Thursday, March 10, 2011

The world as seen by Mr Pearson.

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.

Some examples:

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.


Halfie said...

Neil, I came across a man on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal two or three years ago. It was chucking it down with rain, and this man was holding a GPS unit in the air getting a fix on his location. His bicycle was propped up nearby. I discovered that he was Jonathan Mosse, whose name you will find in the front of Nicholson's Guides. He was checking the position and accessibility of waterside facilities such as Elsan disposal points and water points for the next edition of the guide. He told me that he does it all by bike (which he takes from area to area by car, of course). Definitely not sitting in the warm and dry of an anonymous office.

I have always been a Nicholson's man. It was the first guide I came across, and I like the little bits of OS map which surround the waterway. It's much improved from the early days of black and white (and a bit of blue) where north was hardly ever "up", and the navigation had breaks in it so it could be twisted to a more vertical orientation on the page.

When I last looked at a Pearson I don't recall seeing mile markers - something I find very useful in Nicholson.

Adam said...

I love the Pearson guides, mostly because there's always something in the text to make you smile! While the maps don't have the detail of the surrounding area that the Nicholson's do, I find they're much easier to read at a glance when you're on the helm. It is infuriating, though, that north can be any direction on the page.

Halfie, Pearson sometimes has mile markers, depending on whether the canal does. If there are mile posts on the tow path, then Pearson shows them.

Simon said...

Horses for courses - they both have their place. I like maps, details, contours, information (although I do wish Nicolsons would match up the pub listings with locations somehow), others like the very different feel of the Pearsons, very much more human. Some people have both, of course. ;-)

Andy Tidy said...

I have debated the very same thing. The proof of the pudding is in the eating and my preferred guide will always be Pearsons for the witty commentary and the quirky linear maps which are like the ones I grew up with. However, for technical accuracy and proper OS type info for surrounding areas Nicholsons win hands down.
My heart loves Pearson but by head is with Nicholson. So the answer is both.

Neil Corbett said...

Nicely put cap'n. I use both too, but when I'm planning to visit a new place, it's only Pearson's that tells me what it will feel like.

Anonymous said...

We have both, but I find Nicholson's the more useful. My view is that that Nicholsons tells you how to avoid a weir but Pearson's tells you what you're looking at while you're being swept over!

Of course, nowadays we tend to look to blogs to find out how a waterway might feel - watch out Mr Pearson!

Sue, nb Indigo Dream

Anonymous said...

I like both, but the Pearson guides have little trees on that show where the woods are. Great for shady moorings in summer and possible logs in winter :-)