Sunday, 19 February 2017

First Boating of the Year

My first bit of boating for 2017 was on the River Great Ouse. Perhaps not an "inland waterway" at this point as the river at King's Lynn is tidal, but then so is much of the River Trent and that usually counts as inland.

There has been a ferry across the River Great Ouse at King's Lynn since 1285, so what better way to re-commence my journey Around the Edge of England for 2017.  There is a direct bus, Stagecoach's 555, from King's Lynn to Spalding, bypassing the ferry, but  I was pleased to discover that a handful of journeys on the service to  Spalding divert via West Lynn village and, better still, stop near the ferry terminal. Even better, one of them ran at exactly the right time for me to start the day's travels on the ferry.

The approach to the ferry via Ferry Lane

The ferry terminal is accessed via "Ferry Lane" a narrow passageway leading off the Tuesday Market Place. It is probably this convenient access to the town centre combined with the circuitous journey by road (despite a new bridge) that has ensured the ferry's survival.

King's Lynn landing stage

It's a short crossing. Google Maps gives it as 650m but when the tide is low, as it was today, it can be quite a bit less, although the fare stays the same at a very reasonable £1.10.

The King's Lynn landing stage is every bit as perilous as it looks in this image, especially at low tide.

The ferry on its way over from West Lynn

And don't expect much in the way of luxury.  I crossed in a open boat (some have a flimsy top cover) sat on a hard wooden bench.  The vessel was powered by two outboard motors - a powerful one with a large propeller to cope with the tide and the flow in the Ouse and a smaller one for manoeuvring in the shallows at either bank, with the helmsman stopping and starting each in turn - meaning that for a few moments on each crossing the boat is at the mercy of the current!

West Lynn

There are rather more commodious waiting factilities on the West Lynn side, where the ferries are based, although even here egress from the boats at low tide involves jumping off over the bow on to this rather fearsome set of unguarded steps!

I don't how much canal boating I'll manage this year (I've alfready had to turn down one offer) but it was a good start!

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Home With The Heather - Book Review

Back in November, in a rare bout of internet shopping I bought a number of transport-related books, including this one:

"Home With the Heather" was published in 1986, as a collaboration between John Parke, then editor of "Buses" magazine (in which extracts from the story had appeared several years earlier) and Gertrude Leather, who described herself as a "housewife" living in London suburbia.

With no obvious connection to the bus industry or any history of travel writing, she apparently took it upon herself to travel from home to John O' Groats using only ordinary "service" buses as a sort of holiday. She was very particular about them being ordinary buses, eschewing any service on which seats had to be booked and deeply suspicious of any long-distance bus routes at all, even when, as in Scotland, they were the only way of making progress along her route.

I'd been aware of the book for many years, having read the extracts in Buses Magazine and in some ways it was an inspiration for my own marathon bus ride "around the edge of England"

However, the two expeditions were very different.  Mrs. Leather had planned her route by writing to bus companies which, as far as she knew, would operate the buses she would need to use and to ask them to send her timetables, but she hadn't been able to obtain any for the rather large portion of her journey that was in Scotland, which she had to make up as she went along. I, of course, had the full resources of the internet to plan my ride, although it has to be said that the quality of information on there varies enormously around the country and all important connections need to be checked from more than one source.

Mrs. Leather in 1955 did have one great advantage over me travelling 60 years later. In those days interurban and rural buses ran  much later into the evenings and more frequently on Sundays than they do nowadays.  She took full advantage of this and usually continued her journeys until well into the evening.  On her first day she started from Twickenham and, as a 1950s "housewife" naturally couldn't set off until she had completed her "chores" including shopping and making lunch!  Nevertheless, she felt one hundred miles would be a reasonable target for the (half) day and set her sights on Birmingham!  This she achieved, albeit not until nearly ten o' clock at night. 

The great disadvantage she had over me was the lack of any easy way of booking overnight accommodation in advance. Naturally I do this easily over the internet: Mrs Leather in Birmingham had to ask a "passing policeman" for advice, a move she repeated more than once during her trip, although here she did have the advantage that policemen on the beat were rather more visible in 1955 than they are now.

So with lengthy days and some very tight connections she made it to John O' Groats in about a week.  In 2014 a sixteen year old schoolday made it to John O' Goats all the way from Land's End by bus in an amazing four days  (story here)  but he had the advantage of youth on his side!  In 1955, having reached her goal, Mrs. Leather returned to Twickenham - by bus of course.

"Home With The Heather"  isn't really a book for bus enthusiasts (the title comes from her desire to bring back a bunch of Scottish heather, which was sourced for her by a friendly bus inspector on the way up and left in a bus station office for her to collect on the way home!).  It's really a cross between a travelogue and a piece of social history.  Mrs. Leather doesn't record any details of the buses on which she rode, apart from the occasional reference to the comfort - or lack of it - although the volume is illustrated with contemporary photographs of buses similar to those on which she would have  travelled. As with many travel writers she went out of her way to talk to her fellow passengers as well as the bus crews, who she got to sign her record sheet as proof of her journeying.

Nowadays of course, she would have written a blog as she went along, but that would have deprived us of a lasting fascinating insight into the world of ordinary bus travel (or should that be "out of the ordinary" bus travel) sixty years ago.

Meanwhile I have been planning the next stage of my Around the Edge of England Trip which starts next week.  A very short stage this one, merely from King's Lynn to Skegness which I'll do in a couple of days but with a night beforehand in Wisbech and a stopover in Boston, Lincolnshire - two of my favourite English towns, despite the latter's recently gained reputation as a hotbed of "Brexit-ism"!

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Christmas on the Buses

At least one of our local bus companies is entering into the spirit of Christmas this year. This was the scene on the 89 bus this afternoon.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Giving Up Monitoring

I've decided to resign from my voluntary post as a moorings monitor for the Canal and River Trust.  There's not much to do over the winter anyway, with all mooring sites reverting to 14-days between November and March and the Ribble Link closed for the season, but I won't be taking it on again next year.

It's partly for health reasons. My usual route was to cycle over the hill from Lancaster to Tewitfield and monitor my sites at Carnforth and Hest Bank on the way back via the towpath. But the heart medication I'm on at the moment, whilst doing its job, has the side-effect of making cycling more difficult - at least uphill - and whilst I could go both ways on the towpath (except north of Carnforth where it's not suitable for cycling) that too has its problems. 

Between Carnforth and the outskirts of Lancaster, despite being part of Sustrans Cycle Route 6 (The equivalent, supposedly, of the A6 trunk road) it's badly rutted, so badly in fact that I once came off my bike and nearly ended up in the cut. There are also numerous bridgeholes with poor sight-lines and - ludicrously - "speed bumps" - which make for a slow and uncomfortable ride. In Lancaster itself, the towpath is just too busy with other cyclists, walkers, dogs, children etc  to be able to make reasonable progress and at times I have felt like an intruder.

But I've also been asking myself why I do it in the first place.  Most volunteers are motivated by the desire to assist others in need of help as well as hoping to get something out of it themselves.  I was hoping for exercise (but see above) and also by a wish to keep in touch with the cut and with canal people now I no longer have a boat.  But boat monitoring proved to be a rather solitary occupation. Most moored boats turned out to be unoccupied and whilst the few boaters I did speak to were generally supportive of the monitoring programme, there weren't very many of them. Nor did I get the chance to meet any other volunteers.  In two years of monitoring only one volunteers' meeting was called. And although we were invited to a Christmas meal last year, in retrospect I suspect we gatecrashed the local depot staff's annual "do", although they were far too polite to say so.  

Management of the programme was very much at arm's length and conducted by email, whilst feedback on the progress and benefits of our work wasn't forthcoming. Our finding were reported directly into a website from home and until I suggested it weren't even acknowledged.  When I reported my cycle accident I received only a cursory enquiry about my health and certainly no apology for the state of the towpath.

So, not getting much out of it for myself I asked myself whether I was helping others. Although the boaters I'd met were appreciative of my - and other monitor's - efforts I couldn't help coming to the conclusion that my voluntary work was benefiting mainly middle-class, white, relatively-wealthy boat owners, who, whilst very nice people, are hardly the most deserving folk in society.  If I'd been getting a lot out of it myself I'd have been happy to help them, but as I wasn't I couldn't see the need to carry on.

I can carry on cycling, but perhaps on flatter, better-maintained routes and will still walk along the towpath on my way into town. But for the time being my voluntary efforts will be targeted elsewhere.