Towpaths of England by Brian Bearshaw

Nowadays I rarely get second-hand canal books given as presents since most of my friends and family find it difficult to find books that are not already part of my collection. However, for my recent landmark birthday a friend of ours managed to discover an interesting book that was not on my radar.

The book is Towpaths of England by Brian Bearshaw.  Hard backed leisure books like this were already a dying breed when it was published back in 1985 and nowadays they just don't feature. Most modern travellers would simply log on to walking web-site, or even try Canal and River Trust web pages for the sort of information it provides. The book is organised into a number of walks (twenty -six in all) with details of sites local to the canals concerned. The narrative provided by the Lancastrian author is interesting but of necessity draws on many familiar historical texts.

The local colour provided by the text has, of course, changed a lot over the 30 years since this book was written. For example, the Kennet & Avon walk rarely includes much about boats because of course the navigation was not fully open when the book was written. The text reports what a daunting prospect the Caen flight would have been during the days of canal carrying and notes that restoration is required since the flight was closed in 1951.

All the walks are along canals (no river navigations) and the emphasis is on northern waters which is no surprise given the authors background. However, some southern walks are included, notably the Regent's Canal and the Chelmer & Blackwater. Stretches of the Grand Union are included but the author fails to cover the Grand Junction and concentrates on the Market Harborough to Leicester section, a section near Solihull and the Northampton arm.

The jewel of this publication just has to be its illustrations. It is very well illustrated by some excellent pen and ink drawings by David Chesworth. To me its the drawings that make the book. Many illustrations are of locations that don't often get recorded and some are just great pieces of art.

Examples of the book still appear to be available through the usual channels, and for not much cost. If you enjoy good drawings of canal scenes then this book is definitely worth considering.