Thursday, 4 December 2014
Small Boat 1948-1987.
Roger Pilkington is probably best known as the author of the ‘Small Boat ‘ series of books although as a Congregationalist Christian by conviction and as a geneticist by training he was a prolific author on these subjects too.
In the late 1940’s having purchased his first boat Commodore he spent a couple of years cruising the Thames before in 1950 he managed to battle his way up the moribund Kennet & Avon canal to Newbury after which he visited the Grand Union Canal. These early voyages were published in ‘Thames Waters –1956 ‘ which is the only book in the series without the words ‘Small Boat’ in the title.With a wide beam and seaworthy boat and rapidly running out of new cruising ground he turned to the waterways of the Continent which at that time were treated by visiting yachtsmen as as through routes to the Mediterranean or the Baltic rather than for their own intrinsic interest.
The Belgian Small Boat book was published in 1957 and began a series of books rarely matched in the canal publishing world for their uniformity and scope and twenty titles were to be published over the next 30 years.
As a member of the Pilkington glass family I don’t suppose that Dr Pilkington was ever exactly strapped for cash but at least in the early days he was working and with a young family was only able to cruise the waterways during the school holidays
If I were travelling any of the waterways he describes today I would certainly like to take or to have read his comments on the waterway concerned. Navigational details, descriptions of scenery and of people met are excellent and informative. As a folklorist the author was interested in the myths ,legends and history of the places he passed through and there is always rather a lot of this.For me and a personal grouse here – its too much and I could do without it. His style too I find annoying at times being for me a little elitist and tending I find to treat all foreigners with a kind of amused forbearance but on the whole when he sticks to journey details and descriptions he is very readable.
The series appeared to end in 1971 with the appearance of ‘Small Boat on the Upper Rhine’. but then in 1987 the author brought out ‘Small Boat Down the Years’ which, as his usual illustrator (David Knight) had by this time died, was illustrated with photographs.
In the late 1980’s Roger Pilkington made one last journey to South West France and described the journey in ‘Small Boat in the Midi’ and here on the Canal Du Midi and now in his early seventies he finally decided to end his cruising days. The boat was tied up and eventually sold and he and his wife bought a house and vineyard in the area – this last period of his life is recorded in ‘One Foot in France’ -1992. Roger Pilkington died in 2003
The complete series of 20 Small Boat books is – Thames Waters –1956, Small Boat (In,on or through)—Belgium 1957, Holland- 1958, Skagerrak-1960, Alsace –1961, Sweden-1961, Bavaria-1962, Germany-1963, France-1965, Southern France-1965, Thames-1966, Meuse-1966, Luxembourg-1967, Moselle-1968, Northern Germany-1969, Elsinore-1969, Lower Rhine-1970, Upper Rhine-1971, Down the Years-1987, Midi 1989.
All these are easily found quite reasonably and in first editions with dust jackets if that’s your thing!!