My Grandads’ Poetry 11: The Canal

This is an interesting one. Barges (or narrow boats, as thy are called more universally) are a quintessentially British pastime, our town still has plenty of them plying the waterways, they’re mainly used as floating houses in this day and age, and even used as floating cafes and sweet shops occasionally too. I must admit I’ve never heard of the “barge folk” my grandad speaks of here, though I’m guessing they must be similar to Romany gypsies. Anyway, hope you enjoy…

The Canal

A beautiful network of man made cuts

Into this sand and clay and stone

Filled with water from river and feld

And plying boats, all floating homes.

Heaps of limestone, pot clay and salt

Traverse these ways with regular beat

Rain and snow or sun and cloud

With cabins clean and always neat.


Copper pipes show off their sheen

Hand painted water jugs cast their show 

Over linen washed and sparkling white

Potatoes boil upon the firelight glow.

These were a people all on their own

And their painted barge took pride of place

With red neckerchief and shiny clogs

They were all a wonderful race.


The boss at the tiller, eyes straight ahead

His whiskery face surrounds a clay pipe

Once new and long and filled to the brim

But now it’s only a stub that he lights.

His wife steers the butty boat and does the job well

Strong yet neat she is, covered by shawl

Two youngsters and dog run along the towpath

This is the family, this is them all.


Those were hard days to earn a wage and live,

Perhaps that is why a selected few

Trained to catch game in the dark of night

To sell to me and you.

The best all round were from this place

Of Marston in the steaming clouds

And away they would go as butter melts

No noise, into the dark nights’ shroud.

So place the order of your weekend needs

Pheasant, partridge, rabbit or trout

And the Marston poacher moves his way

With care, to look about.

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