Since I can remember, maybe when I was 18 or so I have always hung around narrowboats and canals. I lived on one for 15 years and over time have woven them into my adventure business. In 1990 the BBC filmed my 6 part TV series called 'Sanders of the Canal' and later BBC Look North West filmed my horse-drawn boat journey from Liverpool to London and back. Cadbury's were my sponsors and with a horse called 'Crunchie' we retraced the original route of the 'Chocolate Run' whereby raw materials such as sugar and molasses were collected at Stanley Docks only to be processed at their Bourneville factory. Later I motored my pair - a motor and a butty - from the Black Country to the Black Sea to create what was and still is, the longest narrowboat journey in the world.
The Secret Highway is a new blog that just starts and who knows when it will end. Because of Covid-19 and the restrictions placed on international travel, the idea of adventuring closer to home is even more appealing and available to everyone. Along with Dr Caroline as butty steerer, I hope you enjoy our filmed story.
#1 A New Adventure
The journey starts from Roger Fuller's boatyard on the Trent & Mersey canal near Stone in the centre of England. Imagine a journey undertaken by people from when the canals were built 200 years ago. If they could be here now, operating the locks and sluices, restoring their wooden hulls with the sounds of rivets, copper rove and clench nails, they would still know exactly what to do.
#2 Following the Wind
If you think of canal boats as being damp and cold places that only set sail in the summer, you will find that is an old idea that is no longer true. My boat 'Unspoilt by Progress' has a sold fuel fire in the main cabin and a diesel 'Old Dutch' drip burner from Kabola in the back cabin now converted into my film production office. Caroline's butty has a boatmans fire in her back cabin as well as her saloon so even in the harshest of winters, the boats are warm and dry. Here the boats navigate Hawkesbury Junction beside the city of Coventry.
#3 Meeting People
The journey starts from near Coventry. At Glascote meet Phil English, a fender-maker from the 'old school' of making things with your hands, an industry that extends back to the birth of canals. Compare this with the Reverie Canal Trading as another example of people who run their business from their boats. On a personal level and over 25 years ago I got married in the Oxfordshire village of Cropredy and whilst so much around you changes, life on the cut remains resolutely the same.
#4 The South Oxford Canal
This film takes Caroline into the world of organic farming beside the canal. Greg the farmer describes the growing and selling of his pumpkins, for sale in the best London restaurants. He talks about the 'cut' (canal) as having a 'Towpath Forest', a line of trees and bushes that stretches 2000 miles along the inland waterways of England, Wales and Scotland. We see NB (narrowboat) Progress, a 1938 Ice-Breaker, and music by a fella who plays his piano on his boat.