Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Mr Burt’s Unique Canoe Trip in 1906.


‘A Unique Canoe Trip’  Published in Frys Magazine,July & August 1906.

The late Nineteenth century saw the first tentative explorations for pleasure of the UK’s Inland Waterway network. With the emergence of a new middle class with money and the leisure to enjoy it, spare time was often spent ‘messing about in boats’. The Thames became enormously popular for boating excursions and gradually the more adventurous travelled further afield sometimes either camping alongside or on their boat or alternatively staying at waterside inns overnight.


Londoners intent on recording their trips for posterity the route –Thames – Thames and Severn Canal & back via the Kennet & Avon was very popular and this was the route that Burt took. A variation on this was to travel – Thames – Oxford Canal – Warwick & Worcester Canals – R Severn & then back via the Thames & Severn Canals. This latter canal & the Kennet & Avon were of course scenically very attractive, had little traffic and were in close proximity to the great metropolis. The Grand Junction Canal on the other hand although nearer to London had the disadvantage of still being comparatively busy commercially and for the fair eyes of these early voyagers  the countryside it passed through was not so memorable.

One of the earliest magazine accounts of one of these round voyages that included the Thames & Severn Canal was ‘The Strange Adventures of a Houseboat’  by William Black which although a work of fiction was obviously based on a first hand knowledge of these canals. This was first published as a series in The Illustrated London News in 1886.

William Bliss canoed these routes several times in the 1880-90 period and the author Temple Thurston did an identical journey in his well known book ‘The Flower of Gloster’  in 1911.

So we can see that unfortunately Mr Burt’s trip was far from unique. Yet in another sense it was’  for the account is illustrated with over 50 small thumb nail photographs. This must be something of a record and shows also a pioneering use of photography. In fact I cannot recall another British canal book before this time that used photographic illustration.

Mr Burt and crew of one chose to stay in waterside inns during their 350 mile trip. On arrival at Inglesham they found the entrance lock to the Thames & Severn to be closed forcing them to carry on up the shallow Thames to Cricklade where they portaged across to the Canal. They carried round all the locks in the Golden Valley as these were all closed for repair too (a not unusual event on this canal). On reaching Sharpness they managed to have their canoe taken downriver on a dumb barge towed by a tug. Frighteningly they nearly missed the mouth of the Bristol Avon when cast off from the Tug at 5am in very rough conditions and being swept up river with the tide.

Of the Kennet & Avon the author readily attests to its beauty and its semi disuse at this time can be judged when he states that they only passed one boat during their journey from Bath.

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