I don’t know why but I can’t cross formerly navigable water without wondering what life must have been like for those that made a living on it. I used to feel the same way about the narrow canals in the midlands possibly because I did spend just a little time in my earlier life navigating the system. I have felt the weight of lock beams and the stiffness of paddle handles so I can just imagine what it must have been like on a frosty December morning navigating for a living. If you didn’t get there you didn’t get paid. In short I suspect that for most of the time it was intolerably harsh but I also suspect that the practitioners of the art wouldn’t have swapped it.
On the Aylsham Navigation there are two places in particular that I can see the ghost of a wherry navigating its way to or from Aylsham. Of course the boat only went where it was pointed and that was if you were lucky or more likely very skilled. Crossing Oxnead Bridge from Brampton towards Burgh I can look right and just, if I look closely, see a bow emerging from the lock-cut on an autumn evening forcing its way forward to reach Aylsham before the Anchor Pub shut for the night (if it ever did).
The other place is just upstream of where Buxton Lock was where the river is clearly wide and deep, still navigable if you were so minded. It winds off in to the distance on its roundabout route to Oxnead. There, in the distance, in the right light you can just catch the top of the mast making its sedate way towards Buxton lock. Blink and it’ll be gone the ghostly apparition no more but as real to me now as it once was in fact.
Go and see you might even see it yourself.
The boats may be ghosts but the men who worked them are not. They have long gone to their deserved rest after a lifetimes idyllic toil. I salute them.