Hop on board with Wandering Duck
Descending from the sheep-scattered, heathen hills of the Peak District we reached our starting point in the picturesque Bugsworth Basin. Upon spotting the shiny, green Wandering Duck floating serenely in the yellow evening light, excitement bubbled up for our water-born excursion. Huge smiles greeted us – an indication of Mark and Ruth’s warm hospitality; a British couple that met in Australia’s Byron Bay and went on to manage a hostel in New Zealand. Together they’ve been running the Wandering Duck, also know as ‘Rakiraki’ (Maori for duck) – Britain’s only floating backpacker hostel – for over a year. Mark introduced us to the Duck: at 69ft long by 6ft10” wide, her interior design boasts an ingenious use of space. Homely, bright and accommodating, cosy bunk beds and hot showers are embellished with charming extras: a selection of games, a free-for-all guitar and an honesty bar including a real ale pump. According to the ‘ish’ clock on the kitchen wall, it was about time for us to set off. No rush and no schedules here though – whether we wanted to regularly be behind the tiller or simply engross ourselves in a book, it was up to us.
Seeking to slow down the pace from her busy London life, Georgie, an Aussie backpacker was joining my friend Alison and I aboard the Duck. Buzzing with excitement, we gravitated to the front deck with our cuppas to shoot the breeze and watch the world glide by. Inquisitive tiny ducklings zipped around, closely followed by bobbing mother mallards. Statuesque herons eyed us nonchalantly from the bank. Perfectly positioned by the elevated canal, we soaked in beautiful views across the Peaks until sunset. Enticed back inside by the delicious smells of Ruth’s cooking, we gathered around the dining table to tuck into a tasty dinner and share the day’s antics.
Quacking ducks and bleating lambs awoke me the next morning after a sound night’s sleep in a cosy blanket-laden bunk. Once everyone was roused and breakfasted, we laced up our boots for a ramble to Torrs Riverside Park. Traversing the ‘Millennium Walkway’- a metal pathway suspended halfway down the gorge – provided a unique vantage point of a disused mill towering above and the gushing waters of the River Goyt below. As we cruised the canals to reach Marple for lunch, I finally felt brave enough to try my hand at steering: a slightly nerve racking, but worthwhile experience. Navigating past fellow canal boats and through narrow gaps, I was relieved to avoid any crashes. A hearty lunch and a couple of Ruth’s homemade heavenly chocolate brownies refuelled us for the afternoon. We had 16 locks to open and close plus a descent of 64m – quite the fitness regime! Working together, we managed to sail through the final lock in good time; even a spattering of rain couldn’t dampen our high spirits. Cruising onwards, gigantic stone archways of Marple Aqueduct framed luscious green pastures. As we moored up for the night, a friendly wood carver honing his crafts on the bank waved a hello. After hot showers and a hearty dinner, wine glasses were soon chinking… a just reward for the day’s exertion.
Rising at a slightly more leisurely pace the next morning, a short walk on dry land led us to the 14th Century Chadkirk Chapel in Romiley. Once back on board, we cruised towards Hyde, passing via dark tunnels and bluebell lined canal ways through to an increasingly urban landscape. This was where our journey was sadly at an end. “Not all those who wander are lost”: J R R Tolkien’s quote rang true. I’d felt extremely settled; anchored by all the adventure, home comforts and like-minded companions.
By Sarah Griffiths