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Stoker, S. (2008) There and Back Again Amberley Publishing ISBN 978 1 84868 153 8

Anyone who reads this blog regularly will know of my soft spot for the wonderful Cromford Canal. It was my local childhood canal and holds many memories and associations. It was therefore a delightful surprise to find in my Christmas stocking (pillow case!) Simon Stoker’s There and Back Again.

There and Back Again is, in some ways, a cautionary tale that, on the one hand, celebrates the unique comerarderie, spirit, enthusiasm and sheer bloody mindedness necessary to restore a canal; and on the other acknowledges the salutary fact that in the two decades since the demise of the Cromford Canal Society, the canal has reverted to a state which, in many places, is not far removed from its abandoned condition before work began.

That said the book is fascinating and proved to be a refreshingly easy read after the more baroque tomes I seem to have read recently. The format of the book is refreshingly simple – an anotated photo album – with the photographs enriching the text and the text written by someone who was actually there.

The book captures the hard work, commitment and creativity that went in to transforming five miles of silted and weed-strangled canal to a navigable waterway; and covers the dredging and associated work, the restoration of Leawood Pump, the reconstruction of the swing bridge at Leawood, and the construction, extension and operation of a horsedrawn passenger boat that ultimately carried up to 15,000 passenger a year!

The ‘Back Again’ section reviews the degradation of the canal since full restoration ended in the late ’80’s with the collapse of the Cromford Canal Society. Let’s hope that recent moves by the Friends of Cromford Canal allow this magnificent waterway to have a more secure future.

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