Text and photographs copyright of Jim Shead.
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MY HOLIDAYS ON
ROUND THE CANALS: A MOTORBOAT TRIP THROUGH THE HEART OF ENGLAND. 400 Miles from Chertsey, via the River Thames, Thames and Severn, Stroudwater, Gloucester and Berkeley Canals, River Severn, the Worcester and Birmingham, Stratford-on-Avon, Warwick and Birmingham, Warwick and Napton and the Oxford Canals, back to Chertsey.
"ALL clear ahead?" " Ay, ay, sir," responded the chief mate, giving the starting handle a turn and letting go the painter, in compliance with further commands. So now we're off at last on our long-talked-of canal cruise through the heart of England in our 6 h.p. Daimler.
After our previous experiences, when we traversed nearly 300 miles in the canals, including the Grand Junction, Oxford, Basingstoke, and others, our appetites became whetted for more explorations, and in the present programme our ideas assumed a much bolder form, in so far that practically a fortnight was to be absorbed in carrying out our intentions.
Preparatory to starting on such a journey as this, one would hardly realize the amount of work involved in corresponding with all the respective companies and parties concerned to procure the necessary information as to the arrangements of each canal. The writer thinks he must have indited some 50 letters before setting out. Then, again, there are the hotel plans to see to as one progresses so that really it becomes in a way an undertaking which one would little imagine.
Our holiday was fixed for Whit week, and the original intention was to do the trip right through with a continuous run, but this we found impossible, as it is the custom for some of the companies to do repairs during holiday time. In consequence of this we had to make a break in our journey at Cirencester (Glos). These possible stoppages should be noted by any canal motorists making their plans.
The good ship "Balgonie " was overhauled at Chertsey (Surrey) for the expedition, and the many little requirements befitting such a trip were put aboard. In addition, we had provided ourselves with the necessary maps and particulars of the routes, including Bradshaw's Guide to the Canals, by Mr. Henry Rodolph de Salis, and an invaluable production to those covering inland waters we found it to be. With equipment thus complete we started from there on our voyage of exploration to waters hitherto unknown to the motor boat.
The voyagers aboard were again the proverbial "three men in a boat," also our motoneer (a cognomen suggested at the time for a motor-boat engineer), and the handy man-both being in great demand for the many duties to be performed, the latter being much sought after at times as the provider of all good things in the way of light refreshments, etc., necessary for the voyage.
Our first day on Father Thames was an auspicious one as far as weather and distance covered were concerned. We made practically a non-stop run from Chertsey (Surrey) to Henley-on-Thames (Oxon), taking the whole day for the distance of about 33 miles. The next day brought us from Henley to Shillingford Bridge Hotel (Berks), where one might do worse than stop, even for a few days, with all its reposeful surroundings; however, we were there as "bonâ-fide" travellers, and with that motive only.
Our next stop from there was Oxford, to which place we had a delightful run, with excellent weather. As to the journey up to this point, I will not touch further on it, as the route is so well known to all river men.
Leaving Folly Bridge with a "bon voyage" from the genial Mr. Salter, well known as the owner of the Kingston to Oxford steamers, we proceeded on our Journey. With a late afternoon start, this was to be an easy day, as Eynsham (Oxon), some 8½ miles ahead, was our destination. Acting on advice, we took advantage of the Oxford Canal - a mile or so from the start - to avoid Medley and King's Weirs, where shallows abounded, and we made our exit some three miles farther on by Duke's Lock and Cutting, which brought us out at the latter-named weir. I may mention that it was with some trepidation that we started on the run to Lechlade (Glos), owing to the reports received as to the condition of the river.
We were afraid that we were rather late in the season in starting for these upper reaches, as the weeds grow fast and the water gradually gets less as the season advances. However, the heavy rains of the previous week greatly assisted us, altering matters in our favour so that we had a very satisfactory run indeed. The weeds were there right enough, and so were the shallows, but both these we overcame. On the question of weeds on the propeller, it is useless to persevere when they are there and by no means good for the engines, as it strains them.
We stopped at Eynsham Bridge, after passing through Eynsham Weir - rather a laborious operation - and put up in the village some three-quarters of a mile from the riverside, where we were comfortably housed at the Red Lion Hotel, an old-fashioned place, which, by the way, Verdant Green, of Oxford fame, used to frequent in bygone times. The following morning turned out very wet, but that in no way deterred us from making a start.
With the report received of the state of the navigation, however, we thought it advisable to procure the services of a horse and man - a local yeoman - at Bablockhythe, as a " stand-by "-not a very nautical procedure, perhaps, but we were desirous of keeping our times as mapped out. This horseman's services we in no way needed that day, as it turned out, but he knew every inch of the course, and his pilotage directions were valuable. The movements of this "John Gilpin "amused us greatly as he turned up at all odd times doing a double along the bank, and then disappearing for a time taking short cuts, or calling perhaps at some friendly hostelry, and then appearing, on the scene on his warlike charger at full gallop.
The run to Lechlade (Glos) was quite satisfactory, with very interesting navigation, owing to the tortuous character of the Thames the whole way. The country all up this part, although not striking in scenery, is of a delightfully rural nature. During this part of the journey, we had continuously showery weather; however, being well protected on board with a top awning, and another sheet round aft, it in no way affected our pleasure, or even damped our spirits.
On our way from Eynsham we called at New Bridge - which, by the way, is the oldest bridge on the river, said to be some 800 years old - and here I stayed some 10 years previously when on a skiff trip down river from Cricklade, the navigable source of the Thames.
Lechlade we duly reached about 8.30 p.m., having caught some fine glimpses of Thames scenery. The Venerable landlord of 84 summers of the Trout Inn waiting to receive us, and we stayed for the night at this quaint little place. What struck us above Oxford was the scarcity of the boats we came across, notwithstanding the fact that it was holiday week; we did not encounter more than a dozen or so in the run of 40 miles, so that if complete seclusion and rest are wanted, where better could one go?
This is the highest point on the river that one can reach in a light-draught launch, although it is possible to take a skiff or canoe to Cricklade (Wilts), some 11 miles higher up. So there our journey on the good old Thames came to an end. And now for the Canals.Pictures related to this cruise