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Canal boat photography trips

Canal boat photography trips - Ian Cook tells us about his photographic experiences during his canal holiday.

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Canal boat holiday

Location: Four Counties Ring, East Midlands Ring.
By: Ian Cook.
e-mail: ic.photo@virgin.net

For a number of years now I have had more than a passing interest in Canal Boats and their history. Living in the northeast where we do not have any canals, a rather long car journey has been necessary in order to view and photograph the magnificent waterways. But somehow watching them was not the same as being on one! Luckily for me this interest was shared by my family, so in July 2001 we decided to book 'a holiday afloat' for one week.

After research we decided to pick up a narrow boat based at Stoke on Trent and navigate the four counties ring, some 110 miles of inland waterways through Shropshire, Staffordshire, Cheshire and the West Midlands. It was obvious from an early stage in our planning that this holiday would provide an ideal photo opportunity.

For our first venture I decided to take my Nikon 35mm kit comprising F5 Body and three zoom lenses - 19-35mm, 35-80mm and 80-200mm all packed into a Tamrac Backpack, plus a Manfrotto 055 Tripod. Being on a narrow boat would mean that all my equipment would be readily at hand, so no compromise was made.

For the purpose of this article I intend to concentrate on the photography aspect of a Canal Boat Holiday, as there are plenty of publications covering the use of the waterways, narrow boats etc.

From the outset it was apparent that although handling a narrow boat was not difficult, a hands on approach was definitely required. We decided that we should all take turns at being the 'skipper' as this would share the workload for the operation of the locks etc. What actually happened was that the running of the narrow boat took over everything, and photography took a back seat for the first few days to the point where I did not pick the camera up! This was simply due to the fact that priority was given to learning the job and safety; once this was mastered I could turn some of my attention to photography.


Our home from home. Nikon F5 19mm lens.

As we all became gradually acquainted with our new surroundings photo opportunities presented themselves all the time. I found that carrying a camera with me all the time was difficult as it got in the way when operating the locks; I wished that I had brought my CCS Warthog pouch with me!


Early morning often provided the best time for photography.
This photograph was taken around 6am, Nikon F5 80-200 zoom at 200mm.

As the holiday progressed we slowly navigated ourselves around our chosen route, I found that the best time for photography was very early in the morning prior to setting off, and last thing at night when we had moored up. Although various photo opportunities presented themselves throughout the day, many times I was no in a position to do anything about it. You cannot suddenly pull up in a narrow boat as you would in a car, the boat requires mooring safely and securely, some places may not be suitable for stopping - within flights of locks, near bridges or bends, sometimes the edge of the canal was not suitable for mooring.


Harecastle Tunnel, Nikon F5 35mm lens.

Eventually we completed the entire Four Counties Ring, having covered the 110 miles in six days! We had all learned a lot, we had enjoyed ourselves immensely the weather had been good and I had some reasonable shots in the bag. The burning question was would we do it again - Yes, but my approach to photography would have to be different. I would have preferred more photo stops during the day, unfortunately our tight schedule did not allow for this, finally I would have liked to use my medium format outfit.
So, towards the close of 2001 we decided to book again for July 2002. This time we decided to take a fortnight break around the East Midlands Ring. We booked with the same company and use the same base in Stoke on Trent, even though this would mean travelling along some of the same route as before in order to reach the East Midlands Ring. This time in addition to my Nikon outfit I also packed my Pentax 645 outfit and the CCS Warthog pouch for the Nikon.

July finally arrived, with the boat packed tight with food, clothes and of course camera gear we set off. For the first couple of days the weather was fine, we quickly re-acquainted ourselves with the narrow boat (by fluke the same boat as last year!) as we headed south. The Warthog pouch was a godsend with the Nikon, I could keep the body with a lens attached strapped to my belt all of the time, as for the Pentax - well we allowed more time for stops, so using it on my trusty Manfrotto was not a problem.


Moored in the middle of nowhere for the night, Pentax 645, 75mm lens Velvia sec @ F/22.

On our fourth day the weather changed to say the least, it pelted down for three days solid, bringing our hiking waterproofs saved getting soaked to the skin, however the very heavy rain had caused the river Soar to flood - our intended route into Leicester.
For obvious safety reasons the lock keeper had closed the floodgates midway along our intended route at Sawley, with the continuing heavy rain he could not foresee opening them for some days, providing it stopped raining. We did not have the time on our side to sit tight and wait. A decision was made to retrace our route back to Fradley Junction, then head south again and cover as much ground as possible prior to turning back. Obviously we could not complete the entire route, but at least we could have a good go at seeing most of it as none of it was on a river.


Locks at Hillmorton, Nikon F5 19mm lens.

Decision made, the boat was turned around in Sawley Marina and we headed north again, the heavens opened up again our decision was obviously the right one! Gradually over the next couple of days the weather changed for the better, with photo opportunities being made along the way. We made it as far as Watford Locks before we had to turn around again and head for home, the weather remained kind until our last day when it finally let rip to remind us of what we had missed!


The first glimpse of the sun after days of rain.
Pentax 645, 75mm lens, Velvia. 4sec @ F/22

Despite the heavy, well incredibly heavy rain, we all had a good time and I have some photos in the bag that I was pleased with. Would we do it again, probably sometime in the future, for now I think we have fulfilled our wish to skipper a narrow boat.


Braunston Marina. Pentax 645, 75mm lens.
Velvia, Polarising Filter, 1/2sec @ F/22.


Double locks at Braunston, Nikon F5 35mm lens.


The twin Horseley Iron Works towpath bridges at the meeting of
The Grand Union and Oxford Canal at Braunston Junction.
Pentax 645, 75mm lens, Velvia, Polariser, 1/2sec @ F/22.


Spectators as we pass beneath a bridge! Nikon F5 80mm lens.

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