A life on the ocean wave – well, the Rochdale canal narrowboat: Susan Morrison

Prunella Scales and Timothy West in Channel 4's Great Canal JourneysPrunella Scales and Timothy West in Channel 4's Great Canal Journeys
Prunella Scales and Timothy West in Channel 4's Great Canal Journeys
​The first thing to know about narrowboats is that they are narrow. Very. One thing about me is that I am wide. In parts, very.

This combination means that bits of me are currently a canvas of Scottish pale-blue skin overlaid with a purple wash - bruises from where I’ve walloped off every corner and surface on the good boat Suffolk.

We thought we’d give narrowboat cruising a go, inspired by those ornaments of screen, stage and ‘Great Canal Journeys’, Prunella Scales and Timothy West.

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We signed up to chug along the Rochdale canal, Sowerby Bridge to Hebden Bridge. It's the landscape you might recognise from Happy Valley. And even if you didn’t, by ‘eck, they’ll tell you it is.

They are quietly chuffed about this moment of fame and quite rightly so. There is something magnificently northern about creating a whole new tourist industry from a seething drama of kidnapping, violent death and explosive family tensions, as opposed to knee-bearing kiltie men snogging time-travelling nurses.

We hired our boat from Sowerby Bridge. In fine parsimonious Yorkshire manner, it is known locally as Saw-bey. No ‘R’ and you can drop the ‘Bridge'. Not ones for fancification, Yorkshire folk.

We stayed overnight in Harrogate, known as the only place in the Three Ridings posh enough to keep the ‘H’ in its name. They mean it.

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On the way we passed several roadside direction boards and noticed that someone had carefully removed the capital ‘H’ from the signs directing people to what we must call ‘Alifax. Some seriously committed dialect activists, there

The Suffolk was a fine snug little thing. Spotlessly clean and well-maintained. We got a training session about what to do with locks and how to operate her from James. He got on great with my husband. When he was instructing me about how to open and close the canal locks, I could see the mild panic in his eyes.

It was somehow agreed that my husband would be the skipper. Not too sure when that decision was made. I suspect it's because we were in Yorkshire, and he speaks the lingo. That made me the crew. Naturally, I became mildly mutinous at once.

For one thing the skipper had overlooked the very real sea-going terrors of scurvy and hadn’t brought any limes. A quick trip to a canal-side ASDA and vitamin C- rich citrus was procured, as well as an interesting locally-produced gin.

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Well, I’d need something to put in with the lime. Not forgetting the tonic water I would be taking to ward off malaria. Can’t be too careful.

As crew, it was my job to operate the locks, opening and closing the gates. The very best way to do that is to sit yer bum back on the lock arm and push backwards. If you’ve done it right, the lock gate swings majestically.

It’s incredibly satisfying, and vindication at last for my massive backside. Yes, it may have been bruised and battered by every danged corner on the Suffolk, but the scores ran Yorkshire Canal Lock - Nil, Substantial Scotswoman’s Bahookie - One.

Not gonna lie, it wasn't as relaxing as we’d expected, and the weather went truly Yorkshire on us. But there were magical moments where we were gliding in the sunshine between showers.

Pru and Tim might have something there, after all.

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