Canal Boats with a Snail Theme

Jane Bonney

While I was still a holiday boater I noticed more than one boat by the name of Brian the Snail, although I can no longer recollect the exact location of any of them, they all seemed to have a certain yellow and red molluscan character painted somewhere on them. It struck me at the time that a snail name was particularly appropriate for this very slow form of transport, given that the maximum speed limit on British Waterways is but 4m.p.h. I determined that when we eventually procured our own boat it should be named Wandering Snail, a most apt name given that it is not only a fresh water species but that we were determined to become what is termed ‘continuous cruisers’. However I was thwarted in my ambition when we discovered that it is frightfully bad luck to rename a boat. We are now stuck with the moniker Tin Lizzie; neither the worst name I can think of nor the best. I would hope to use Wandering Snail one day should we be lucky enough to have a narrow boat custom built.

Quite naturally I have kept a weather eye open for other boats and boaters who share my interest in snails and within a few days of starting on our journey I was to encounter two in Braunston, Northamptonshire, affectionately known as ‘The Venice of the North’ (despite being in the Midlands). The first was actually out of the water for bottom blacking in the boat yard at the time, giving me plenty of time to go back and get my camera, and was called simply Snail (Fig 1). It had a rather nice snail painting on the side (Fig 2), and the man from the marina told me that they kept Giant African Snails on board. The second one, which passed so rapidly I barely had time to turn on my camera, was ironically called Snail’s Pace (Fig 3)!

Within two weeks we spotted another snail boat, this time at Fradley Junction between the Trent and Mersey and the Coventry Canals. I had left my camera on the boat when we saw it, but almost a year to the day later we spotted Escargot with its rather stylish logo again (Fig 4). Although we had travelled some 500 miles by then, it was moored about two miles from where we had first seen it. This time I had the camera to hand.

Snails seemed to be a popular theme on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. We spotted Less-Cargo (with a rather grotesque snail caricature) (Fig 5) near Chorley and L’Escargot (Fig 6) at Bank Newton. The boaters that we went up Wigan Locks with told us that they knew of a boat called Oddnydod (Fig 7), a Yorkshire dialect word for a snail, but it wasn’t until October when we were on the Shropshire Union that we spotted it ourselves. It had no less a character than the famous Brian painted on the side!

It wasn’t until the end of February that we spotted another snail boat, but at Fenny Stratford on the Grand Union Canal we found ourselves moored up opposite Water Snail (Fig 8). This boat had no snail picture although some months later we moored next to Slow Progress (Fig 9) near Devizes on the Kennet and Avon. Although not named for a snail, it had a rather beautiful snail logo on the side (Fig 10).

The only time we saw a River Cruiser (as opposed to a canal boat) with a snail name was in June on the River Severn. Ironically as the speed limit on this waterway is downstream, it was our boat which was going too fast to get a decent photo! I was able to catch the name on the side of ‘S’ Cargo (Fig 11), but not the lovely snail picture on the back.

During our travels we have also encountered lots of snails incorporated into signs, benches, murals and the like. We have also spotted a fair number of boats with snail ornaments on and in them, although in all honesty I have to say that none have rivalled the amount aboard Tin Lizzie!


Fig 1 Photo Jane Bonney

Fig 2 Photo Jane Bonney

Fig 3 Photo Jane Bonney

Fig 4 Photo Jane Bonney

Fig 5 Photo Jane Bonney

Fig 6 Photo Jane Bonney

Fig 7 Photo Jane Bonney

Fig 8 Photo Jane Bonney

Fig 9 Photo Jane Bonney

Fig 10 Photo Jane Bonney

Fig 11 Photo Jane Bonney