canal society logo (3K) Booklet Archive


- D.W. Horsfall[Published 1981]

book front cover (22K)

(from the dust jacket) --


Most people find their homes while driving along a street; David Horsfall found his, stuck in the mud, when cruising a disused waterway in the Midlands. Purchased for £50, and raised by the local Fire Brigade, the boat was, during the late 1950s and early 1960s, home to the Horsfalls -and their young family. After being towed to the South of England by the near-legendary Willow Wren working boats, Adelina developed into a remarkable dwelling, initially moored in the East End of London and later in the leafy surroundings of Surrey's decaying Basingstoke Canal.

These were years of great interest on the waterways, then emerging from decades of neglect to take their place as a vital recreational amenity. As Chairman of the London Branch of the Inland Waterways Association, David Horsfall played a prominent role in the canal campaign, securing publicity, helping organise boat rallies and generally living inland waterways to the full. In a very real way the Basingstoke Canal can be said to have run through his living room.

A floating printing press, the famed Underground Canals of Worsley, a selection of colourful personalities who shares an enthusiasm for waterways, the joys of rare book collection, the working boat families of the Grand Union . . . all are described with wit and affection. They belonged to a fascinating era which has become part of canal history.


Traditionally, coal and canals comple­ment each other; mining the one often led to digging the other. In David Horsfall's case, extensive writing on his pet (if esoteric) subject of coal preparation inevitably led to writing about his other interest, canals. The author, born in Leeds, is a recognised authority on the subject of coal preparation, that branch of coal production concerned with turning the coal as mined into products specified by the user. Over thirty articles by him on the subject have appeared in journals, in the UK, USA, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Canada and India. He edited Coal Preparation for Plant Operators, now in its fourth edition and used as a reference book throughout the world.

His twin interests of coal and canals have made him a popular speaker on both subjects. He served as Chairman of the London and Home Counties Branch of the Inland Waterways Association as well as being a Council Member, during a period when the Association's growing influence caused it to be referred to on the Floor of the House as the strongest lobby in the UK. The author's other interests include foreign language study, printing and bookbinding.

The dust jacket illustration is the work of Fleur Ferri.

The Canal Press
Type Faces from the Canal Press 1961
Canalany 1962

Shepperton Swan
A Short History of the Narrow Boat
Tom Chaplin, 5th edition 1979
The Thames to the Solent
J. B. Dashwood (reprint) 1980

ISBN 0 906986 00 3

For Selina, Amelia, James, and Christopher, who don't remember it at all; and for Anne, who remembers it all too well.


Foreword by Hugh McKnight
Introduction — On writing the biography of a boat.
Chapter 1 —Adelina, from Thy Dark Exile
The finding, raising, and naming of Adelina; her history, from being opened as a Boys' Club by the Duke of Gloucester; moving her to Shardlow.
Chapter 2 — In Friendship's Name
Making the boat more or less inhabitable; fed-upness of colleagues with canal obsessivenesss and method of getting own back; moving Adelina to Burton upon Trent.
Chapter 3 —Hitting the Trail
Journey of Adelina to London, mainly towed by Willow Wren working boats; problems of finding residential moorings in London.
Chapter 4 — All Mod Cons
The next phase of making Adelina into a home; odd plumbing system and sanitation.
Chapter 5 —Duckett's Cut
Life on a canal in the East End of London; peculiar method of access; amiable encounters with the police, and the dog that couldn't climb ladders; decision to move home.
Chapter 6 — The Basingstoke
Brief account of the tribulations of the Basingstoke Canal, and what life on it was like; Floating Homes in a floating suburb.
Chapter 7 — Water Music
Further civilising of Adelina, with description of curious systems of pumping and electric lights.
Chapter 8 —The Canal Press
Account of setting up a miniature printing and book binding activity on board, which culminated in the production of two small books.
Chapter 9 — Memorabilia
The collecting mania and canal enthusiasm combined; filling Adelina with teapots and books; painting her in a traditional fashion.
Chapter 10 — Deep Waters
Narrative of a journey on the remarkable underground canal system (now closed) used in the coal mines established by the Duke of Bridgewater at Worsley.
Chapter 11 — Rallying Round
Recalls some personally memorable highlights of Rallies at Aylesbury, Woking, London; Dinners at House of Commons, attended whilst resident on Adelina.
Chapter 12 — Goodbye
Final account of Adelina as she was just before her owners departed for new country; toddlers on board and their life.
Description of a visit by the family in 1977, the first time Adelina had been visited by the Horsfalls in 12 years, seen through the eyes of 15 year old Amelia.

FOREWORD by Hugh McKnight

I FIRST remember visiting Adelina one Sunday evening in mid-Winter. We had spent the day hauling junk from the Basingstoke Canal. A meat stew was simmering on the coal range. The interior was mysterious, half hidden in brown darkness with pools of golden light around the oil lamps. In 1962 I decided that this was the most comfortable floating home you could wish for. I have since had no reason to question that judgement.

In the time that I knew Adelina she never once moved from her bosky mooring, remaining as sedate and contemplative as her owner was restless and bubbling with enthusiasm.

The author has made Adelina the protagonist of this book, a role that rightly belongs as much to David Horsfall. When he decided to emigrate to South Africa in 1964, the Inland Waterways Association lost one of its brightest talents. Our canals have been thus impoverished ever since. As a close friend of David I shared many of his enthusiasms and in no small way he propelled me into my own waterways career. I still regret his passing from the canal scene. David was a man of commendable priorities, a larger-than-life figure and thus a great asset to the canal campaign. As a measure of his total involvement he once squandered his total savings (and more) on a cache of rare canal books (doubtless with only a fleeting thought for the culinary needs of his family in coming weeks). I can still recall the ill-concealed pleasure with which he displayed these spoils and the intense jealousy I shamefully suffered.

Ann and David's eldest daughter Selina — an Aylesbury Rally film star at six months — soon acquired her father's magpie instincts and although barely old enough to walk discovered (quite unaided) a fully serviceable pushchair for herself mouldering in the undergrowth on the banks of the Basingstoke Canal. The Horsfalls were resourceful indeed. Who else would power their cruiser with an engine that had escaped from a concrete mixer?

This charming book is for lovers of an unconventional lifestyle. I found it one of the most amusing and perceptive contributions to the prolific field of canal literature that I have yet encountered. The canal world is enriched by its publication.


Adelina's biography was originally intended for home consumption, rather than the public domain, and two friends in particular must be blamed for its appearance in print. Dr Joe Gibson of the National Coal Board read my comments on Brunobrights and surprised me by asking for more. My next-door neighbour, A.B. Hughes, asked if he thought that accounts of everyday life had appeal, answered by mentioning the reappearance in print of his mother's books, almost forty years after their first editions.* Turning the theatre-born typescript into a book required objective comment, and I would like particularly to thank Cheryl Lea for her many helpful (and hotly debated) suggestions; her sister Fleur Ferri, for painting the dust jacket illustration; Dieter Jebens, for up-to-date information on the Basingstoke Canal (which, when re-opened, deserves a chronicle in its own right); and Robert Aickman, for providing information on the early days of Willow Wren, and several other topics. My thanks to all of you.

*A London Family, 1870 — 1900 M. V. Hughes, published Oxford University Press


The author would like to acknowledge the origins of the photographs used in the text as follows:
Frontispiece, 12,21,22,23,27,52,53,54: Dagmar Hobson, who took a highly evocative series of pictures for the Horsfalls just before they emigrated.
16,19,20,33,47,48,49,51 Hugh McKnight
24 D Robinson
26 Surrey and Hampshire Canal Society
34,35,36,37,39,40 National Coal Board (with special thanks to Dr Gibson, Mrs N. Reay and Mr Hutchinson for finding these historical photographs and making them available)
45 John Sheldon (I think)


One singularly dreary evening in January 1977, a party of five persons stumbled along a damp, slippery path by the Basingstoke Canal at West Byfleet, in Surrey. Their objective was a long row of lights, dimly visible through the thin mist that hung over the waterway. Occasional protests from the smaller members of the troupe were quieted by the discernibly bulky figure leading the way. His rejoinders varied from soothing ("we're nearly there") to sharp ("shut up!"), depending upon his instantaneous assessment of the validity of the complaint.

The shape before them revealed itself as a boat, apparently of indefinite length, illuminated by innumerable little windows, and looking almost like a cigar-shaped UFO sitting on the quiet waters of the canal. A gangplank loomed into view, which the leader cautiously ascended, leaving his young followers huddled at its base. There was a certain amount of ribald comment from them, inspired by their impression that in earlier days he had run up the narrow gangplank, and skipped lightly onto the boat. The figure reached the top and knocked on the deck: no answer. With practised foot, he stamped on the gangplank, which unequivocal announcement was followed by the sound of someone approaching.

Familiarly the leader stepped back, as a large hatch in the deck suddenly rose and a puzzled face looked out of the black space beneath the hatch. The leader hesitantly explained his purpose, to be immediately invited inside. The invitation, extended to the whole band, was immediately acted upon; and all five vanished into the depths of the hold like rabbits disappearing down a burrow. Inside the warm cabin, all five looked around: the leader, with an effort, trying to place himself in once-familiar surroundings; the others gaping in bewilderment at the wholly novel aspect confronting them.

Clearly, it was not quite what my children had expected. Over in the UK for Christmas, with my two sons and two daughters, I decided to take them to the home we had lived in for some five years, before emigrating twelve years previously. For me, the return was a sentimental journey; for the children it was the chance to see, at last, the boat their parents had talked about so much in their home six thousand miles away.

The owner of the craft was intrigued to meet the person who, quite a number of owners before, had navigated the craft to her present mooring, and for the next couple of hours, the Muse of Reminiscence, if there is one, held sway. Once aroused, particularly in such evocative surroundings, memories crowded in; and those memories form the basis of this narrative of our life and times aboard the narrow boat.

After our holiday ended, I resolved to commit the boat's saga to paper, essentially for family consumption, but never seemed to settle down to the task. Fortuitously, I was offered a small part in a professional production of Ayn Rand's play Night of January Sixteenth. The offer was irresistible to a stage-struck amateur for three reasons: firstly, acceptance entailed working with a highly creative production team (Brickhill-Burke); secondly, the other participants were well known professional actors and actresses; and thirdly, the venue was to be His Majesty's, the city's stateliest theatre.

I doubt that a professional actor would enjoy Miss Rand's doctor: he is on stage for 5 minutes at the play's beginning, and ten seconds at the end, just before curtain down. Moreover, the doctor is the dimmest medico on any cast list: he is unable to tell whether the victim is the best known man in the USA, or a little-known gangster; cannot ascertain whether death was caused by a fall from a skyscraper, or a blow from the victim's frail mistress; and cannot establish whether death occurred half an hour, or three days, before his first inspection of the body.

Nonetheless, those two hours in the middle served, for me, a most valuable purpose. Every evening, in the lower regions of the vast and atmospheric pile, the tapping of a two-fingered typist could be heard. Most evenings, my writing was uninterrupted, save when a real burglar tried to break into the car of our stage policeman. He was off-stage at the time, and pursued the miscreant through the streets of the town, clad in a New York policeman's uniform and waving a plastic revolver. On handing over the captive at the police station, our own man was almost arrested on the grounds of impersonating a police officer.

I never felt lonely in that isolated dressing room, and hope a few theatrical shades read over my shoulder from time to time. The method can be recommended to the willing but procrastinating writer, and certainly imposes a special kind of deadline. In my case it worked: the last line was written just two days before final curtain down. The narrow boat's story was unaffected by the murder, sex, and violence recreated nightly two stories up. Heredity, not environment, triumphed in this factual biographical tale of the narrow boat, Adelina.


There was nothing particularly exciting about the boat as she lay, unlovely and unloved, half resting on her side and partially immersed in the chemical stained waters of the Erewash Canal. The derelict was a narrow boat, almost converted into a houseboat but apparently abandoned and left to sink. She came into view whilst I was cruising along the canal with an officer of the National Trust, on a voyage designed to get the Trust interested in the canal for amenity purposes. The grim Erewash Valley may have inspired D. H. Lawrence — we were in the heart of Sons and Lovers country — but failed to inspire anyone else on that cold and drizzly day in 1958, and the canal slept on for quite a few more years before someone seriously took an interest in it.

However the boat was another matter; that was a clear case of love at first sight. Whether the attachment was motivated by her vague resemblance to an amphibious dinosaur ancestor, or simply inspired by latent memories of a waterways holiday taken when I was three, I wanted her. As man's link with the dinosaurs has become a little tenuous, and the holiday was remarkable, so parents told me, for my falling in half the time and having nightmares about falling in the other half, the longing for the great hulk was probably based on a desire to be different. Gazing at her en passant, I certainly didn't realise she was going to be my home for the next five years.

I later ran the owner to earth (should it be "to water"?) and learned something of the boat's history. She was built in the early nineteen hundreds, primarily to carry grain on the River Severn, and her bluff Worcester bows, though not graceful, were ideal for allowing roomy quarters to be made in her 60' x 7' hold. When transport was nationalised in 1948, she was sunk deliberately, to preserve her, for the line "twixt wind and water'' soon rots when a narrow boat is left idle. To keep an unused boat in good order, therefore, the best technique is to broaden the line, making it all wind or all water: sink or slip a craft for future trouble-free boating.

Unfortunately the noxious substances in the Erewash proved too virulent even for her 2" thick oak timbers, and when the craft was raised in about 1950, to be given anonymously to the Long Eaton Boy's Club, the hull was a sorry mass of gaping holes. These were patched in the traditional manner, the cavities first being filled with chalico. Chalico, the boatman's friend, is a mixture of horse hair, tar, pitch, and cow dung (old flocks from a mattress may be included if the situation is desperate and neither cows nor horses are in the vicinity) applied hot and forced into the recesses with a hammer.

Next, tin plates made from flattened paraffin cans are nailed over the mass; and finally a nice dab of hot tar and pitch is put over the plate and surrounds. Whether the foul concoction, hideous to handle but fascinating to make, kills off the fungus or whatever, repairs can last for years. Itinerant strains of masochistic mutant spores that survive and spread are usually curbed by more chalico and more plates, until a really old boat can appear to be all plates and chalico, hardly any wood. By that stage welding the plates together might conceivably give a watertight steel hull.

An enthusiastic member of the club, a local schoolteacher, led the project, the ob­jective being to turn the boat into a kind of floating Outward Bound facility. Local traders were cajoled into giving timber to cover the hold and make floorboards. Next, steel window frames and a few brass portlights so massive they could have been designed for a submarine were fitted; and as a final touch of elegance, superb oak panelling and doors were installed. The last mentioned would have graced a stately home; perhaps at some stage in the past they did. An engine was also obtained.

Virtually completed in 1955, the boat was officially opened, and a shadowy picture in the local newspaper showed the Duke of Gloucester, the Queen's uncle, performing the task. Whether she was ever much in use thereafter I never found out; but the club leader who had provided much of the perspiration and all the inspiration took a post at another school, and interest in the boat declined. So did the boat for, neglected at her mooring behind the Royal Oak in Long Eaton, and subjected to attacks by vandals on her windows, which then let in the rain, she slowly sank.

An aquatic entrepeneur bought the derelict for £5. His main interest was in securing the splendid brass portlights that constituted eight of the thirty four windows; the others, all broken by local marksmen were small, oblong, and stuck in the closed position. Even the windows on the 'pub side had been broken, which hinted at one specific form of throwing-out-time revels. I bargained with the entrepeneur far into the night at the picturesque Erewash Navigation Inn (now renamed the Fisherman's Rest), eventually buying the craft, less portlights, for £50. As a purist I would have removed them in any case, for their style was more appropriate to open sea sailing than to canal cruising; 'though it must be admitted that their apparent submarine ancestry was not inappropriate in the boat's then state.

The local fire-brigade were engaged for a fee; and as their pumps could, fortunate­ly, remove water from the boat faster than the leaks let it in, up she came: fish in her bilges and mud in her seams, but she stayed up. Her return from the depths was at least her third recorded reappearance, after apparently retiring from society. As a similar uncertainty of intention was (and is) a favourite habit of opera singers, what better name for the resurrected diva than Adelina, after Madam Patti? Adelina Patti, Queen of Song for over fifty years, herself only stopped retiring from the stage and returning to it when her breath supply was inadequate for sustaining life, let alone vocal emission.

The first inspection of the raised craft was gloomy: mud and marine life much in evidence; floorboards all over the place; sordid remains of furniture scattered in apparently inextricable positions and, worst of all, the handsome oak panelling so warped that with it in position there was no room for anyone else to move about comfortably on the boat. It would have been splendid for making crossbows. But the hull was strongly roofed over with a superstructure in sound condition; rather better, in fact, than the hull.

One waggish friend suggested that if I wanted a really serviceable vessel, sealing the window spaces and capsizing the boat would give me one. We found later that all the tongued and grooved planking had been put on the wrong way round, providing a natural siphon for rain water to gain access. On the credit side however, she was splendidly roomy, with fair headroom, the covered space being divided into one small and three big cabins. Most important of all, she was mine!

An Ad-Hoc working party was formed to carry out Operation Tidy Up. When the last fish had been evicted from the bilges, the slime scooped out and the algae washed off, the broken furniture removed and replaced by nice clean soap boxes, and the floorboards returned to their rightful positions, a certain air of cheerfulness manifested itself among the press-ganged group. The cheerfulness was mingled with relief that Adelina, throughout the proceedings, remained afloat.

Relief led to confidence, and the wish to spread the risk of submersion in icy waters throughout a wider circle. Some bottles of beer, packets of crisps, a few candles stuck about the place in empty bottles, and she was able to be hostess to the first party held on board under the New Management. Perhaps the guests did sit a bit nearer the doors than necessary, moving even closer every time the boat swayed in the wind, maybe dancing could not be permitted because of the fear a couple might vanish through a rotten floorboard; but all agreed she had great potential and good vibes.

The only problem was locomotion: Adelina had neither engine nor rudder. She had been built as a horse-boat, and though drilled by the boys to take a propeller, installation of the engine had resulted in Adelina, like Iolanthe, promptly retiring to the bottom of her pond. Whether this was a silent protest at the disappearance of the horse, or whether the engine shook lose oakum out of her seams was not clear; but as mounting an engine seemed tantamount to putting the fire-brigade on permanent alert, some other means of propulsion had to be found. In the long run, the absence of an engine was not serious, as Adelina was destined to be a floating home; but hopefully one in which "dressing for dinner" did not mean putting on a diving suit.

However, to get her from Long Eaton to a spot convenient for my place of work did require a minor voyage to be accomplished. Being then employed by the National Coal Board at their Central Engineering Establishment on the outskirts of Burton on Trent, Adelina had to be moored reasonably close to that town. Burton's Horninglow Basin was ideally located; apart from its convenience for work, the basin was close to shops and the retail outlets of Burton's most famous product. There was only the small problem of getting Adelina there, the journey from Long Eaton involving several miles of canal plus negotiation (upstream) of a five mile stretch of the River Trent.

To add to the difficulties, by the time the sale, the raising, and the cleaning out of the boat had been accomplished winter had set in. This added the joys of frozen canals and flooded rivers to the basic difficulties of the situation. The Trent in flood was no place for an unpowered boat; allowing Adelina into such a stream would undoubtedly have resulted in her premature retirement from the cruising scene, and immediate reappearance as a permanent hazard to navigation.

Consequently, Adelina had to remain in Long Eaton for a while longer, until the Trent had subsided sufficiently to make an upstream journey as far as the Trent and Mersey possible. I owned another boat, Anne, a 17-foot ex-lifeboat, powered by a fugitive from a concrete mixer. At that time she was quite well known on the canals, [1] particularly as her engine's sound bore a remarkable resemblance to that emitted by a working narrow boat. People were constantly surprised, after hearing what sounded like a boat carrying twenty tons and pulling another one holding thirty, when this bee-like object chugged into view. But her strength was in the exhaust, not the propellor, and alone Anne could not pull Adelina.

However, hitch-hiking is not confined to roads, indeed the term more implies attaching a tow-rope to something than it suggests lifting a thumb in the air. A local boatowner was changing his mooring from the Erewash to the Trent and agreed to add his boat's power to Anne's half horse of energy. When the time came to make the voyage, we found that between them the boats were able to pull Adelina against the river flow: hardly rapidly enough for water skiing but discernibly faster upstream than the water flowed downstream, and that was all that mattered.

In the meantime much high powered brain activity, lavished by well qualified engineering colleagues, had gone into the design of a rudder. Whilst the result might not have won first prize in a rudder beauty competition, the finished product was so vast that, when even snails on the towpath were galloping past the boat, she still steered. Wood for structural alterations and for construction of the rudder had been obtained at scrap prices via a chap in the same "digs" as I who had just finished participating in the construction of a power station cooling tower.

I have never before, or since, met anyone so obsessed by his job, and remember well the night he sadly returned early from a dance because he paid his partner the, to him, supreme compliment of favourably comparing her figure with that of a cooling tower. She mortified him by marching off and dancing with someone else. Whether she enhanced the resemblance by steaming slightly as she departed was not recorded. Too bad the lady discouraged a potentially apposite poet of our times. "Shall I compare thee to a cooling tower ..." scans well.

The lots in which the wood was being sold were very large, and to the end of our time on Adelina, the bundles were like so many Old Men of the Sea. From the moment the planks were dumped at the house, and an indignant landlady informed me six cars were wanting to get up the drive and what was I going to do about it, they made their presence felt.

First, they had to be taken off the drive to let the cars go by, and so were put on the lawn. They quickly had to be removed from the greensward as an anti-rot fluid with which they were impregnated was first turning the grass into a yellowsward and then killing it off completely. Finally we managed to get the bundles transported to the canal wharf but the obvious depredations of firewood hunters made a transfer to the boat necessary. Immediately, the additional weight made her start to sink and out the lot had to come again.

The bundles seemed to have a capacity for self-propagation, for though eventually much of the boat was lined with the stuff, a fair amount was pinched, and the fires were kept ablaze for a couple of winters with the breakages, the pile seemed about the same size the day we finally left as the day it had arrived and sat, menacing and unmanageable, on the drive at the "digs".

The voyage from the Erewash Canal to the Trent and Mersey mouth was uneventful, save that last minute blizzards hampered visibility, and prevented the press-ganged crew from appearing; which reduced the skipper to nail-biting hysteria for much of the three-hour journey. Anne was lashed to the side, my friend's boat heaved from the front, and I steered, the monstrous rudder effectively negating any sort of direction the towing boat tried to impose.

Majestically we sailed up the Trent, which, though probably narrower than the Zambesi, seemed somewhat broader when our little convoy emerged into the river, leaving our peaceful canal for the first time and last time. The point at which the Trent and Mersey joined the Trent seemed to be about the most deserted spot in England when we arrived there and what was worse, the little-used canal had an inch-thick layer of ice on top. This was not at all apparent when the flotilla first entered the canal as the ice was covered by water. The first intimation was when all three boats literally ground to a halt as they encountered that frozen carapace.

To add catastrophe to despondency, the "tow" had to depart for his mooring a mile downstream. Considered objectively, the situation was about the bleakest imaginable: the nearest village, Shardlow, was over a mile away, darkness was setting in, the canal was frozen, and there seemed to be no prospect of getting any help. It also started snowing heavily: in fact the whole scene was like a setting for one of the gloomier types of Russian novel. No doubt careful observation would have revealed the last leaf about to fall from a nearby tree.

Eventually, I started the engine of the Anne, which was still lashed alongside, stood on the prow of Adelina armed with a boathook, and broke the ice. This not only made a channel, but also steered after a fashion, as the boats could only go where the ice was broken. As I recall, it took about four hours to go the two hundred yards to the first lock on the canal, mainly by moonlight. Canal usage is normally divided into two categories, namely "Commercial Carrying" and "Pleasure Boating". Moving Adelina was hardly the former and certainly not the latter. A third category is really needed for such revels; "Masochistic" perhaps?

Shardlow, a few hundred yards upstream of Trent lock, is one of the settlements for which the title The English Venice might be claimed. Birmingham is another, though some might argue a claim should be backed up by more than an extensive system of inland waterways. Shardlow was built purely as an inland waterways village, growing as a result of the brisk traffic inevitably occurring at the spot where the Trent ceased to be navigable and the Grand Trunk Canal commenced its tortuous journey across England. The settlement had, indeed still has, a cheery clutter of unconsciously elegant waterside structures, such as warehouses, mills, houses and pubs.

Any intelligent society blessed with such a complete microcosm of the industrial age still living and viable, would have placed a preservation order on the entire village. Today Shardlow's worth is recognised and it is being defended against the developers, but some of the buildings have gone, and several of the small canal basins, unique and potentially useful reminders of its busy past, have been filled in.

At the time of Adelina's arrival the whole complex was still largely intact, though the waterways facilities were disused. After both boats had been moored by the lock tail, therefore, it was an agreeable half-mile walk into the village to find accommodation. Strolling along the towpath, life didn't seem too bad: moonlight and canals go well together and the snow covering of the buildings added its own quantum of atmosphere to the ghostly but friendly ambience created by the canal in its environs.

One local pub, the Canal Tavern, was an obvious place to try: the location alone, a narrow spit of land with the river on one side and the canal on the other, amply qualified it to be a pad for the night. Unfortunately my own grubby appearance, late arrival, and lack of luggage were hardly good guest qualifications, and initially caused reluctance on the part of the landlord to put me up for the night. A quick word of explanation about my plight and suspicion changed to warm welcome, in the best traditions of the English hostelry.

The Canal Tavern was formerly celebrated as a centre for rowdy but musical boatmans parties, according to Rolt in Narrow Boat. On that chilly night, the music was provided by a group of lads feeding a juke box. Gone were Rolt's octogenarian soprano accompanied by squeeze box; but the accommodation was good and clean and a hot bath was a marvellous contrast to the icy canal waters.

Up early the next day, and relieved to find that neither craft has been visited by vandals, I carried on with the Burton-wards journey. But for the help of a friendly farmer, who must have wondered what on earth the constantly running engine, sounds of ice breaking, and swearing could mean, I suspect Adelina and Anne would still be in that first lock. Ice at least 3"-4" had formed in its undisturbed water. Adding to the troubles, the constant rubbing of ice against the steel plates covering Adelina's prow wore away the rust, which was apparently the only thing keeping the water out: a merry little leak started gambolling playfully across the floorboards. Beginning to wonder whether my £50 might not have been better invested in a building society, the farmer and I moved some of the weightier junk inside Adelina into the stern to bring the prow a little further out of the water, whereupon the leak stopped.

Eventually the convoy reached Shardlow, and after arrangements had been made to keep both boats in a reasonably safe spot, for me it was back to Burton to recover. The canal had the final say, for on leaping from Anne's deck onto what seemed to be snowy towpath, it turned out to be snow-covered mud, of that specially smelly kind found on little-used navigations. Fortunately I was allowed on the train, and could start thinking up suitable fiction to induce friends to come and help move Adelina, large, helpless and totally unlovable as she still was, to Burton-on-Trent.

Ch 2: In Friendship's Name


Last updated April 2006