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   Inside Out - North West: Monday October 23, 2006
Web chat
Canal Street
Horseboating expert Sue Day answers your questions


Imagine a time before trains and motor vehicles when horse power meant literally just that.

How did our forefathers manage to move massive loads of freight from one town to another?

And how is the pursuit of horseboating being revived today?

We meet Sue Day from the Horseboating Society who is championing the revival of horseboating as a leisure pursuit.

Web chat

Do you think that the recent news from Defra will have an impact on your horseboating? Kate

PS. Congrats to you, Tony & the team for a great trip!!

Sue: The cuts in funding to the navigation authorities by Defra could mean disastrous cancellation of planned maintenance programmes.

If the waterway system cannot be kept up to its present navigation standards, then there is a potential threat that some canals may have to be closed.

Unlike the road system, if a canal is closed, there may be no diversion route or it could involve an extremely long detour.

Lack of cutting back of vegetation on the towing paths might allow saplings to grow again.

This had been a previous problem we do not wish to encounter again.

Trees between the path and the water prevent use of the towline.

You can find out more about the funding cutbacks and what you can do to help by visiting these websites:

How do I get involved in horseboating… where do I start?
Ann, Lancashire

Sue: I would recommend that you join the Horseboating Society, which offers training and many opportunities to go horseboating with various horseboats in many locations.

The Saturn Project offers horseboating with their boat Saturn and the Boat Museum Society horseboats with their boat Gifford.

Details of all these activities can be found through the Horseboating Society website's Events list called "Towlines" or on the individual societies' websites:

Is horseboating an expensive hobby? Any tips on doing it on a budget? David, Wirral

Sue: Yes, it's a very expensive hobby to do it in your own right, but by joining an existing society which operates a horse boat, you can join in very cheaply.

Most charge only for an annual subscription of around £10.

Old Canal Street with horseboat
Manchester's old Canal Street with horseboat

You are not allowed to operate a horse-drawn boat without permission from the navigation authority, such as British Waterways or the Environment Agency.

The costs involved are numerous, including 365 days a year care of the boat horse and licensing and mooring fees for the boat, plus its maintenance costs.

An unexpected cost is our use of horse transport to sometimes remove the horse from city centres at night time for safer grazing.

How do you cope with towpaths full of anglers in the fishing season? Vince Chadwick

Sue: Most of our horseboating happens on weekdays when there are few angling competitions in progress.

We aim to keep good relations with anglers and pass our line over them when they are ready.

Many choose to stand at the back of the towpath with their rods while our line passes over only their equipment.

What's the best horseboating experience you've ever had?
James Mellor

Sue: I'd rather describe several wonderful experiences.

In the year 2000, Bonny took horseboat Maria from Manchester via Birmingham to London.

It was fantastic to arrive in our capital having walked all the way as a team - Bonny, Jet my dog, and myself.

This year the Horseboating Society legged through Standedge Tunnel, which is Britain's longest, highest and deepest canal tunnel.

It is three and a quarter miles long and was an exciting experience.

Recently we have been re-creating living heritage of the past.

We loaded a horseboat with nearly 20 tons of limestone at Bugsworth Basin and Queenie pulled the boat for 16 miles and through 16 locks over two days.

This was a trade the boat that had been engaged in from 1854 to c 1904.

We have had some very interesting "guests of honour" join us, such as Terry Waite, Fred Dibnah and David Suchet ("Poirot").

Recently we have been involved with a horse-drawn boat "protest cruise" against the funding cuts imposed on navigation authorities by Defra.

We were thrilled to be supported by British Waterway's Chief Executive Robin Evans and MP David Heyes.

How easy is it to go horseboating in other parts of the country - do you need any special permissions or licenses?
Donna Muir, Ormskirk

Sue: You cannot operate a horse-drawn boat without the permission of the local navigation authority.

There are a few opportunities to ride for one to three hours on commercial horse-drawn passenger boats.

Many of these operators are offering horsedrawn trips for passengers during the Summer months (usually Easter to October).

Please telephone or check operators' web sites for details, times and prices:

- Foxton Boat Services Ltd, Bottom Lock, Foxton, Market Harborough, Leicestershire
01162 792285

- Godalming Packet Boat Company, 57 Furze Lane, Godalming, Surrey
01483 414938

- Grand Western Horseboat Company, Canal Hill, Tiverton, Devon
01884 253345

- Kennet Horseboat Company, 2 Rectory Cottage, Church Hill, Wickham, Newbury, Berkshire, RG20 8HD, 01488 658866

- Welsh Canal Holiday Craft Ltd, Llangollen Wharf, Llangollen, Denbighshire
01978 860702

During this summer, a new venture was set up. Bywater Holiday Cruises offer two-day horse-drawn cruises on the Montgomery Canal.

Do you need to buy your own horse to go horseboating?
Ann in Preston

Sue: No, you do not need to buy your own horse to go horseboating.

The way to get involved is to have a ride on a horsedrawn passenger boat or, if you would like to be a crew member, join an existing society which operates a horse boat.

You cannot hire a boat suitable to be pulled by your own horse.

Horses do not pull motor boats any more than would pull a motor car.

Horseboats are comparatively few and have no engine. They are in preservation and not available for hire.

Using a horse and towline requires considerable previous training and experience.

Also the horse must be carefully trained to this line of work, involving working amongst the public and travelling over aqueducts and through tunnels.

Are motorbikes a problem for horse boaters? And are there any other hazards out there which you have to watch out for?
David, Liverpool

Sue: We rarely meet motor bikes on towpaths. When we do meet them, they usually give way to the unusual sight and size of the boat horse.

Motor bike barriers are, however, a huge problem for us.

Before undertaking a journey we have to enquire about the location of such barriers.

We need to know if they are fixed chicanes which cannot be opened. In such a case the horse and driver will be forced to make a detour, which might involve danger on busy roads.

Alternatively, if the barrier has a gate, arrangements must be made for us to have an appropriate key.

What are your plans for the future? Any big trips on the horizon? Joe, Lancaster

Sue: Horseboating is going to be brought to the attention of the World Canals Conference which is being held in England at Liverpool next year.

We aim to take a horse-drawn boat to the conference along the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. This will be new horseboating territory.

Plans for the future: educational work with all ages, interpretation of the built heritage of the inland waterway system, more journeys and fun!

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