parents for their generous gift. I wish you could see the look of sheer joy on the kids’ faces as they steer and open and close locks and drawbridges!