Julia Jones, Yachting Monthly's literary reviewer highly recommends Tales from the Tillerman by Steve Haywood: "This is a book for all who are interested in English-ness, whether they prefer saltwater or fresh."

Tales from the Tillerman

Steve Haywood

Adlard Coles £12.99

Some people retire, put their belongings into storage, let out their house and set off to sail round the world.

In 2015 Steve Haywood and his wife ‘Em’ (journalist Moira Haynes) moved to live full time on their narrow boat, Justice, and explore areas of the UK’s inland waterways for which even as long-standing boaters they had not had time.

It was four years before they returned to live on land again.

This was not a geriatric option.

With a speed limit of 4mph on the canal system, and tickover travelling speeds of 2-3mph, canals may be ‘the quickest way of slowing down’ but rivers in spate are powerful, often frightening entities and managing a 57’, 20 ton narrow boat is always an intensely physical activity.

This book has plenty of heart-in-the-mouth moments, notably surviving the extraordinary series of floods on the River Ouse in York in the winter of 2015.

Tales from the Tillerman includes passages of great beauty as the seasons change across the English countryside and the effects of light turn ‘a sun-kissed meadow’ or a ‘dappled woodland grove’ into a place ‘of dark primaeval fear’.

The inland waterway system is an extremely various network.

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It includes city centres, open fields, complex commercial junctions, areas of dereliction and sophisticated redevelopment and glimpses into other people’s back yards.

Travelling the system brings a sense of travelling through history.

There’s the historical context in which canals themselves were developed (no romanticising the industrial revolution here), there’s the social history of the different communities who are linked by this network, though often vehemently local and separatist.

For Haywood and his wife there’s also a sense of personal history.

They have both spent decades exploring the inland waterways and this retirement project invited them to reflect how the waterways have changed and how they have changed as well.

Haywood uses snippets of autobiography to look back at some characteristic attitudes of the later twentieth century and where these are leading in the c21st.

This journey took them through the Brexit period meeting communities where attitudes were highly charged and potentially hostile.

This is a book for all who are interested in English-ness, whether they prefer saltwater or fresh.

Highly recommended.

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