Friday, 16 November 2012

Adventures of the Hebe - book review

Adventures of the Hebe
by Desmond Stoker
November 2012

I have been trying to settle on a word which describes this book, and after much thought I have chosen "delightful".

Adventures of Hebe in its 2011 form

Whilst it was only published in 2011, it was actually written between 1928 and 1930 as a log book of the inland waterways journeys of the rowing skiff Hebe. Desmond Stoker was a medical student at the time and was an enthusiastic participant in his fathers exploration of the canals and rivers within striking distance of their High Lane base. These accounts cover just three of the many trips made by Desmond and friends, but they are the only ones he wrote about for his own benefit and that of the family. I would like to think that if he were alive todayt he would be an ardent blogger!

A sample page out of Desmond Stokers log book

We are not talking about an day or two out and about. These trips lasted between two and four weeks with the first taking in the Welsh Canal to Llangollen in 1928, what we know as the Four Counties Ring plus a trip to Nottingham in 1929 and finally the epic trip through Birmingham, down the Staffs and Worcester, River Severn and up the Lower Avon - and back in 1930.

Whilst the crew had no motor to drive them, they were by no means a slave to the oars. Stoker Senior had constructed a very effective sailing rig which, in the right conditions, swept the boat along at up to 10 knots. When the winds were less favourable their either skulled or put a crew member ashore to bow haul Hebe.

This was boating on the raw. No creature comforts existed and there was a daily need to find fresh food and drink. When it was just Desmond and his father / alternate crew member they slept on the boat under an awning, but when it grew to be a family affair the lads slept ashore in a tent.

Sometimes I find travel accounts of places I know a bit samey, but not the travels of the Hebe. This was another age, a time when heavy oil engines were in the infancy and a traditional canal craft was propelled by a horse. But even then the canals were in decline in many areas and the sight of the skiff was a welcomed by the lock keepers who minded the lonely lengths.

In some ways it's the small things which capitvated me. Their attempt to navigate down to the River Sow from the Staffs and Worsester at Baswich, their toils to get up to Evesham on the Avon and then there is the tantalising comment next to Norbury Junction indicating that they navigated the length of the Shrewsbury and Newport Canals all the way to Shrewsbury. There is no account of this journey, just a few faded photos of Hebe in one of the guillotine locks, entering Berwick Tunnel and bow hauling through dense reeds to get to Shrewsbury. Surely this must have been one of the last craft to navigate the length of this canal.

This book allows you to step back into a pre war era when things were very different, quieter, less mechanical but still the lure of the waterways was able to cast its spell on the unwary.

So, a book which is both delightful and enchanting. Well worth a read if you are short of Christmas present ideas. 

1 comment:

Nick Holt said...

Hi Capt.

A great review of an utterly beguiling book. Reading your review prompted me to take it back off the shelf to delight again in the images of their adventures.

A wonderful tonic on a chilly working morning!

best wishes