The Great Towpath Walk - Brian Bearshaw

Long time since I posted. I've been busy on various non-waterways projects and the months just rolled by. However, I was still active reading and buying waterways books so you can expect a few such posts in the near future - and we do intend boating during the summer.

Cover featuring Foxton

One of my recent finds followed on from  my post on The Towpaths of England by Brian Bearshaw. You may recall that I noted that in that book some individual canal-side walks were featured but the centre of England appeared neglected. This book is different and consists of one long walk through the centre of England from London to York. It therefore covers many of the canals that were "missing" from his earlier book including the Grand Union. I say earlier because this book was published in 1988 following Towpath Walks which came out in 1985. This book follows the author walking from central London via the River Thames and then along the Grand Union to Leicester followed by walks alongside the Rivers Soar, Trent and Ouse.

Route of the walk (back cover)

The walk was obviously a considerable undertaking requiring careful planning. Each chapter is basically one day's worth of walking - making this a 16 day walk. As with Towpaths of England, this hardback book is beautifully illustrated with stylish black and white drawings by David Chesworth.

A typical map for a day's walk

The text is more interesting than Bearshaw's earlier book with more content related to the people he met on the way. I suppose that is more of the nature of long distance walking as opposed to walking on single days because overnight stops are required. Most evening stops are only alluded to in the book and it is not that easy to work out where the author spent each night, although there are clues.

Copper mill, Harefield 
The inn is now The Coy Carp

Windmill in Milton Keynes

On most occasions Bearshaw was fortunate with his overnight stops but on one occasion his source, presumably a guidebook, let him down badly. This incident was of particular interest to me because firstly the location is very well known to us, but secondly the way Bearshaw recovered from his predicament. He was weary, and it was getting dark, when he met Brenda Walker who ran Anchor Cottage Crafts at Long Buckby. We knew Brenda in the 1990s when we often stopped at her shop and browsed her wares. We also knew her son who lived in our village. Bearshaw was obviously so grateful for being taken in for the night by Brenda because she not only gets plaudits for her breakfast but she also is the only character he meets that is mentioned by name - she obviously made an impression on him. Strangely, she doesn't appear in the books index which only lists historical characters.

River Soar
I found it a good book to read during the winter evenings. Although thirty years-old most places mentioned are still very much the same so it still has relevance for today's boaters. Making comparisons, particularly with some of the boats illustrated is a fun pastime. It is particularly interesting to note the changes that have occurred on the River Trent; when the book was written it was still a busy commercial waterway.

River Trent scene

Bearshaw makes a number of off-towpath diversions during the walk, notably along the Trent and at York but his focus remains the towpath and the history of the areas passed. The River Trent chapters certainly opened my eyes to some of the historic areas that the river traverses.


When reviewed Towpaths of England, I likened it to a guidebook and noted they didn't produce books like that any more. The Great Towpath Walk is is less of a guidebook and more of a travelogue and they are a very popular form of non-fiction. I can just imagine Michael Palin taking this journey along with a camera crew and writing a spin-off book. Of course today's travelogues are usually gloriously illustrated coffee-table books with colour photographs and not modestly sized books with hand-drawn monochrome illustrations, but therein lies its charm. I suggest you look out on the usual on-line suppliers for a copy which should be available at modest cost.