I’ve just finished a delightful book by E. Temple Thurston, a professional writer who recorded his month-long voyage on England’s canals on the ‘Flower of Gloster’. I found that it’s available on the Net as an e-book, so I can share it for free.
This book reads rather like a blog, transported back to the Edwardian era.
The chapters are short, and it’s illustrated by some charming drawings like this one from page 212:
The author had hired a boat complete with steerer and horse for his adventure; he started from Oxford in Maytime, though with climate change, the wild flowers he wrote about have been in bloom for weeks now – and it’s still April. No-one’s established the real name for the steerer ‘Eynsham Harry’, but he sounds quite a character, as does Mr. Temple Thurston, who acted as his crew member where necessary.
The boat set forth up the Oxford Canal through Shipton-on-Cherwell, Cropredy and Napton. Diverting north through Warwick and Kingswood, it passed on towards Birmingham on the Grand Junction Canal, but this was a detour; the author has some choice words about ‘The Gate into the Black Country’, and after reaching the outskirts of ‘Birningame’ (as Eynsham Harry pronounced the city), they decided to retrace their jouney back to Lapworth and then continued on the almost-deserted Stratford Canal to Stratford-on-Avon.
Tewkesbury beckoned, and we get some lovely pen-pictures of the River Avon Navigation and its villages, including Fladbury. My Grandad William Ward spent a few summers there during the fruit-picking season, running Concordia Camps for overseas students even into his eighties, so I was rather touched by this drawing of Fladbury Mill.
The highlight for me was the last stretch of the journey along the Thames & Severn Canal to Lechlade, where E. Temple Thurston reached for superlatives to describe the Golden Valley:
“When you join the Thames & Severn Canal at Stroud, it is but 28 miles and a few odd furlongs before you come to Inglesham, where the water of the canal joins the Isis and all signs of the tow-path are lost to you for ever. But those 28 miles are worth a thousand for the wealth of their colour alone.”
The author had his work cut out when he reached Sapperton Tunnel. The canal was so little-used that there were no longer any professional leggers to take the boat through, so Eynsham Harry and he had to leg it themselves. He admitted that “it was the only time when the voyage of the Flower of Gloster had in it the sense of stirring adventure”. He didn’t say what happened to the horse, which would have had to be taken over the top. No doubt an inn-keeper had to stable the horse while they did their sideways walk along the tunnel walls.
As it happens, I’ve already supped at the Daneway Inn near the western portal, and quite by chance we’re off for a meal at the Tunnel House Inn at the eastern end this afternoon for the first time. I’ll look to see where the stables used to be.