Crocuses by the historic crane

At last the days seems to be getting longer and the sun is warming the land encouraging the flowers to bloom. Along the canal the Snowdrops and Crocuses are peeking out for all to see. All the winter maintenance has been completed and we are looking forward to welcoming our first holidaymakers in less than two week’s time. In recent years the canals have been revived primarily for tourism and to allow us to enjoy the waterways as part of our English heritage. There is a wealth of knowledge about the canals which you can discover at the Kennet & Avon Canal Museum at Devizes Wharf. There are also many books written about the canals, but one of the most important is Narrow Boat, written by L.T.C. Holt and first published in 1944.

This famous book may be said to have started the revival of interest in the English waterways. It led to the formation of the Inland Waterways Association (see the IWA website), and hence to the modern canal movement. Certainly it can claim to have made most people familiar with the term ‘narrow boat’.

First published in 1944, and now reissued with new black-and-white illustrations and a foreword by Jo Bell, Canal Laureate, this book has become a classic on its subject, and may be said to have started a revival of interest in the English waterways. It was on a spring day in 1939 that L.T.C. Rolt first stepped aboard Cressy. This engaging book tells the story of how he and his wife adapted and fitted out the boat as a home, and recreates the journey of some 400 miles that they made along the network of waterways in the Midlands. It recalls the boatmen and their craft, and celebrates the then seemingly timeless nature of the English countryside through which they passed. As Sir Compton Mackenzie wrote, it is an elegy of classic restraint unmarred by any trace of sentiment for a way of life and a rural landscape that have now all but disappeared.

Review by K. Davis This is a joy to read, not just for those fascinated by canals and boats and industrial heritage; but also as one man’s suppressed rant against the March of Progress. As an encapsulation of pre-war Britain it can’t be bettered – full of loving descriptions of town and country and the sheer beauty of the landscape, as Cressy glides through it at 3 miles per hour. Entirely unintentionally though, it also provides a telling snapshot of the class system and the attitudes prevalent at the time, as the author damns and dismisses the various annoyances he encounters with lofty disdain. He is a man clearly born in the wrong time, in thrall to the craftsmanship and manual skills already slipping away into the past; he stares after them with longing and vents his contempt of mechanisation and modernism at every opportunity. As an antidote to our technologically-obsessed consumer age, this book can’t be beaten. For anyone with even a smidgen of nostalgia and niggling doubt that we might all be marching over a cliff in pursuit of money and things, Narrow Boat is full of comforting and alluring possibility.