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John and Jan's Marathon Journey

 

Pictures by Andy Tidy used with permission

Many couples see retirement as a time to put their feet up and relax. Hethersett couple John and Jan Halford saw it as a time to set-out on a 550 mile canal odyssey through some of the most picturesque parts of England. 

The Halfords are narrow boat enthusiasts and saw retirement as the catalyst for a journey that lasted 10 weeks and saw them manoeuvre through 431 locks on their beloved boat Jubilee. 

Setting off from the boat’s base at Milton Keynes, they visited Leamington Spa, Warwick, Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Stoke, Macclesfield, Manchester, Rochdale, Hebden Bridge, Halifax, Wakefield, Doncaster, Rotherham, Sheffield, Newark, Nottingham, Burton on Trent, Tamworth, Nuneaton, Coventry, Rugby and many other places between. 

John retired a year ago from his job as an editor for BBC Television in Norwich and Jan retired at the end of the summer term from her teaching post at Hethersett Old Hall School. Their passion for narrow boat cruising goes back many years and since 2007 John has kept a blog of their journeys.   

Pictures by Andy Tidy used with permission

They purchased Jubilee in 2012 and now look upon it as a second home when they are not spending time in their bricks and mortar house in Hethersett. Over the years they have made many friends on the waterways of England and Wales and are keen members of the Boaters’ Christian Fellowship. 

“We chose the name Jubilee because we bought the vessel in the year of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and also in the Bible the term jubilee refers to a period when slaves were set free and debts cancelled. It has given us the freedom of the water,” Jan said. 

On their latest trip they were able to worship at eight different churches on their way: “We are always made to feel so welcome,” Jan added. 

“The thing that attracts us to narrow boating is the slow pace of life and being able to cruise at 3 mph and visit places we might not normally have seen. You can moor practically anywhere and explore villages and get very close to nature with all its wonderful wildlife. Many canals will take you right into the heart of a city where there are no parking worries. We become keenly aware of the history of places and there are some very interesting urban and industrial areas as well as the countryside. There is also a great community feel with other boaters,” John added. 

Whilst locks may pose a challenging hurdle to master for holidaymakers, John admits that he enjoys the whole process: “I like the feeling of control being able to work the locks gives. It is an operation that is linked so closely to the past. Some of the mechanisms were designed 250 years ago,” he said. 

The couple’s boat is 55 ft in length which is short enough to make cruising the entire waterways network comfortable. That doesn’t mean they have had to skimp on luxuries as Jubilee includes a fridge, cooker, microwave, washing machine, central heating, two double beds, a wood burning stove, shower and fully fitted shower room. 

Their travels have taken them literally thousands of miles throughout this country, as far north as Skipton in Yorkshire and as far south as Bradford on Avon in Wiltshire. They have made many friends on the way and try to pass on the message of their Christian faith whenever they feel it appropriate and get the opportunity to do so. 

Narrow boating has given them many happy memories of evenings spent in the company of like-minded people, many of whom have contacted the Halfords as a result of John’s blog. They also have a few quirky memories like the “extraordinary look of delight” on the face of a homeless man when he bit into one of Jan’s ham sandwiches. “That for me has been one of the highlights,” she said. 

John and Jan admit that being back on dry land brings with it a wanderlust to set off again, but this will have to be put on hold as they are closely connected with both Hethersett Singers and Hethersett Pantomime Group. One thing that is certain, however, is that they won’t be resting on their laurels but will be taking off on another marathon jaunt in the not too distant future. 

John’s blog can be viewed by clicking here