Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Voyage into England - book review

Voyage into England (1966)
by John Seymour
October 2012

Helen picked this one up for me on spec, and then worried that I may have already read it. She needn't have worried - it was new to me and provided very entertaining read for my latest flight back from Istanbul.

Its an account of a four month journey by John Seymour, his wife and three daughters aboard British Waterways Water Willow in the mid 1960's, 1965 I think. 

This book offers an interesting insight into a slice in time of the inland waterways history, a time when British Waterways was in its infancy and hopes of a return to commercial carrying remained very much alive.

The book records a journey inland from Nottingham, up the Trent and Mersey and then up the Welsh Canal to Llangollen. The return took the the Shropshire Union, the Staffs and Worcester and down the Severn to the Lower Avon (the upper hadn't been restored then). The route then included Birmingham, Warwick and then out to the Fens for a rendezvous with a BBC film crew.

 But it wasn't the journey as such which was of interest, much hasn't changed a lot, but it was the series of cameos which really grabbed me. Lets take them in turn:

1. His experiences through the Potteries included an evening with the Stoke Boat Club who were then based in the stub of the Newcastle branch. The branch is gone beneath a redevelopment scheme and the club has moved to the Caldon Canal which was itself closed at the time.

2. Then there are the accounts of the mines, steelworks and potteries in Etruria. He paints a picture of industry in expansion mode which has all been lost in the intervening 50 years.

3. Perhaps the finest section was on the Weaver. They descended on the old version of the Anderton Boat lift onto a navigation thronging with coasters. They then ventured south and made what was probably the last ever ascent of the Runcorn and Weston flight, rising through a canal which all has assumed were impassable.

4. Finally there are the encounters with the latter day carrying pioneers who were making a last ditch attempt to revive the commercial trade. All was optimism and Seymour was certainly an ardent supporter, but whilst many of his insights were almost prophetically accurate, renewed commercial carrying wasn't to be.

The book is probably not a classic, but its cameo's make it stand out from the crowd.


Sarah said...

I loved Voyage into England. And said so at length.

Captain Ahab said...

Sarah - an interesting contrast with Water Road (patchy but a book I enjoyed overall. His obit puts him close to Morgan - Grenville - have you come across his three Franch waterway books? Andy

Ian and Karen said...

I really like Voyage into England too; I first read it in the mid 70s and that copy resides on Tacet.

The ascent of Runcorn Locks makes the best reading, in my view.