Monday, 24 December 2012

In the footsteps of ‘Bliss’–(A recent find).



One of the unexpected pleasures in collecting and dealing in old canal books is the occasional chance find that turns up to surprise and delight. One such find occurred recently in a collection of old canal books bought at Auction. In a copy of ‘The Heart of England by Waterway’  by William Bliss published in 1934 (See my 2010 blog ‘ A forgotten book from the 1930’s ) I found a boaters log from 1938 stuck in the back of the book. It consisted of 6 pages of note paper which detailed a trip from Braunston down the Oxford Canal & onto the Thames.


The canoe trip took place over the course of a week in June 1938.

The author is very much preoccupied by wind direction being a canoeist so distances and times taken to travel are detailed meticulously. The author left Braunston at 10.30am and arrived at Napton at 3pm where he was supplied with a ‘winch’ by the lock keeper who told him that he and his father before him had worked the lock for a total of 100years.

At Fenny Compton Supper,Bed and Breakfast at the George & Dragon cost 7/- and consisted of eggs & bacon for supper and bacon & eggs for breakfast ! Pub menus in those days were obviously not famed for their diversity of choice.

Having passed over the summit where he had met two pairs of motor boats and 6 horse drawn boats all travelling north he finally made Claydon at 10.45am , Banbury Wharf for 5pm and Twyford bridge for 6pm. That day he passed about 6 horse drawn boats all going north.

At Weir Lock he was asked to produce his pass for the first time and at Somerton Deep lock he had trouble getting his boat out of the empty lock and had to ask for the lockies assistance. Arriving at Dukes lock he found it locked as it was a Sunday but the ‘very officious’ lock keeper let him through. In the Duke’s cut he went the wrong way – going down the mill leat but finally arrived on the Thames proper at Kings lock. Here he disembarked travelled to Cricklade by road and attempted to canoe downstream to Lechlade . The weather being hot and the river shallow he seems to have spent more time out of the canoe dragging it over shallows than he did in it.

Having detoured up the Evenlode he eventually reached Oxford where he sampled the delights of the Cherwell as far as Islip Mill.

The author of this log had followed routes described in Bliss’s book almost exactly. The final tally was Braunston – Oxford 61 miles,Cricklade Oxford – 43 miles & Oxford – Islip & back 15 miles. Charges for the Oxford canal came to £0 – 13 – 9 pence.

Incidentally I notice that a copy of this book fetched £100 on EBay recently.


Thursday, 13 December 2012

BRITAIN JUST BEFORE THE STORM (A Canadian Canoe Threads Old English Waterways ….’ in 1940.


tom the btr192

Amos Burg the author of this article in The National Geographic Magazine seems to have been an intrepid American traveller with several accounts of trips in the Yukon and Oregon to his credit. For this article he  shipped his Canadian canoe Song of the Winds 6000 miles from Oregon to the West India Dock in London. Arriving solo he soon decided that he needed a companion for his proposed month long tour of the English canals and chose Harry whom he found stranded on the outbreak of war at the American Embassy.

tom the btr187

On arrival at Limehouse Basin he seems to have been treated with some ceremony being met by the head engineer who presented him with a lock key tied with a pink ribbon (which I must say sounds just about the most unlikely canal anecdote I’ve heard but I am just repeating what I read in the Nat Geo!!!) At this time in the very early years of the war – Limehouse basin was so crammed with pairs of boats loading raw materials for the Midlands War effort that they gave up the attempt to leave the basin until early the next morning. After paddling all day they camped on the Island at Little Venice where they were hospitably received by the local kids armed with stones and other missiles.tom the btr189

At Rickmansworth he found Walkers boat yard still building wooden Narrow Boats and talking to the lock keeper at Batchworth Lock whose grandfather had started work at the same lock in 1794, he was told that 40 pairs of boats were passing daily carrying metals and war materials to the midlands.tom the btr191

Bargeman's ‘Service Van’ !!

tom the btr190

tom the btr188

Amos Burg and The Song of the Winds travelled across Birmingham and up the Shroppie to Ellesmere Port where somewhat amazingly they locked down into the ship canal ,passed through Eastham Lock and travelled on down the Mersey tideway before journeys end at Liverpool.