Tuesday, 3 August 1971

1968, A Year to Remember

That first boating holiday aboard Yorkanaught
January 2010

Because it was so long ago, and I was so young, I can't provide a chronological record of our trip to Llangollen. Andrew Denny recently observed that one remembers things in flashes or snippets and it is very true, especially the experiences gleaned from ones childhood.

Captain Ahab dreaming watery dreams 1968

I think we hired from a  company called Dolphin Marine in Nuneaton, but I can't be sure. We certainly travelled to Hurleston Junction via the Staffs and Worcester and the Shropshire Union canals. The plan had been to make the outward journey via the Trent and Mersey, but Yorkonought had a fixed windscreen which was too high to allow it to pass through the much subsided Harecastle Tunnel.  Instead, it was an out and back trip along the Shroppie, with images of it's endless cuttings seared into my memory. As a teenager I found getting to sleep difficult and my routine was to imagine myself on a canal boat creeping so slowly towards a bridge at the far end of a tree lined canyon, my slowing heart beat matching the pace of the single cylendered Bolinder installed in my fantasy craft. It was ony a few years ago that I realised the image was real and was actually Tyrely Cutting.

Shropshire Union 1968

Beyond that I made little boats out of shaped wood before we set off, and these were trailed behind the boat on string, sliding up and down the wake with a young boy dreaming that, one day, he too would have a real canal boat. Maybe he would even live in the Midlands and explore this watery wonderland to it's full extent. It's little wonder that I am drawn back to the Shropshire Union cuttings for my solo trip each autumn!

Chillington Wharf 1968

The final section of this memorable trip was the journey through the BCN. Whereas today it is quiet and green, the late 1960's presented a very different picture. Factories and founderies lined the route, hissing and spitting foul smelling vapours out of mysterious pipes in walls. And the water was no better. The cut was a stew of noxious filth and the Ashted Locks were a sea of vile oily slime.

Captain Ahab aged eight and a quarter!

The passage of time is a mixed blessing. Sure the BCN is much cleaner, and there are even fish in it's once polluted waters, but what I would give for just one weekend cruising round it as it used to be. Not that we appreciated it at the time. Then the BCN was a worrying and forbidding place, one to be crossed with all haste rushing from the rural safety of Autherley to the other side at Minworth in one long marathon day.

All in all a great trip which seduced us all back to the inland waterways time and time again - and calls me still. Yorkanaught may have been a very basic boat but it's passage in the summer of 68 led to the accumulation of a huge body of memories, and a handful of faded photos.

Monday, 2 August 1971

1968 , Time and Distance

Yorkanaught boating holiday, 1968
Nuneaton to Llangollen and back
January 2009

Time and distance seem to have changed with the passage of the years.

A strange phenomenon has occurred on the canals. Travel has actually got slower, and it isn't on account of poor dredging.

Yorkonought 1968 (probably Staffs and Worcester)

These days I moor near the northern end of the Shropshire Union and would consider a cruise to Llangollen to be a good week's journey, possibly six days if I pushed it a bit. Now consider this, in 1968 we took a frail prywood hire boat called Yorkonought from it's base in Nuneaton all the way to the end on the Llangollen Canal and back again, plus a diversion to mooch through the BCN all in two weeks. Now that is going some.

Captn's Snr and Jnr with Matilda

I sometimes wonder about the improbable journeys we undertook, at a time when a crowbar was as essential as a windlass. Some of the one week trips we completed are now billed as a strenous two week cruise, so what has happened?

I put this question to Matilda (mother) and Dr D (brother) and the answer was, it seems, quite  simple. Good old Captain Snr was a boater in a hurry, who didn't know the meaning of a lazy week on the water. Most days started soon after seven am and concluded when the light failed, and even longer if a mooring to his liking coldn't be found. Even now I can hear him saying "I cant stand bump, bump, bump all night - lets try again a bit further on".

But it wasn't just the hours, we fairly flew along. Those little lightweight boats didn't draw more than eight or ten inches and rather than the plodding progress made our new deep draughted boats, the old cruisers got up on the plane and skitted over the surface. I am not saying that this sort of travel was a good thing, nor was it good for the banks which were already in a bad state of repair, but it did make huge distances possible.

Horse drawn trip boat at Llangollen Wharf

The problem of this two speed traffic was that the Captain Snr frequently came up behing slow and heavy ex working boats, who found the shallow waters of the Llangollen far from satisfactory. I distinctly recall one excruciatingly slow boat which was struggiling to reach 2mph near Chirk. We followed this old smoky tub for hours without any opportunity to pass, so imagine our horror when we were about to set off back from Llangollen only to see the "Old Moo's" as they had been uncharitably been dubbed, making ready to cast off themselves.

We were up and off in an undignified haste, trying to get away in front of them. But so fast was our departure that Dr D lost his footing and ended up waist deep in the cut!

Things are uniformly slower these days, and a good job too. Canals are not racetracks and if you want to get somewhere fast try catching a bus. However, If I see a lightweight ply or fibreglass cruiser coming up astern, I remember that they can travel so much faster and let then through as a matter of course.

Matilda with Dr D

It's a bit like golf. The slower your boat or the worse your swing, the more time you get to spend doing the thing you like!

Sunday, 1 August 1971

1968 The Summer of Love plus one

Two weeks that changed a life - the Captain's very first boating holiday
Summer 1968

It has been said that if you can remember the summer of love in 1967, you wern't really there!

Well I have to admit that due to my tender age (6) I have very few recollections of the year that free love ruled supreme, but by own summer of love happened 12 months later in 1968. This was the year I first encountered the inland waterways, and an intoxicating experience it was too. Never mind marijuana, I had mud, and weed was the stuff that constantly clogged the prop. It was a heady mix which proved scarily addictive, and from which I have never fully recovered.

Yorkonought on the Welsh Canal 1968

Never mind shooting up the Shroppie, within two weeks I was Main-lining through central Brimingham!

Yorkonought under one of the Llangollen Canal's classic wooden lift bridges 1968

I have recently gained access to some digitised copies of 35mm slides shot during this first two week trip, which saw four of us (Capt Snr, Matilda, Dr D and yours truly) make a trip from Nuneaton to Llangollen and back again. These faded photos brought home the basic nature of boating holidays 40 years ago. Forget fridges, showers, hot water and pump out loos, let alone 240 volt electricity, heating, washing machines and TV's. This was boating in the raw, four people crammed into a 26 foot plywood box called Yorkanaught, pushed along by an unreliable outboard motor with a propensity to shear its split pin every time the prop encountered the least resistance.

Thinking back to the mod cons, all we had was a bucket for a loo, a two gallon jug of fresh water, a two burner gas ring and a 'fridge' called an 'Oh so cool' which was a primitive predecessor of the cool box.

Captain Ahab aged 7

Eh by gum, it were hard back then - modern boaters - they don't know they're born.

Sadly, neither my father nor my brother were profligate photographers, so the records of the trip are intermittent and focussed on the picturesque. It's a shame that they didn't get their cameras out as they passed through the BCN on the way back because whilst views of Grub St Cutting are unchanged by the passage of time, the industrial landscape of Birmingham has been almost completely lost.

Norbury Junction 1968

I have used computer wizardry to restore what colour was left and I will post a selection of these shots over the the next few days, along with a few recollection of that heady first trip.

Happy days.