Camping by Water - Noel Carrington & Patricia Cavendish

My collection of waterways-related second-hand books has at its core books related to the canals and navigable rivers. However, some of my collection has extended to more unconventional waterways literature covering other modes of transport, for example I have a copy of Solo & Duet by Sir John Squire which contains a description of his 1938 canoe journey with William Bliss along sections of the Oxford Canal, Grand Union and River Avon. I have yet to review this literary tome because it is not an easy book to summarise, being more about the author’s views on a whole variety of subjects than about their journey. To call it rambling would be an understatement; but then I am also digressing!

Camping by Water is a delightful practical book published at an important point in the life of our inland waterways – 1950. I recently bought a good copy via an eBay auction for a reasonable sum (less than £20). It has 140 pages with numerous line drawings and some photographic plates. I think there was only ever one edition.

To use the advertising cliché, as it says on the cover it is about camping using the waterways. Transport is assumed to be mostly by canoe although details of sailing dinghies, and the hire of cabin cruisers & open narrow boats are provided.

The book was published just after canal nationalisation. The historical significance of the period hit me immediately when I read the foreword by Peter Scott who was then vice President of the Inland Waterways Association (IWA) and his then wife, Elizabeth Jane Howard, was its part-time secretary. Scott begins his foreword to Camping by Water with an eloquent promotion of the importance of water in the landscape and ends with this plea for support of the IWA:

"The indefatigable unpaid workers of the Inland Waterways Association are putting the whole nation in their debt by their unceasing efforts to promote the restoration of all British navigations to the good order which the law has all the time required, and the subsequent full use of those navigations for both trade and pleasure boating. The Waterways are an asset which must no longer be wasted, but they stand, at the moment, in grave danger. In the main they have been nationalised, they belong to us all and what is done with them is our decision. We must decide wisely and at once."

You would, however, be wrong if you think this book is all about campaigning for the waterways. Far from it, it is a very practical book explaining how to get access to our waterways heritage at a time when it was far from easy and their future was in doubt. It is more of a Nicholson Guide than a Narrow Boat. The first author Noel Carrington was involved with Oxford University Press and originated Puffin Books. He was a noted book designer which might account for the charming embossed illustration on the book cover.

Early chapters cover the choice of craft, tents and equipment. These provide a fascinating insight into boating in post-war austerity Britain. However, the bulk of chapters include descriptions and maps of rivers and canals that can be navigated by small craft. These chapters also give details of where boats of all sorts and sizes can be hired.

The section on the Shropshire Union gives the following advice:

"The Welsh Canal passes through Whitchurch, Ellesmere and Chirk up the valley of the River Dee to Llantisilio, which is a mile beyond Llangollen. It is navigable at all times for boats drawing up to 3' of water. It passes through some very beautiful country, but it is unfortunately very shallow and weedy. Nowadays there is no commercial traffic on this canal to help clear the weeds, and technically the L.M.S. Railway obtained powers of abandonment in 1945. Actually a certain amount of maintenance is still done as the water is needed, being taken in from the Dee at Llantisilio as a feeder to the main canal. But the upkeep of bridges has passed to the local District Councils and there is some danger of their substituting flat bridges on main roads for the present hump-backed ones."

It was only just before this was written that Tom and Angela Rolt had finally managed to cross the Pontcysllte aqueduct with narrowboat Cressy after years of trying.

There is a chapter covering the Broads by Peter Heaton and several chapters about rivers such as the Wye and the Arun that in canal-boat terms we would consider not to be navigable. Given the book has a foreword by Peter Scott, the final chapter in the book is very apposite; it covers waterside wildlife and is written by EAR Ennion who was the warden of Flatford Mill Field Centre.

All in all, a charming historically important book that is very evocative of its era. I am delighted with it.