Thames at Marlow, Boxing Day 2013

Mooring at Marlow is great. The moorings by the park are excellent and the town has some great shops and restaurants. Not now of course!

We drove back from via Marlow from our Christmas in Teddington. Because of the amazing amounts of rain we have been getting, we expected the river levels to be high and they certainly were.

Marlow visitor moorings

Where is the bank?

A solitary narrowboat was on the visitor moorings with water all around. Hope it doesn't get much higher.

Robin Smithett (1947-2013)

The January edition of Waterways World was delivered recently and it included an obituary for the waterway's photographer Robin Smithett who died in mid November. Many editions of Waterways World are packed full of his wonderful images. There are very few editions of the magazine without at least one of his photographs. There is a short obituary on the IWA web site.

We are lucky enough to own a large signed print of  a classic Stoke Bruerne scene by Robin; it occupies pride of place in Albert's cabin. We were given it in the late 1990s by our friends Anne & Edward Winter as a thank-you. At the time Anne was a teaching colleague of Robin's wife Margaret in a Bedford school.

Robin Smithett's classic winter view of Stoke Bruerne
We occasionally saw Robin along the Grand Union and I once had the opportunity to discuss the Stoke Bruerne image with him. He recounted how there had been ice on the cut until just before he took the photograph and as the sun hit the water the ice sank making a remarkable mirror-like surface. It was a case of making sure you were at the right place at the right time. The water's surface is so smooth in the picture it is possible to hold the print upside down and for a moment not realise.

I expect his waterways images will still be published for years to come but it sad to think that there will be new Smithett images in the waterway's press.

Stoke Bruerne 1976 - more information

In January 2012 I posted about four photographs of Stoke Bruerne. I took them in spring 1976, just a few years after we had moved into South Northamptonshire. One of the photographs (above) was of working boats moored up by David Balgove's house. I noted that the working boat was Seaford, a Yarwood's Town Class built at Rickmansworth in 1936 and that she had recently appeared in the BBC Four film "Golden Age of Canals". I couldn't identify the boat on the inside of Seaford although it appears to carry the Blagrove name.

Recently Bob Derricott, the then owner of Seaford, got in touch and I am pleased to add his comments to the photograph. He supplies some fascinating information.

"The boat lay in Stoke Bruerne late March/early April having loaded at Atherstone with 17 ton 7 cwt of Daw Mill nuts on 19th  March 1976 for Blagrove, Warwick & Co. and was taken away 9th April 76. On the trip back we passed Lynx, owned by Keith Christie, loaded with coal for B & W Co. in the locks at Braunston."

"The wooden butty in the background is Elton belonging to Blagrove & Warwick. At the time Dave Blagrove & Tony Warwick at the time operated a coal sales business around the local villages and Keith & myself were able to do a bit of loaded boating by delivering supplies to his wharf. Looking at my log for that trip I see that I earned £30.40 but it did pay for the diesel & some beer."

"The bit of film used in the "Golden Age of Canals" was taken June 1975 when we were again loading for B&W Co.. Not too long afterwards Keith, Tony & myself came together to operate as Midland Canal Transport with all three boats painted in a similar livery."

Details of Elton can be found on the Wooden Canal Boat Society web site. Some of the background to this period of carrying can be found on the South Midland Water Transport pages on the Alvercote Marina Group web site.

Worcestershire by L.T.C. Rolt

Tom Rolt was living aboard Cressy at the top of Tardibigge Flight when he wrote Narrow Boat, then titled A Painted Ship. He wrote it without having a publisher and when completed it joined High Horse Riderless, his then unpublished philosophy, in a suitcase under his bed [1]. 

However, during 1943 things were about to change. Correspondence with the rural writer H. J. Massingham on the effects of modern technology and economics on world ecology transformed Rolt’s publishing career. Massingham was taken by Rolt’s ideas and suggested that because Rolt was living on a boat that he write a book about English canals. Rolt explained to Massingham that he had already written one so Massingham helped him find a publisher. Massingham then went on to suggest that Rolt write a book for a new series about the English counties – Rolt chose Worcestershire the county of his residence. Massingham must have had some clout in publishing circles because, without Rolt having a published book, he was given a contract without any guidelines and not even a proper word limit (anything from 70-120,000 was considered acceptable). All of a sudden Tom Rolt had a book accepted for publication and a commission for another.
Eckington Bridge, River Avon

Worcestershire was therefore written whilst Rolt was developing his philosophy and exploring his ideas of ecology. He disliked the romanticised views that most contemporary books of rural England had and set about writing “something of more moment than a mere guidebook”. His choice of Worcestershire was brought about partly because he could combine research with his paid job with the Ministry of Supply and partly because he viewed it “more than any other shire, to represent a microcosm of England”. 
Fladbury Mill, River Avon

So the reader shouldn’t expect a guidebook and, although it is not by any means a treatise on ecology, it is all about the role of man in the environment and full of examples of skilled workers producing goods using methods that Rolt believes are in harmony with the “natural order”. Rolt set out to write two journeys through the county, one in time and one in place, and to present his philosophy. His training and background in engineering, that was to dominate his later writing career, does however shine through. His love of waterways and railways is clear in the book. I am sure that very few other writers would have given them that level of prominence. 

Water transport on the River Severn
Coracle built by Harry Rogers, Coalbrookdale

The book is an interesting read but in places Rolt takes his ecological arguments a little far for me. He alludes  to “enlightened scientists” who are concerned to answer questions on soil health but "may be opposed by powerful financial interests" and describes changes in agricultural that he considers regrettable. Massingham helped found the Soil Association, so I presume Rolt held similar views to his mentor. 
Horse-drawn boat on the Worcestershire & Birmingham Canal
(note the child with the horse)

Tom Rolt originally wanted Narrow Boat illustrated using Angela Rolt’s photographs but the publisher wanted a more "rural style" and asked Denys Watkins-Pitchford (BB) to provide the wood cuts that are now very much part of the earlier editions. Worcestershire, on the other hand, is well illustrated with forty nine monochrome plates by various photographers including Angela Rolt. Many are landscapes, which is not surprising given the subject of the book, but Tom Rolt’s enthusiasms come through. There are scenes of water transport on the River Severn and Worcester & Birmingham Canal and rail transport in the form of “Big Bertha” the LMS engine that for years acted as a banker on the Likely Incline close to Tardibigge. There is a wonderful selection of photographs in the book illustrating craftsmen at work, many using skills that have long gone. My favourite is of the making lockgates at Tardebigge using a shell auger. 

2290 "Big-Bertha" the 0-10-0 banking engine for the Lickey Incline

My first edition of Worcestershire, purchased through eBay, was not expensive and it included a renovated dust-cover. A book to look out for, particularly if you have a copy of Narrow Boat as its companion.

[1] Background details for this review came from Landscape with Canals by LTC Rolt which can be obtained as part of the Landscape Trilogy, the autobiography of Tom Rolt.

A Decade with Albert!

On December 6th 2003 we completed the formalities for the purchase of Albert from her first owner who fitted her out, Mike Hurd. So I thought I would go down memory lane to celebrate our decade.

First time steering Albert on the Kennet and Avon near Bradford-on-Avon
with Mike Hurd watching over me

Negotiating our first lock with Albert, Bradford-on-Avon
December 30th, 2003

Ten years on we can look back on many happy journeys. With Albert we have travelled far and wide;

north to Gargrave on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal,

south to Guildford on the Wey Navigation,

east to Wissington on the River Wissey,

and west to Llangollen.