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There and back again: an epic canal journey

In 2011, Jon Reynolds took the life-changing decision to explore England’s entire network of canals and rivers. He documented his progress in his logbook, taking photos of the people and places he encountered along the way. Ten years and more than 7,000 miles later, he shares his remarkable story.

A canal boat passes under a bridge on the canal

A little over a decade ago, Jon Reynolds's life was at a crossroads. “My wife died, and soon after I became unemployed,” Jon writes. “My children were all grown up and I was looking for a new direction in life.

A portrait shot of a man skippering a canal boat, wearing yellow weatherproof and life-saver vest

I'd never been on a narrowboat, but I'd often seen them on my travels, and I always thought continuous cruising looked like a really peaceful, chilled out way of life. The more I thought about selling up and buying a boat, the more my intuition told me it was a good move. I ran the idea by my children and they all said, ‘go for it!'”

It was the impetus Jon needed. Before long he was scouring the internet, learning all he could about owning and operating a narrowboat.

“I didn't just want to live aboard, I wanted to go exploring. The more I learned about our canals and their incredible history, the more the idea of completing the whole network appealed to me.”

Venturing forth

First Jon needed a boat and, after completing a helmsman's course, he began an exhaustive search to find the ideal craft for his journey. He found his dream boat in a marina in Nottingham and writes: “Although I'd looked at dozens of boats, I got that ‘this is the one' feeling as soon as I stepped aboard.” At 52 feet long and 6 feet 10 inches wide, ‘Borderline' was perfect for negotiating England's rivers and canals. After a quick trip home to show off his new vessel, Jon was ready to embark on the first leg of his journey.

A green canal boat in the locks in front of a brick-built house

To begin with, the going was tough. As Jon recalls: “I spent the first couple of years banging and crashing ‘Borderline' around. But we understand each other now and get along fine. We've explored canals, rivers and ditches, visiting some amazing places and meeting some wonderful people along the way.”

A view forward on a canal boat passing between rows of trees on the canal at Basingstoke

Jon has covered vast distances in his narrowboat, exploring every inch of England's canals, from Ripon in the north to Basingstoke in the south.

“I've seen so many places and they all have their own special memories for me.”

Jon writes: “I loved Liverpool and Stratford-upon-Avon and Gloucester. Going through Standedge tunnel near Huddersfield was a very special moment for me. Not just because it's the longest tunnel on the network but also because years ago I was involved in laying new track in the railway tunnel above. Another that really stands out is cruising along the Thames in Central London. Going under Tower Bridge and passing Parliament was a real highlight.”

The two towers of Tower Bridge with their blue ironwork rise above the Thames in London

Home at last

After negotiating more than 7,000 miles and 3,500 locks with ‘Borderline', Jon is now back home in York on the Pocklington Canal having completed his amazing journey.

A view forward on a canal boat and its owner as they enter the Harecastle Tunnel which is surrounded by a two-storey building

“It's been the most fantastic adventure and I've loved every minute of it.”

Jon writes: “I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to pursue a dream that became a reality. There's hardly a day goes by when I don't think how lucky I am!”

Last Edited: 23 June 2021

photo of a location on the canals
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