Archive for November, 2012

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

Okay.  Let’s talk again about flatlands and another tributary of the Great Ouse.

The River Wissey, featured in the current edition of Anglia Afloat, is even more secret than the Lark (featured in the previous edition), partly because, as a navigation, it never served a significant town. While the Lark navigation reached Bury St Edmunds and that of Little Ouse (the one between the two and coming up in AA shortly) went to Thetford, the Wissey went only to Stoke Ferry, a sizable village with milling and the usual coal habit but hardly ever an economic hub. There was thus never the justification for the expense of locks – though there was some straightening of the river – and apart from the aqueduct which has carried it over the Cut-Off Channel since the latter was built in the ‘50s and ‘60s, the Wissey remains pretty much pristine. So the late Roger Deakin swam part of it and wrote of it in his book, Waterlog.

A bit busier, certainly proportionate to size, was Reach Lode which is a canal, probably of Roman origin, running from the Cam, another Great Ouse tributary, eastwards to the drier ground of the fen edge. In medieval times, before they built Denver Sluice, tides came much further up the Fenland rivers and the village of Reach at the end of the Lode became a significant trading port with a fair to which small ships clawed their way from beyond these shores.  You wouldn’t think so from the shrunken though still navigable waterway now – have a look at the landscape gallery hereon – but you can read all about it also in the current Anglia Afloat.

But now let’s talk about distant lands for a change.

Back in the ‘60s and’70s, there was a thing called the Hippy Trail. It began as a sort of overland route to enlightenment which wound from north-western Europe to the Bosporus and then through Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India to Nepal, or perhaps just to Goa, depending on how fleshy you wanted your enlightenment to be.  But it gained critical mass and a much greater public profile after the Beatles, post Sergeant Pepper, went to Rishikesh to see the Maharajah in 1968, even if they flew there.

It became a Thing To Do. A few commercial operators had already latched onto the notion, running trips in buses, minibuses and trucks but after the Beatles went east, those operators proliferated, 30 or 40 appearing over the following decade, some of them taking their time over the sights and sites on the way, others merely bashing along to get there in minimum time and at minimum cost.

It all finished in 1979 when the Ayatollah closed Iran but the whole episode has since passed into traveller folklore. I did a trip in 1972 in a Ford Transit minibus carrying 12 passengers and a driver in very close proximity over seven weeks or so. We saw cities, mountains and deserts and had stone throwing, gut rot and sexual assault, all of them to the backing of just three stereo cassettes, and two of those were Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66. Like a lot of Trail travellers, I kept a diary but probably unlike most, I made a detailed write-up over the following year (in a dodgy Sydney bedsit but it did have a big harbour view) and although the write-up got shoved into the proverbial drawer, it had a lot that hadn’t made it into the diary, right down to snippets of conversation.

And then a year or two ago, I read a book called Magic Bus by Rory Maclean who had done a forensic re-treading of the Trail, as far as he could in the noughties, anyway,  and I realised that there were no first-hand accounts of any of those organised trips.

And so I’ve done one. I’ve pulled out the screed and have distilled it down to a mere 120,000 words which are now available, at an astonishingly reasonable price, as an ebook on Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.  Check out the front cover in the Portrait gallery here.