Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Barging into Southern France - Book Review

Barging into Southern France
Book Review
By Gerard Morgan Grenville

Following NB Starcross's recent review of Gerard Morgan-Grenville's first book, Barging into France I came upon a copy of the second in the series, Barging into Southern France, which I purchased for slightly less than the 1972 cover price of £2.95.

Of course, I should have read the first book first, but from the off I found this second book a real page turner in its own right. It follows his journey in an ancient estuary barge "Virginia Anne" south from Epinal in mid France to Castetes near the Atlantic coast. This journey covered the Canal Marne a Saone, Canal bu Burgogne, River Saone, River Rhine, Canal Rhone a Sete and finally the Canal du Midi over three cruising seasons.

Its very much a book about the place rather than about the people he met along the way, providing a detailed account of what was seen and done causing me to make repeated references back to the maps provided at the start of the book. Morgan-Grenville's jourmey appears to have been inspired by an earlier journey down the Upper Saone, undertaken by Philip Hamerton in 1886 and who is extensively quoted and provides historical context to this trip, which he saw as possibly one of the last journeys along some the the lesser waterways.

Morgan-Grenville was a man of many talents and added thirty beautiful pen and ink drawings, which add significantly to the images his words create.

This book caused me to reflect on the last 100 pages of Narrow Dog to Carcassonne, which covers much of the same ground. My frustration with Terry Darlington's comtemporary account was that there was a cracking tale trying to get out, but which never quite made it above the style of his prose. Morgan-Grenville descriptive style filled in many of the blanks and the two books, published thirty years apart, make in interesting combination.

The sentiment they unequivocally share is that the Rhone is one scary river, and not one to be taken lightly. I was right there with GM-C on Virginia Anne, struggling to make a passage back up a few miles of the Rhone from Arles, to enter the Rhone a Sete, with the river's flow nearly overwhelming the capabilities of the underpowered craft.
I am now in that tantalising position of not knowing quite how the author came to be in the middle of France on this old boat, or what happened next. All will be revealed when I get my hands on barging into France and then the third of the trilogy, Barging into Bergundy.
As for Gerard Morgan-Grenville? Sadly he died this March (2009) at the age of 77. As well as promoting unusual travel destinations, he was also an ardent environmentalist, founding the world renown Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales. It was strange, reading his written words which sounded so similar to those spoken my my father in connection with his passion for our waterways. I know my father read these european books so I guess I owe a debt of gratitude to Mr Morgan-Grenville. A big posthumous thanks - gone but not forgotten.
ISBN 0 7153 5733 6

4 comments:

Jim said...

I just happen to know where you can get a copy of "Barging into France" if you are interested!

Jim

Captain Ahab said...

I hopes you would read this entry Jim.
Would you care to do a swap!
Will send my address by e-mail.

Margaret said...

I have a copy of Barging into Burgundy if you would like one.

Captain Ahab said...

Margaret
I would love to borrow it. Thank you so much.
I swapped Barging into Southern France with Jim (nb Starcross) and am already well into Barging into France which arrived today. The second book is making more sense now.. I really should read books in the order they were written.
I will get back to you by e-mail.
Capt A