Thursday 27 November 2008

Which! Waterways Mag?

Which! waterways magazine

I like to subscribe to a regular waterways related magazine, but which one should I choose?

Belle is a great advocate of the benefit of letting things "settle", which is really just another take on the old adage of "lets sleep on it". Selecting a waterways magazine isnt exactly a life changing decision but I have certainly slept on the issue and let it settle. In fact I have given the matter about five years of fragmentory thought and, having thought finally reached a decision, I figured that I had better "show my workings" and maybe get bette
r marks. Does my recent trip to a schol parents evening show?

Belle discovered my early stash of illicitly purchased waterways mags in my bedside drawer, and brought the matter to my attention during a dinner party.

Belle announces to all who will listen:
"Guess what I just found in the Captains bedside drawer?"

The room goes silent - whats coming next the
y all wonder between mouthfuls of Delias's calorie free chocolote Bread and Butter Pudding?
" I found a huge great pile of Glossy Magazines (emphasis on the Glossy of course), thats what I found"

The Captian noticed a sudden move to inhalation rather than mastication.
"Actually I found 10 much thumbed copies of Waterways World".

You would think that the revalation that they wern't Penthouse, Knave or Mayfair (I may be revealing my pornographic age here) would be something of a relief. However, the titters whch replaced the shock were soon supplanted with "you sad old bugger" looks. I had to conclude that there would be less stigma attached to a stash of recent prorn th
an back editions of boating magazines. I will ponder that a bit more.

So. The big question - which mag should I subscribe

There are three blushing damsels sitting on the bookshelf trying to catch my eye, all in some ways similar, but uniquely different when you get to know them.

Lets start with the biggest and therefore the most popular girl (sorry, magazine) on the bench:

Waterways World.

  • This has been running since Noah started recommending boat travel.
  • Has a circulation of something north of 30,000 I believe, mostly sold by annual subscription and over the counter at chandleries / hire bases etc.
  • Is based in Burtion on Trent
  • Also publishes an even more niche historical can mag :
I subscribed to WW for several years but ultimately found it dissatisfying. Its main focus is in profiling new boats which can become tiresome if you dont own a new boat or aspire to buy one. It's a middle of the road magazine, based in the midlands, focusses on the midlands narrow canals, aiming for a middle class, middle income market.

WW's worst failing is an apparent inability to respond to correspondence. They are truly aweful - but at least they did publish one of my "Tixall in the snow" photos in the Q4 IWA magzine. Thanks WW - I will cash the cheque real soon.

Canals and Rivers

The next girl on my dancecard. If WW was
too much of a Midlander, surely the addition of free flowing fresh water (rivers) would add spice.
  • Potentially this was a match made in heaven as the publication hales from my native Norwich.
  • So here we have a girl with all the attibutes I find attractive, and she speaks witha Norfolk accent. "Cor blas me bor, loook at thaaat - bootifuuul". (sorry - cant resist)
  • The problem is that whilst this girl likes boat maintenance, her main experience is on the GRP stuff she encounters on the Broads.
  • She also obsesses on the broads most months. I love the Broads, I spent most of my youth on or in them, but like a the subject of my adolescent romaces, I dont maintain any ongoing interest. Beverley Wiltshire, if you are out there I am sorry to break it to you so hard.

Canal Boat

So this brings us to the last of the thee hopefuls
  • She looks ok, but is rather strangely proportioned being both taller and wider than her rivals who diet to maitain a strict A4 profile. However, they say that our unique beauty is found in differences.
  • She dosnt get around as much with a circulation of just over 13,000
  • She has several regular feature writes each of whom are allowed to maintain their very individual styles
  • Her back end is completely devoted to the nerdy canal boat maintenance, which I love
  • Her boat profiling is a split between new and second hand.
All in all this is a canal boaters magazine, written by canal boaters for canal boaters. It kind of does exactly what it says on the cover. I two timed WW over the summer so see if my attraction of Canal Boat was a passing crush or the real thing and have concluded that she is the girl for me. I went to Pendeford in August looking for their stand and was greeting by an actual pretty girl armed with freecopies of Nicholsons. The discounted early editions were nice to have, but I was already sold.

Tuesday 25 November 2008

The Inland Waterways of England

Book Review
The Inland Waterways of England by LTC Rolt

Woa Captain, you are entering deep and turbulent waters here. You cant go criticising the late great Mr Rolt himself, founder and single handed savior of all things canal.

Rest assured that I am not about to do a knocking job on this, or its companion, Narrowboat.

Mr Rolt's impact is undeniable, but he aint God neither. People tend to glorify the the past and its this that really gets up my nose. There's only one God, and he resides up above, a nd probably has as much interest in the preservation of some muddy ditches in England as he has over the results of the next World Cup.

This pair of books have been on my shelves since the 1970's, bought by my father (Captain Snr) and served as an inspiration for his relentless cruising during the dark days of the 1970's.

This book is a technical manual about the evolution of waterways from the earliest of rivers through to the canal era. It also provides detailed information on the construction of locks, weirs, bridges etc together with sections on boat building, boat people, motive power and top tips on water travel. The style is blatantly dated as is the "Pathe News" clipped language, but as the canals don't change much, the contents of this book are as relevant and useful as they were when written in the 1940's.

I have read this book at least three times and continue to unearth gems I had previously missed. Its not the easiest read but is a "must have" item as it represents a watery right of passage from interested participant to enthusiast.

ISBN 004 386006 0

Narrowboat Dreams

Book Review
Narrowboat Dreams by Steve Haywood

I have been aware of Steve for some time as a regular reader of Canal Boat, who recently covered his passage through the Standedge Tunnel in a brief extract. The snippet was sufficiently amusing that the book was promptly added to my Christmas Present list.

There the matter would probably have remained (my Christmas Lists are rarely actioned) save for a chance visit by Belle to the Stratford Oxfam shop. There on the shelves lurked a good quality version for the princely sum on £2.49 (face price £7.99) and, never one to miss a bargain, it was snapped up and returned to my fevered grasp as a prize possession and a gesture of her undying love.

I love boatey books. None are too nerdy to be cast aside and I was immediately all over this one. A book I wanted to read, offered up for absolutely nothing - excellent.

Steve decides to try and identify where South ends and North starts, I believe Winnie the Poo did something similar in search of the North Pole. In this case his destination is a single handed circular tour of the recently opened Huddersfield Narrow and Rochdale canals, exploring this ring shortly after their reopening.

The early sections therefore introduce us to his boating pedigree and take us with him as he sails North from Banbury, carried along on a sea of reflections of canalling in days gone bye. This was very well done and was much enjoyed. I particularly liked his explanation for his aversion to the Tidal Trent. Normanton holds dark spectres for many of us.

By the time he reaches Manchester he is clearly in "The North" and encounters the usual native hospitality associated with the Ashton Flight. As the book moves onto the Huddersfield Canal and Steve enters new territory, he assumes a more traditional travelogue tone describing events in an A to B to C linear style, pausing for a while half way along to attend to a family crisis. On this return to NB Justice he hurries round the remaining portions of the circuit in the failing autumnal weather, ending up on the Peak Forest Canal which became his base for a number of years.

So was this an item to bring to the book group? Well possibly if they are all as canal mad as me. Mind you, I didn't try it on Belle or her bookey friends cos it wouldn't hit their spot. Anyway, one of them christened me Captain Ahab so I don't see why I should share a gem with her!

Yes, its a lovely book but certainly one of two halves. Its not end to end action but neither is it a no score draw.

Update 18.4.09

I have recently completed the South Pennine Ring, inspired by this book. I am therefore re reading it and now realise that a first read merely provided an overview of the trip, sort of whetting ones appetite. Having actually seen it, done it and won the tee shirt the book now comes to life. I suspect it will justify another blog entry when the accounts of our travels are complete.

ISBN 978-1-84024-670-4

The Water Road

Book Review
The Water Road by Paul Gogarty

I am reminded on that classic song about New York - so good they named it twice.

This book is so good I have owned it twice! First time around Belle bought me a copy and I was extolling its virtues to a literary friend, who was considering a similar project. This conversation ended up with the book being lent out and sort of disappeared to Prague, along with the friend!

I was therefore delighted when my erstwhile colleagues bought me another copy as part of a leaving present. They knew about my nerdy fascination with all things canal and were very pleased with themselves for having winkled this gem out. I didn't let on that I had read it before...

The author is a professional journalist and that shines through this chunky 350 page read. He is a man with a mid life crisis on his hands and sought solace, you guessed it, in the arms of the Inland Waterways. This is a very good approach and so much cheaper than the usual, you know - buy sports car and trade in the missus for a new, younger model. If the petrol bill doesn't kill you the private prescriptions for Viagra certainly will.

As to the book, Paul sets off in Caroline, an ancient Adelaide Marine hire boat in early 2001, the year of foot and mouth. His aim was to do a huge figure of eight from London to Birmingham, then to Manchester and over the Pennines via the Leeds Liverpool. His return route was back down the eastern side on England via the Yorkshire waterways, the Trent and then across to Oxford and complete the journey via the Thames. It make me weary just to think about it!

Paul really immerses himself into life on the cut and his witty and insightful accounts of the characters he meets along the way are three dimensional and at times make you LOL (laugh out loud to non text speakers). He has the predictable ups and down with local natives, which we all experience from time to time, but the book holds you in its spell throughout the journey. I love it when travel accounts cross over each other, and there is a cracking one here where Paul on NB Caroline passes The Tuesday Night crew on NB Earnest in Lincoln's Brayford Pool. If you havn't visited the Tuesday Night Club's (TNC) website you should - its a gem.

All goes will till Paul takes an enforced stop in Oxford to attend to a family commitment. At that point, the book comes to an abrupt halt. I don't know if the break in continuity caused it, or the altered personality of the Thames was to blame, but the book never really gets back into its stride. It feels like a dash to finish a project with some pre arranged "meetings" thrown in to add spice. The heart just isn't there.

But this book shouldn't be remaindered just because the last section is below par. The rest is a triumph and well worth a read, once, twice or maybe more.

Paul - if you are ever in the Midlands and fancy a pint give me a shout.

ISBN 1-86105-515-3

A Boy off the Bank

Book Review
A Boy off the Bank by Geoffrey Lewis

I encountered Geoffrey in the depths of the BCNS tent at the Pendeford rally in August and, on a whim, agreed to buy the above book - the first of a trilogy. I have his signature inside the front cover as proof if necessary.

Other pressing reading material pushed BotB to the bottom of the pile but a sudden burst of man flu left me with time on my hands. This time, coupled with a limited amount of reading material within arms length caused me to alight on the book in question.

Without spoiling any of the plot, its a heartwarming tale of a lost and abandoned boy who finds a new life in the arms of the extended canal family. The book covers his rescue, his early days on the narrowboats and on into young manhood up and down the Grand Union. A full quota of life events is thrown at our young hero including births, marriages and death to all the elements are there for a gripping read.

But, and you knew there was a but coming, it wasn't the page turner it could have been. Geoffrey clearly wanted to be as authentic and accurate as possible, as is evident from his acknowledgements. The sad thing is that the literary maxim "never let the facts stand in the way of a good story" are very true and some artistic license is needed to sweeten the pie.

The book provided a thoughtful and well researched insight into life on the cut during the war years. However, it reads as a storyteller trying to stitch together a number of disparate facts ferreted out by a researcher. A prime example of this was a red herring story line which dragged the characters down the Birmingham Worcester Canal as far as Tardebigge Top Lock, just to have a chance encounter with Messrs Rolt and Aickman. As I said, a slave to historical accuracy.

The end result is an excellently executed backdrop but an unconvincing storyline. The decision to write the narrative in colloquial Brummie meets Boaters speak was a challenge, even for a longtime resident of the midlands fair city.

So am I dissing the book? Well yes, and no. I don't think it has the legs to become one of the great sagas but it did add some historically accurate colour to the Brentford / Birmingham route with which I am so familiar.

The key question is what about books two and three? Well, with No1 having a cover price of £7.99 (ISBN 978-0-9545624-6-5) I guess I will use up the last few pounds on my Waterstones gift card and learn more of the declining years during the 1950's. As for No3, well as at September there were a few chapters waiting to be written so maybe I will look that one out in time for Christmas 2009 - but then again, maybe I wont...

Sunday 9 November 2008

Leeds Liverpool Canal 1981

October 1981
Heath Charnock (Chorley) to Skipton

106 miles
70 locks

6 days

This trip was undertaken by the Captain before he was promoted to such an exalted rank!
As can be seen from the grainy photos taken on 110mm
film (do you remember that short lived format?), I was barely 20 and accompanied the then Capain (now deceased), his wife (my Mother) and my Aunt.

The overriding memory of the three surviving crew was rain, rain and more rain. As I recall, it rained every day for most of the day and always heavily!

Maybe this is par for the course on the western side of the Leeds Liverpool, but it went down as one of our less successful boating trips and we spent a whole week in a state of mild hypothermia. However, it must have stopped raining as some points to allow the following photo's to be taken.

The Captian working Stegneck Lock

I recall the scenery being somewhat dull but even in 19

81 my father and I were both canal fanatics and enjoyed the trip. Its funny looking at a very young me all togged out in my Troll waterproofs, but clearly happy to sit out in the pouring rain day after day plodding along a lonely stretch of canal. Some things never change, and each year you will still find me in exactly the same position, happy as a pig in muck!

For this trip we hired nb Rivington from a now defunct yard at Rawlinson Lane in Heath Charnock. This is about an hour or so above the Wigan flight and just before Botany.

The photos don't include the name of the hire company but (I am reliably informed that it was Leeds & Liverpool Cruisers - see comments below) the boat was approx 50ft , steel with GRP superstructure and decked out on a particularly bilious orange livery.

Happy viewing.

Mooring at eastern end of summit pound near Gargrave

Were it not for the images captured on this film I would deny ever
having visited this stretch. This is good news because whilst I have technically "done it", it remains effectively a virgin canal ripe for exploration.

Approaching Skipton