Monday, 21 December 2020

Fiftieth Anniversary - Of my first canal holiday.

I missed it at the time, but 19th to 26th September 2020  marked the fiftieth anniversary of my first canal holiday. Not quite my first ride on a canal boat - that was a few years earlier when some lovely boaters recognised the obvious interest of teenage lad hanging around the top of the Wolverhampton 21 in the hope of seeing a boat descend, invited him on board and took him as far as Autherley Junction where I reluctantly left them because in those days the Shroppie seemed to disappear off into deep countryside from there and I was worried about getting back. (I didn't know the area - I was on my summer holidays!).

Anyway, back in 1970 I had just completed my first year at university and managed to persuade one of my new student friends and an old mate from school to accompany me on a hire boat holiday on the Grand Union Canal.

The original caption says "south of Cowroast" but I have my doubts.
 Note the coal train with brake van in the background!

I have no records of the trip other than a few photographs. The first was taken by my new university mate and shows the rest of the crew (I'm the one with the hair - well it was 1970!). I had hoped to be able to show a present day photo of the location from Street View, but the relative positions of the towpath and the railway line are wrong, and the boat would be pointing the wrong way so I suspect it may be somewhere further north. I do have a record that the trip was "From Berkhamsted to Long Buckby via Foxton and Coventry" but what I don't have is a note of the hire company. The clues are there in the hand-over points and the boat name if anyone wants to try and work it out.

Stoke Bruerne

We were all novices, although I had mugged-up on the theory but I don't recall any problems. In those days the canals were quiet in September and I think this shot of Stoke Bruerne locks captures the lonely and somewhat melancholy atmosphere that so attracted me to the cut in the first place.

A very quiet Foxton flight

I don't know whether the hire company expected its clients to take a week getting to Long Buckby but that obviously wasn't far enough for us and we continued firstly to the top of Foxton locks, which were similarly deserted, and then back to the Oxford Canal and on to Hawkesbury Junction continuing down to Coventry basin before retracing our steps to Long Buckby.

Hotel boats on the Leicester Section

My only disappointment was that we didn't see any working boats on the move. I suppose we were just too late for that. In fact we saw very few other moving boats as I recall, although we did pass a pair of hotel boats (names not recorded I'm afraid) on the Leicester Section.

As far as I know, neither of my companions ever ventured onto the cut again, but I spent most of the following academic year helping to revive the university Inland Waterways Society which had become dormant when the founder members lost interest. This was successful and next year will mark another fiftieth anniversary - that of the first Salford University Inland Waterways Society Boat Trip - when we hired "Grebe" and "Teal" from Willow Wren in Rugby for a week's trip around what is now known as the Warwickshire Ring (plus a side trip to Coventry basin as I enjoyed it so much the previous time).

Several of the original crew intend to mark the event with a re-creation. Willow Wren Hire Cruisers are still around and we've even managed to hire "Grebe" again, although it's not the same boat! The date is necessarily flexible at this stage. We have a provisional booking for April with an increasingly-likely fall-back option of October. (The 1971 trip was over the Christmas/New Year week). The route will be the same, with the exception of the start, when we apparently got as far as Brinklow on the first afternoon then changed our minds and reversed direction to do the ring clockwise instead, although nobody can remember why!

No doubt I'll blog about it at the time.


Sarah said...

You just missed passing Chertsey on her last commercial trip which was in late August 1970, from Gopsall on the Ashby to Croxley Mill. Had planned to recreate it this year, but events conspired against us.

Mark Doran said...

Fascinating, Jim. This would make an interesting article for Waterways World or similar magazine.