Saturday, 22 December 2012

Small Boat to Bavaria - book review

Small Boat to Bavaria
by Roger Pilkington
December 2012

I find myself strangely captured by the ongoing chronicles of Commodore, accounts of travels half a century and half a continent distant.

This time the Pilkington clan explore the rivers Neckar and Main, both tributaries of the mighty Rhine. The first rose through Heidelburg towards Stuttgart and the second through Frankfurt towards what was to become the Rhine - Main - Danube canal, gateway to the east.

This series is at times flawed, long on history and short of personality but not withstanding its shortcomings one gradually acquires an insight into the author, his tastes, convictions and passions. Pilkington has a thirst for history and this spills out as he threads Commodore through to the very limits of the navigations, taking a leisure boat where few non commercial craft penetrated.

The Neckar indulged his passion for fine wine and ecclesiastical architecture, but the navigation itself also offered much scope for his observant eye. At each lock a toll was payable,  but it appears that whilst the locks were too short and narrow for two standard boats to enter abreast or in line astern, two could share a lock if skewed round and the bows of the back craft brought alongside the stern of the one in front. This left a triangle of water at the back which was just right for Commodore saving a lot of time and money.

After a run down the Rhine and an over winter stop the intrepid crew made a passage up the Main, 250 miles to Bamburg following in the path of the old chain steamers which hauled themselves up the fast flowing channel using a chain laid in the river bed.

There were many stops along the way, and tales of adventure and death in every chapter, but from a canal enthusiast's perspective he saved the best till last. Today the waterway has been widened and extended into the Rhine - Main - Danube Canal which bridges the ancient watershed between these two huge river basin but back in the early 1960's this was still under construction and we were treated to an insight into the Prince Ludwigs Canal, a waterway which had remained just navigable till the end of the second world war and which saw a convoy of small naval vessels make the final passage. 

But the idea of a watery bridge between the Rhine and the Danube was nothing new and an even older waterway existed, but that was long before pound locks and probably involved much transhipment.

What an idea - to take your own boat over the watershed of the Alps and down the mighty Danube to the Black Sea. Now that would be a real adventure. 

Another absorbing installment from a unique series. 

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