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Llewellyn, S. 1983 The Worst Journey in the Midlands Summersdale ISBN1 84024 338 4

I was fortunate to secure a signed copy of this book for a bargain £0.01p from Amazon, it chronicles author Sam Llewellyn’s journey from Llandiloes down tributaries to the River Severn and across the canals of the Midlands to London.

He and his open rowing-boat, the Magdalen, travelled during the one of the wettest October on record.

As Llewellyn records on his website:

I wrote this book after living out of England for six years. When I returned, I found that the travel book had taken over from the novel. In place of characters, chance encounters along the route. In place of plot, itinerary. In place of protagonist, narrator. Eager to keep up with the trend, and even more eager to satirise it, I filled up the holes in an ancient open boat, and rowed it from the source of the Severn to the Houses of Parliament. This occupied the wettest October since records began.

The book has been described as ‘a little masterpiece of gloom’ and I cannot argue with this. As, basically, this is the tale of a lone oarsman’s battle with thundering weirs, dark tunnels, the madness of loneliness; encounters with gale force winds, dangerous bushes, malevolent sardines, blue groundsheets and, perhaps most terrifyingly, the dour Midlands mindset and weather – all told with dead-pan humour.

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It’s all a bit of a romp, perhaps not laugh-out-loud, more tongue-in-cheek. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and the author’s companionable style compares well with the similar journey made by Jack Mackinnon in the early chapters of The Unlikely Voyage of Jack de Crow.

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