Monday 20 February 2012

Tom Rolt on the Shropshire Union

I’ve just finished reading the classic and legendary book ‘Narrow Boat’ by LTC Rolt. It was first published in 1944 and is believed to have a played a key part in the revival of the waterways as a leisure resource. He and his wife Angela fitted out the boat and then travelled the waterways enjoying the timeless nature of the English countryside.

As Tom travels he rejoices in finding rural remnants of times gone by, and deplores the sometimes ugly face of ‘progress’. Nostalgically at Nantwich he notes that the atmosphere of an old market town, catering soley for the needs of an agricultural area is preserved.

“The countrymen of Cheshire do not live out of tins and refuse to accept inferior imported foods. To ask a Nantwich butcher for foreign meat would constitute a personal insult, and during our stay in Cheshire we had home-killed joints that in their tenderness and flavour rivalled the famous roasts of Simpsons in the Strand.”

Here Tom and Angela enjoyed chorley cakes, pikelets, local oatcakes and Cheshire cheese. At that time Audlem was a “sleepy group of old houses, inns and shops clustering about a church perched upon a mound.”

They made light work of the Audlem flight, and enjoyed the rolling wooded country at the summit. They soon arrived at ‘Dirty Fair’ in Market Drayton and this is one of my favourite parts of the book. Tom describes the cattle market and gypsies in lyrical detail and tells a charming anecdote of horse trading, featuring a “plausible rogue”; a “picturesque characterful figure.”

I wonder if The Wharf Inn at Goldstone Common is still there with a cheerful fire blazing in the bar parlour? I’d like to travel the densely wooded cuttings of the Shropshire Union which even then was “uncommonly well supplied” with canal side inns. The Wrekin dominates the landscape here; part of the Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The Shropshire Canal terminates at Autherley stop lock and the working boatmen used to call this ‘Cut End’. The Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal down to Stourport was commonly known as the ‘Stour Cut’.

If you haven’t yet read this book it would be the perfect companion to take on the Canal Voyagers Stourport to Nantwich cruise. From Autherley to Nantwich Taurus and Snipe will be retracing the waterways cruised by Tom and Angela in 1939 and you can see for yourself what’s changed and what hasn’t. The Staffs & Worcester is Corinne's favourite canal and The Shropshire Union is one of Neil's favourites. Take your camera, because the views are amazing!

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Disclosure: I wrote this post for Neil and Corinne at Canal Voyagers. Follow the link to subscribe to their blog. Visit for business blogging, social media services and freelance writing commissions. This post contains an affiliate link to Amazon.

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