You can judge the different quantities of traffic on the Irish canals compared to those in England by the size of the marinas - or at least the marinas on the Shropshire Union Canal in Cheshire. I was there with my parents last weekend, in search, as always, of a place for a little run out and a morning coffee. It has to be easily accessible as my mother has a dicky knee, and this place was just the business:
It even has a resident boating type with beard - a very nice fellow, whose companion had dodged out of the picture. In this building is a café, a reception area, noticeboard with boats for sale and so on, a small shop selling maps, guidebooks, the boating equivalent of bachelors' rations as found in country pubs in Clare.
The café was very good, even though it had a feel of the garden centre café about it. There is a phenomenon here that has spread around England, people visiting not to buy plants, or because they are on a boat, but for the restaurant experience. There's a huge garden centre near where my parents live that began as a tiny local nursery. It's just been taken over by Wyevale, and is in the process of getting not only bigger but less and less to do with gardens. The retail side has opened out to include Lakeland, Edinburgh Woollen Mill, shops selling clothes, shoes, cute things to put on your mantelpiece and so on. The plant bit just makes the coachfuls of visitors feel they're doing something outsidey.
I digress, as do the marinas. This one does have boats, lots of them, but many people, including us, come for the cup of tea and the view:
This one also has a water taxi - there it is in the photo with the blue frilled canopy. It takes anyone who wants to go the short distance to Audlem where it lets you out just below the lock to visit the pubs (very good, with excellent ale), or buy supplies other than bachelors' rations.
There is also a small caravan site - full, with two caravans and a camper. We know all about this diversification in Ireland, though not on the canals but beside the Shannon, and not in caravan sites but in the harbour carparks. We're all just travellers looking for somewhere to go.
One of these days Joe and I will take a narrowboat from somewhere like this and explore the English canals. Oh, I haven't said where this is. It's called OverWater Marina, and it's off Coole Lane near Nantwich. Coole Lane was a favourite when we went out hacking on our ponies as children, and it's been a favourite with Joe and I on bikes visiting the home place. Just off Coole Lane is the Secret Bunker, set up during the Cold War, but that's another story.