Read all about it. Novels, narrowboats, canals and curries!
For book-loving narrowboat enthusiasts there is only one thing more enjoyable than a good book about canals, and that’s stretching out on deck while reading. So for those of you whose idea of heaven is a leisurely read on the waterways, here are a few canal-themed recommendations from Anglo Welsh’s own bookworms.
Canals hold a unique place in British hearts, with associations of languid summer days and stately journeys on charming narrowboats. But as Liz McIvor explains in Canals: The Making of a Nation, the story of our canals is also the story of how modern Britain was born. Canals drove trade expansion during the Industrial Revolution, furthered the science of geology, and ushered in new forms of architecture. As McIvor’s fascinating book and the accompanying BBC series demonstrate, the legacy of our canals is all around us.
In Barging Round Britain, the ebullient John Sergeant delivers potted histories of Britain’s eight major canal systems. We discover, for example, that the Caledonian Canal was a Keynesian project for employing men displaced by the Highland Clearances. Taking us back to an era when Britain still made things, Sergeant weaves tales around poignant relics on the Kennet and Avon Canal (Huntley & Palmers biscuits), Birmingham Canal (Borax soap) and Grand Union Canal (Ovaltine), all conveniently located along Anglo Welsh circuits.
Narrowboat Nomads is the latest in Steve Haywood’s series of light-hearted travelogues around English waterways. Haywood’s ability to capture an idyllic way of life practised by ardent disciples is reminiscent of Bill Bryson’s popular explorations of our national psyche. Also fresh of the press, Jim Batty’s Narrowboat Life is full of gorgeous photos of canals and every nook and cranny of some amazing narrowboats. In more comical vein, Michael I Rolfe’s Canals, Canines and Curry poses the question: “Two humans, a dog the size of a small horse, petrol, gas, and curry, all in a confined space on a floating vessel. What could possibly go wrong?”
Turning to fiction, Maureen Carter’s Grave Affairs is the latest in a gripping crime series that regularly uses urban canals as a dramatic backdrop. Tracking down the villains is feisty Detective Sergeant Bev Morris, a proud Brummie who used to fish with her dad on the Worcester and Birmingham canal. “Birmingham has more acres of parkland than any European city,” says Carter, whose gritty style has been compared to Ian Rankin, “and believe it or not, more miles of canals than Venice!”
Lee Rourke’s compelling debut novel The Canal boasts a host of brooding characters but at the same time depicts the UK’s waterways as a place of gentle wonder. His canal is a place where ducks and geese preen and clean each other and joyfully show their “arses to the world” when foraging for food; a place where time moves as slowly as the silty water.
Finally, younger bookworms can dive into the wonderful world of canals as lovingly portrayed in Cressida McLaughlin’s best-selling Canal Boat Café quartet: All Abroad, Casting Off, Cabin Fever, and Land Ahoy! Boats, canals, selfies, romance … teenage boys might turn up their noses, but their sisters will be hooked from the moment 18 year-old Summer Freeman returns home to rescue The Canal Boat Café, her late mother’s picturesque narrowboat.
What will you be reading on your Anglo Welsh narrowboat this summer?
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