Times past and passing.

            Boats (more boats), battles and backwaters figure again this month, together with a bit of escapism, in Anglia Afloat.

            On the WW1 centenary, there are minesweepers – or trawlers which trawled mines, the science being new and as yet without specialist kit. Working in pairs, they dragged a cable which theoretically severed a mine’s mooring and brought it to the surface where it could be detonated by small arms fire, sort of like clay pigeon shooting with bigger bangs. Trouble all too often was that a trawler – a necessarily deep-hulled boat for good sea-keeping and storage – actually hit a mine with terminal consequences.

            Smaller but equally, if not more, vulnerable were the drifters which tended the submarine nets, a not overly successful strategy to trap or at least detect submarines. Many east coast drifters were sent to the Mediterranean on such work where a concerted attack by Austrian warships on the Otranto Strait net barrage found them to be sitting targets, and likewise the trawlers sent to sweep mines in the Dardanelles under the Turkish guns.

            In more peaceable times, like now – on the home front, anyway – there is the story of Manatee, a narrow boat and her owner, Carolyn Ross, and crew of Yorkshire terriers, Bertie and Georgie, who are setting off around the national canal system after a year or so of refining the live-aboard science. That’s one thing about the UK’s industrial heritage:  you can get to much of the country by boat, slowly, and things look different from the water.

            Meanwhile, for landlubbers, there is a piece in Suffolk/Norfolk Life on Staverton Thicks, a fragment of ancient woodland in Suffolk where gnarled oaks dating back four hundred years or more give a sort of perspective on man’s fleeting individual tenure, making you feel young or ephemeral, depending on your glass half full/empty outlook.

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