The gentleman who appears to be asleep sitting in his canoe in a lock on the Thames & Severn canal ,is one of my favourite canal writers. Actually I think he is probably reading or perhaps making notes for the book he is about to publish - 'The Heart Of England By Waterway'; a book that I have read many times for the sheer enjoyment of the quality of the writing.
The literature of the early years of British canal voyaging for pleasure is peppered with accounts of canoe cruises which for obvious reasons were the chosen means of voyaging through UK waterways in the latter half of the 19th century. In fact canoe touring enjoyed quite a vogue for many years after its initial popularization with the publication of the 'Rob Roy' series of books by John MacGregor. One such voyager and probably the most vociferous proponent of canoeing for pleasure during the 20th century was William Bliss.
His book whose full title is 'The Heart of England by Waterway - A canoeing chronicle by River & Canal' was published by Witherby in 1933. If you have got this far in reading this article and have decided that books on canoeing and canoeing technique are not your cup of tea then I beg you to persevere for there is little in the book on these subjects.
This presentation dedication sums it up really - Bliss was a lover of the English countryside in general and of Canals and Waterways in particular.
The book is a delight to read because as I have said his descriptive prose is second to none. The man is obviously a romantic and what lover of waterways is not.His book is full of anecdotes and reminiscences from a long boating life written in a compelling and utterly charming way. The voyages in many instances took place over canals which are now derelict, so there is lots of contemporary interest here.
The book had but one edition and has never been republished as far as I know.The 9 chapters deal with the Thames above Oxford and Cotswold waters, River Severn, Gloucester & Berkely canal, Stroudwater canal, River Cherwell, Oxford canal, Warwick & Napton canal, River Avon, River Teme & Thames & Severn canal. There are three photographs and a folding map.
Its incredible to think that in his youth Bliss had canoed over the Wilts & Berks and Thames & Severn canals. It was whilst he was travelling on the latter and had camped at the mouth of Sapperton tunnel that he took a twilight walk and attracted by the heavy scent, found a huge patch of Butterfly orchids (now a very rare native plant).
I wonder if they are still there?