Tag Archives: book

Part of the Basingstoke Canal was followed by Three Points of the Compass when he completed the London Countryway in 2016

A library for hikers- Canals

Three Points of the Compass on a winter walk on a canal towpath

Three Points of the Compass on a winter walk on a canal towpath

Canals cross the United Kingdom. Historically, these inland waterways had a relatively short working life before being usurped by the railway but are today resurrected within the leisure market. Not only are they home to modern water borne travellers, but their banks provide access for anglers, cyclists, dog walkers, hikers and the modern day magnet fishers.

Signs of failure, decay and lack of use can still be found in and alongside many canals today. The rotting carcass of a wooden boat was passed by Three Points of the Compass when walking the London Loop in 2016

Signs of failure, decay and lack of use can still be found in and alongside many canals today. The rotting carcass of a wooden boat was passed by Three Points of the Compass when walking the London Loop in 2016

Three Points of the Compass has walked hundreds of miles along canals enjoying their banks and wildlife, a good few miles of canal are included on the route of my Long Walk. There are a small number of books within my modest library that provide more than a modicum of information on their history and add a smattering of interest to any walk along a canal.

Narrow Boat by Tom Rolt

‘Narrow Boat’ by Tom Rolt. A classic volume

Narrow Boat by L.T.C. Rolt is credited with kick-starting the interest in English canals. The author recorded his work converting a dilapidated wooden narrow boat Cressy in to a liveable abode on which he and his new bride set forth on a four month trip, taking in a variety of canals, pubs and encountering a mixed bag of characters. It was a strange and changing world, at the outbreak of World War II, when the future of the canal system seemed rooted in decrepitude. Yet publication of this book in 1944 led directly to the formation of the Inland Waterways Association when it was founded by Tom Rolt and Robert Aickman in 1946. From this the restoration and use of canals for leisure eventually became assured. My faded volume was published in 1946 and later editions are easy to find. It is an older style of book and I enjoyed it immensely. If published today as a new product it would probably excite little interest and it can be difficult to appreciate today just what sort of impact it had at the time.

The Grand Union Canal is a popular for leisure use and some of it was followed by Three Points of the Compass on the London Loop in 2016

The Grand Union Canal is popular for leisure use and some of it was followed by Three Points of the Compass on the London Loop in 2016

A later account of a similar length of journey by narrow boat across the English Canal system, taken in 2001, was written by travel writer and TV Presenter Paul Gogarty. As befitting his background, The Water Road is a well written and informative volume that understands, with the hindsight that the intervening decades have provided, what the reader wants. Part history, part ‘narrowboat odyssey’, part observational anecdote.

The Water Road is Paul Gogarty's account of a 900 mile, four month journey across the canals of inland England aboard his 50 foot narrowboat Caroline

‘The Water Road’ is Paul Gogarty’s account of a 900 mile, four month journey across the canals of inland England aboard his 50 foot narrowboat Caroline

It seems to have been no less a strange and awful time when Paul Gogarty’s journey was undertaken- the UK was undergoing a B.S.E. epidemic from which many communities never recovered, Salmonella was in the news and as the trip drew to a close- “I would return home just in time to watch the Twin Towers crumble. The apocalypse was alive and kicking”.

Having completed the West Highland Way in 2013. Three Points of the Compass stayed in Fort William and explored Neptune's Staircase on the Caledonian Canal the following day. This is the longest staircase lock in Great Britain, comprising of a flight of eight locks. The canal was built by Thomas Telford between 1803 and 1822

Having completed the West Highland Way in 2013, Three Points of the Compass stayed in Fort William and explored Neptune’s Staircase on the Caledonian Canal the following day. This is the longest staircase lock in Great Britain, comprising of a flight of eight locks. The canal was built by Thomas Telford between 1803 and 1822

Three Points of the Compass has included a good few miles of canal walking on the Long Walk commencing 1st April 2018. Tow paths can be useful for crossing the country quickly on often good paths. Though these can also be overgrown, muddy and, frankly, boring at times. Also it can be difficult to find wild camping spots along their length in places. But still, I am quite looking forward to some parts of my forthcoming walk that incorporate canals. Most canals have a book or two (or more!) dedicated to their history. There is one in particular that I was keen to add to my book shelf in order to learn a little more.

The amazing Falkirk Wheel aqueduct is featured amongst the images on the cover of Hamish Brown's book- Exploring the Edinburgh to Glasgow Canals

The amazing Falkirk Wheel aqueduct is featured amongst the images on the cover of Hamish Brown’s book- ‘Exploring the Edinburgh to Glasgow Canals’

Following the Lee Navigation in 2016

Following the Lee Navigation in 2016

Exploring the Edinburgh to Glasgow Canals is somewhat different to the aforementioned two books, it is not only a history of the canals (though missing out of more recent developments) but also tells of the towns and industry that were served by the canals in their working life. I am also encouraged by the fact that the author, Hamish Brown, is an accomplished walker and outdoors writer. This then, is not just for the boat dweller, but for those who amble the lengths of canals but want to know more on what they pass.

For a few years, I was fortunate enough to work with/for the author of another little volume that sits on my bookshelf that provides a fascinating and accessible concise introduction to one of the most noticeable facets of the canals; namely, the boats and craft used for trade, industry and upkeep. Tony Conder has illustrated the modestly priced Shire volume Canal Narrowboats and Barges with dozens of photographs from his personal collection. These and his text provide a wealth of information on boat construction, propulsion, their cargo but little of the people that lived and worked their lives on the canals. For that type of information it is best to visit one of the waterway museums listed in the book. The author was curator of the British Waterways Collection for twenty five years and opened the National Waterways Museum at Gloucester in 1988.

Canal Narrowboats and Barges by Tony Conder is an excellent and affordable introduction to the craft that plied the inland waterways

‘Canal Narrowboats and Barges’ by Tony Conder is an excellent and affordable introduction to the craft that plied the inland waterways

Narrow Boat, L.T.C. Rolt. Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1946

The Water Road, Paul Gogarty, Robson Books, 2002. ISBN 1 86105 515 3

Exploring the Edinburgh to Glasgow Canals, Hamish Brown. Mercat Press, first published 1997, revised edition 2006. ISBN 978 1 84183 096 4

Canal Narrowboats and Barges, Tony Conder. Shire Publications Ltd. 2004. ISBN 0 7478 0587 3

Three Points of the Compass has not only walked the tow path of many a canal, but has also enjoyed many a mile by boat. Here he navigates a lock, with hat aloft, on the Cheshire Ring in 2015

Three Points of the Compass has not only walked the tow path of many a canal, but has also, with his family, enjoyed travelling hundreds of canal miles by boat. Here he navigates a lock, briefly with hat held aloft, on the Cheshire Ring in 2015

Jupiter's Travels, by Ted Simon

A decent read- Jupiter’s Travels by Ted Simon

“When people asked me, later, why I chose to ride a motorcycle round the world I had dozens of ingenious explanations. The question was usually put by interviewers and I was expected to entertain them.  I talked about curiosity, about my interest in the nature of poverty, about the pursuit of self-knowledge, and of my reluctance to leave the world without having seen a great deal of it. The honest answer was too short and uncomfortable. I did it because I felt like it. All else followed from that”

Ted Simon, Riding Home

As a young man I was interested in British motorcycles and had a wanderlust only partly sated by overseas postings whilst serving in the British Army. It is not surprising that I, along with tens of thousands of others, was enthralled and inspired by Ted Simon’s tale of his setting off on his 500cc Triumph Tiger 100 in 1973 for a four year, 60 000+ road mile journey round the world.

Many of the encounters from Ted Simon's four year trip round the world, not included in his first account, were recalled in his book Riding Home, in which he also records his relocation from the South of France to California

Many of the encounters from Ted Simon’s four year trip round the world, not included in Jupiter’s Travels, were recalled in his 1984 book Riding Home, in which he also records his relocation from the South of France to California

I never followed in his tyre tracks, though countless others were inspired enough by his 1979 account to do so. Jupiter’s Travels is a rattling good read that led the way for the plethora of similar, if often lacklustre, motorcycling travelogues that followed from others detailing their own exploits.

The very best of travelogues involves jeopardy and mistakes, the author was no fool, but he certainly had errors and misfortune aplenty, interspersed with adventure and life experience.

Crossing the Sudanese desert, the author discovered the perils of crossing sand and is, as a result, focibly immersed into the culture of a country and its people- "my feeling for the Sudanese was one of total admiration. Never had I met such unmotivated generosity, such a capacity for imbuing the simplest life with a touch of splendour"

A page from Jupiter’s Travels– Crossing the Sudanese desert in the early 1970s, the author discovered the perils of crossing sand and is, as a result, forcibly immersed into the culture of a country and its people- “my feeling for the Sudanese was one of total admiration. Never had I met such unmotivated generosity, such a capacity for imbuing the simplest life with a touch of splendour”

He was 42 years old when he set off on his first circumnavigation. Aged 70, he set off again. This time, he rode a BMW R80 GS. It was not just the bike that had changed, this time he took a laptop and digital camera, electrically heated clothing and gloves and a folding seat to save him from sitting on the ground- “something that has always disqualified me for the New Age”. The account of his second motorcycle journey was recorded in his 2007 volume- Dreaming of Jupiter.

Another of Ted Simon’s books that I have enjoyed, one that never reached the elevated sales figures of Jupiter’s Travels (it sold over a million copies), was his account of his rediscovering his old haunts in the British Isles by motorcycle. In Rolling through the Isles much had changed- “busier roads, bureaucracy and, worst of all, the dreaded ‘Sat Nav’. “

Two other books by Ted Simon extended his motorcycling accounts- Dreaming of Jupiter (2007) was a re-tracing of his 1970s adventure. Rolling through the Isles saw the old adventurer back on the roads "that led to Jupiter"

Two other books by Ted Simon extended his motorcycling accounts- Dreaming of Jupiter (2007) was a re-tracing of his 1970s adventure. Rolling through the Isles (2012) saw the old adventurer back on the roads “that led to Jupiter”

For those, literally, more pedestrian in their travels who have no interest in the motorcycling exploits of others, Ted Simon did venture out on foot for another of his journeys. This self-devised adventure is recounted in his book The Gypsy in Me. Seeking to walk from his mother’s birthplace in Hamburg to his grandmother’s birthplace on the Baltic coast, from Russia, his route would take him south through Poland and the Ukraine to Romania. His plan on walking much of the 1500 miles comes steadily undone. This is no ‘how to’ book, more a fascinating personal account of encounters with a part of Europe undergoing change, and its people in a time that shall, thankfully, never be encountered again. This is a fairly well presented story from an accomplished author and traveller. But it is no Jupiter’s Travels.

The Gypsy in Me by Ted Simon was his account of a 1500 mile journey across Eastern Europe soon after the fall of the communist regimes in the countries he traversed

The Gypsy in Me by Ted Simon was his 1997 account of a 1500 mile journey across Eastern Europe soon after the fall of the communist regimes in the countries he traversed

When I left the army, my intention was to travel to India, buy an Enfield motorcycle, still being made there as a pattern copy of the British made Royal Enfield, and ride it home to the UK. That would be my adventure. Postponing this, I instead travelled to England and found a home and a job. As a consequence, that particular adventure never occurred for me. Give thanks for the true adventurers out there.

Jupiter’s Travels, Ted Simon, First published in Great Britain by Hamish Hamilton 1979. ISBN 0-241-10180-8

Ted Simon's four-year global journey, recorded in his book Jupiter's Travels

Ted Simon’s four-year global journey, recorded in his book Jupiter’s Travels

Journals

Now into 2018 and the start date for my Three Points of the Compass walk gets ever nearer. Time to start gathering together some of those items that will have to be renewed during my trek, sent out to me, while on trail. One of these will be my journal. I have just received my latest order of replacements.

Like many hikers, I keep a written record of my wanders. I have written before about choosing a journal most appropriate to personal needs. However I came across the Rhodia rhodiarama after I had written that post.

My choosing the Rhodia rhodiarama is my compromise between written journal and sketchbook, with an emphasis on the former. I am also taking a small art kit with me which I will use to illustrate my trail record. The hard covers of the notebook, though heavier than soft covers, are useful when sketching and provide a deal more protection with extended handling over multiple weeks. There are 192 pages of cream coloured Clairefontaine brushed vellum 90gsm paper. This will take ink, from both biro and fountain, with little if any bleed through or feathering, it will also handle light washes with watercolour, though it is not ideal for that. A compromise is a compromise. I use blank pages but there are also lined versions of the notebook available.

Rhodia rhodiarama notebook in the hand. This makes an excellent journal for longer trips due to it being robust and well made with quite heavyweight pages and hard covers. Far lighter options are available but will have less pages and are more likely to come apart over time

Rhodia rhodiarama notebook in the hand. This makes an excellent journal for longer trips due to it being robust and well made with quite heavyweight pages and hard covers. Far lighter options are available but will have less pages and are more likely to come apart over time

I include a little pen loop from Leuchtturm1917 in which I keep a Fisher Stowaway pen. The elastic loop keeps a good grip on the smooth, narrow barrel of the Stowaway pen. This diminutive pen gives a write length of some 3500m which is phenomenal compared to the woeful offering of many alternatives.

There is a small gusset pocket in the rear of the notebook, a single ribbon marker and elastic closure. These notebooks come in a wide range of colours but I have chosen the chocolate colour coupled with a tobacco coloured self-adhesive pen loop. The three items- journal, pen loop and pen weigh 161g. Not light, but it is important to me to create a long lasting record of such a trip. Replacements can be sent to me periodically on trail as required.

 

Life Cycles by Julian Sayarer

A decent read- Life Cycles by Julian Sayarer

Working in London, I have a number of encounters with London’s bike couriers. Very occasionally I may be moving through our reception when one of their number is dropping something off. More frequently it is skipping out of their way as they purposefully carry straight on through a red light. Such are the streets of this country’s capital.

However, a few years ago, I was pleased to attend a talk to hear of a cycle courier with quite a story, and one well worth hearing. In 2009, Julian Sayarer set off to cycle round the World. He completed 18,049 miles in 169 days, a record at the time. Life Cycles is his account of, as the author puts it- ‘a roadside view of the world and its people, by bicycle‘. I found his book to be an interesting encounter with a young man struggling to find and place himself. His thoughts move at a similar pace to his wheels. Forgive him his naivety as an author, and an angry man’s railing against what he perceives as wrong, at that stage in his life. This book is an everyday man’s account of determination, grittiness and ‘can-do’ attitude, that lacks the polish and refinement of many a well sponsored alternative account. It is all the better for it. Yes, Julian had a young man’s pre-formed prejudices that shaped his motivation, journey and subsequent account, as do we all. The secret is to grow, form and develop as an individual, this account is part journey round the World, and part author maturing.

Julian Sayarer, on the road

Julian Sayarer, on the road

Julian joined me for a beer or two after his talk. We chatted about aspects of his adventures and we shared with each other some of our respective future plans. I looked forward to hearing of his account of courier work, which is recounted in his follow-up book Messengers. However I was more intrigued by his wish to hitch hike across his beloved USA. That 2013 adventure was written about in his book Interstate, that won the Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year. As to my future Long Walk, he was kind enough to annotate my copy of Life Cycles…

Scan-9_edited-1

Life Cycles, Julian Sayarer. John Blake Publishing. Paperback edition 2014. ISBN 978 1 78219 903 8

Mark Wallington's account of a 1980s walk round, what was then, Britain's longest coastal footpath- 'from Somerset to Devon, from Cornwall to Dorset'

A decent read- 500 Mile Walkies by Mark Wallington

“Was I searching for the Man Within, the Real Me, was spiritual development my goal? Nah, I couldn’t convince myself, and in the end the best reason I could come up with was that I thought I might impress this girl I’d met at a party before Christmas”

Three Points of the Compass is not a particularly doggy type chap, nor is this book particularly well written. It is no ‘how to’ guide and you will gain little, if any, insight into what is now part of the South West Coast Path. What 500 Mile Walkies is, is a diverting, humorous, affectionate and self-deprecating account of Mark’s walk with possibly the worst, and best, canine companion it is possible to borrow from a friend relieved to be shot of his pet for a few weeks.

At first glance 500 Mile Walkies may seem a little ephemeral and lacking in observational muscle, however the author had a perceptive eye for what mattered most and makes light of what must have, at times, been a demanding walk. An enjoyable read.

500 mile walkies, Wallington

500 Mile Walkies, Mark Wallington, First published by Hutchinson 1986, my edition published by Arrow 1987. ISBN 0 09 952390 6

Two Degrees West, an English Journey by Nicholas Crane

A decent read- Two Degrees West, an English Journey by Nicholas Crane

On a mid-August morning, Nicholas Crane set off on his self-devised adventure. To walk two degrees west of the Meridian, from one end of England to the other, from the North Sea by Berwick-upon-Sea, to the Isle of Purbeck on the English Channel, and why not.

The author gave himself some leeway, he permitted himself to stray up to a 1000 metres each side of his line, between grid lines 99 and 01 on the Ordnance Survey maps that he cut and pasted together, giving him a strip route, 577.96 kilometre long, on thirty-six separate maps, folded and slipped into his trouser pocket. For all his two kilometre wide limit, the book wanders far wider, giving snippets of history and social context, though often, not quite enough.

He carried his belongings in a pack and, armed with an umbrella, sallied forth. Sleeping where he can, be-it ditches, woods or beneath motorways, he meets and engages with a hotchpotch of characters and commits to his self imposed parameters with determination. This man knows how to create an adventure, how to carry it out, and, most importantly, how to write about it.

Two Degrees West is a captivating book. It is an England and its people that few bother to go and explore and meet. If ever you want a book to inspire you to look for your own adventure, then this may do the job.

Two Degrees West- Constrained by his self-imposed line of longitude, Nicholas Crane prepares for a crossing of the River Tyne

Two Degrees West- Constrained by his self-imposed line of longitude, Nicholas Crane prepares for a crossing of the River Tyne

Two Degrees West, an English Journey. Nicholas Crane, First published 1999. This edition 2000, Penguin Books

Sorting through the trip piles

Still sorting out…

Have you noticed how maps, guides, books and notes can begin to accumulate into little, and not so little, piles of ‘important planning resources’ over time.

My attempt at sorting out some of those piles has continued into a second day. Once Mrs Three Points of the Compass is happy with how much the accumulated ‘stuff’ has been reduced and sorted, I’ll try and get round to a post or two on a couple of these little adventures. One from earlier in the year, one still to come.