I've been perusing my copy of Pearson's Canal Companion to the Oxford and Grand Union Canals. Mine is a first edition published in 1990 and I'm wondering whether to get a new one. Not that a lot will have changed on the Oxford canal in the intervening years. Or on any canal for that matter, as far as the navigation goes. The locks will be in the same place, as will the villages and towns and most of the bridges. The real changes will be the disappearance of old pubs and village stores, and the conversion of old industrial works and yards into bijou residential developments.
My more up to date copy of the relevant Nicholson's guide will give me the facts, although in my experience not always accurately. However The Pearson's guides are another creature altogether. You get the feeling that Nicholson's guides are put together by a researcher in an office, whereas with Pearson you know that he has cadged a ride on a boat and writes things down as he sees them. So you get not just a factual account but an observer's subjective view on what the place is really like. Often opinionated but never dull, Pearson expresses his feelings about the place as well as the facts.
Of the entry to Oxford from the Thames - The length from Osney past Godstow to King's Lock is glorious. We cruised it on a bright October morning and watched the mist rise off Port Meadow to reveal the city's sky line in all its splendour.
Of Market Harborough - the arm sinks gradually deeper and deeper into the suburban heart of "harboro", all lawns, laurels and lachrymose willows . . . Abruptly but still in the land of flymos and hibachi barbecues the arm expands in width to form its terminal basin.
Despite his ability to paint a picture of a pretty spot Pearson is not afraid of venting his spleen from time to time.
Of the M40 crossing the Oxford canal - Into this exquisite landscape the motorway comes like a kick in the groin
Banbury - sits like a bruise on the otherwise peaches and cream complexion of the Southern Oxford. . . . If you approach Banbury with cosy notions of nursery rhymes and fruity buns you are going to be disappointed. Any "fine lady" attempting to reach the market cross by horse nowadays would be mown down by the traffic which throttles the town most hours of the day.
Poor old Banbury. I suspect that these days it is somewhat improved. It might even have a bypass to relieve the town centre traffic, and it'll be interesting to see how much of its formerly industrial outskirts have like Harborough now been given over to the flymo and the hibachi (or more probably the decking and the patio heater).
I think I might get an up to date edition, just to see what he now thinks of the changes the last 20 years have wrought.