A Day to Remember – Towpath Talk, November 2016

Derek Stansfield continues with his series of articles illustrating the diversity of the membership of the National Community Boats Association.  This month’s article follows Marianne Sonksen’s day with a group of  self-help ME sufferers on Ethel, operated by the Sheffield-based Ethel Trust.

“Unlocking confidence” is the motto of the canal barge crew from the Ethel Trust.This example of serene mindfulness was medicine for someone who can suffer from incredible bouts of anxiety that make him unable to leave the house or even his bed. Pangs of agoraphobia can make the trip to the paper shop an insurmountable task that requires superhuman strength.

As soon as he heard that the skipper needed ‘a helping hand’ all the anxiety, tiredness and  apprehension he normally feels went out of the window and overboard. Only five hours’ sleep, the trouble of getting up early and leaving the house did not seem to matter then. Help was needed to pass through a lock!

The barge made her way from Thorne Marina along the tranquil Keadby Canal with lush greenery and yellow water lilies, the latter a bio marker for unpolluted water.

On board Ethel on the Keadby Canal

The boat’s eight-cylinder Perkins bus engine gurgled away in its sonorous bass that was only disturbed by quacking ducks and swans practising noisy waterborne take-offs, their black webbed feet batting the water surface.

Soon there appeared Bramwith lock and the skipper slowed down the engine. On reaching the lock mooring the shore party made sure the boat was safe. Then they made their way on foot to the lock.

The crew supervised so efficiently that everybody thought the ‘newbies’ had done itall before. It was clear that they were experienced in working with people who needed a confidence boost.

The reward for all this work was for everyone to see – before us lay a wider waterway, the New Junction Canal, a sparkling beauty on that hot summer day.

The way was free for the passage across the 1905 engineering masterpiece: the impressive Don Aqueduct which carries the canal over the River Don.

Crossing the Don Aqueduct

If you have ever suffered from a mental health problem and its debilitating effects, when confidence sinks to its lowest ebb, imagine how it must feel when you have caused a widebeam barge to rise two metres or more. If you can lift a boat you can lift anything.

On that day you feel like Atlas who carried the world on his shoulders.

Charities, schools and other organisations can book a day trip or residential trip. Contact The Ethel Trust on 07722678168 or by emailing: ethelbarge@gmail.com www.etheltrust.co.uk

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