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I was born in the English seaside town of Hastings, many miles from the nearest

canal. My early boating experience came from sailing dinghies and  ex Royal Navy

boats launched from the beach at West St Leonards at the headquarters of the

Hastings Sea Cadets, where I learned the rudiments of seamanship, self-respect

and responsibility, and life in general. All the essentials that seemed to be

by-passed by schools.

It was not until 1976, at the age of 30, that I first discovered the English Inland

Waterways. I had always thought that I would be bored to death crawling along

narrow ditches, but how wrong I was.

We - my wife and two small kids, and two friends from Southampton, hired our first

narrow boat from North Kilworth on the Leicester section of the Grand Union Canal

and spent a week circumnavigating the Midlands. It was probably the most eventful

week I have ever spent on a narrowboat and I was immediately hooked.

I had always been fascinated by railways, and the meandering course of the canal held the same attraction for me, weaving through little known countryside and approaching towns through the back door. There were bridges that went over and under the canal and mysterious dark and dank tunnels that sometimes stretched for two miles and more, and people waved in friendly greeting.

I bought my first narrowboat, after several more trips on hired craft, in 1985, and explored most of the navigable English system, from Godalming and Bristol in the south, to Manchester and York in the north. 

I had developed a hankering to go further and venture on to the vast network of the Continental canals , but influenced partly by something I had read in one of Hugh McKnights' books, I decided that the vast European network of inland waterways would be best explored in a boat that was more roomy and higher from the waterline - a Dutch barge and in 1998 I got the chance to add a 21 metre long Dutch Luxemotor barge, Saul Trader, to the ‘fleet’.

My series of four books follow our adventures from Gloucester via the Kennet & Avon Canal, across the English Channel to France, Belgium and Holland.

These are stories of amusing and sometimes worrying incidents that we encounter on our travels, and the interesting characters that we meet along the way. Laced with anecdotes and hilarious tales that will have you laughing aloud, interspersed with some drama and misfortune, you will become a part of the crew as we slowly discover the hidden world of the canals from Friesland in the north of Holland to the warm climes of the southern Camargue and the Canals du Midi and Lateral Garonne.

I still have both boats after 30 years and I still get the same ‘kick’ whenever I go aboard after an absence. The lore of the Cut has stayed with me and will do so as long as I live. My only wish is that the same feeling will be conveyed to you within these pages.

Keith Harris

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