Friday, 19 October 2012

Early Nicholson Guide - a brief review part 2

Yesterday I talked about an early version of the Nicholson guide to the waterways, and how it differs from modern versions.

Now to the maps - the raison d'ĂȘtre of the guides.

1978 guide (on the left): 1/2" to the mile; towpaths not marked; orientated such that the waterway runs approximately vertically on the page, i.e. North is rarely up; roads indicated with black lines but not labelled.

1997 edition (the latest I have): 2" to the mile; towpaths marked; North always up; parts of OS 1:25000 map (with some road numbers) surround the waterways.

Here's part of the BCN from the old guide. Where are the bridges, you ask? The text helpfully explains:

"The Birmingham Canal Main Line passes through a heavily industrialised and built up area. The many bridges have been omitted in order that they should not obscure the map."


"Access throughout the BCN is bad: to visit shops or a pub usually involves scaling walls. Leaving your boat unattended is not a good idea due to the likelihood of vandalism. The waterways have been used as unofficial rubbish tips for years, and navigators with fibre glass hulls to their boats should proceed with the utmost caution. It goes without saying that old ropes and polythene sacks will foul your propeller. Not everyone's cup of tea, but a vivid relic of the Industrial Revolution."

It all gives the impression that they really didn't think anyone should actually try to navigate these waterways. I'd have loved it!

In terms of the guides things have improved enormously since those early days. The scale of the maps is now four times larger for a start, making it much easier to read. And today's mile marker pins make route planning easy. But the old guide brings home how much of the past has gone for good. Or should that be, "for bad"?

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