The Water Gipsies

The Water Gipsies was my mum’s favourite film, or was it the musical – it was possibly both. Based on a 1930 novel by A. P. Herbert it was turned into a film in 1932 and a stage musical in 1955.  I have vague memories of seeing the film repeated on the BBC in the 1950s – brightly lit and over-exposed in summery monochrome, it bore little resemblance to real life on the English waterways.

I was also very familiar with the musical soundtrack as this was one of the LPs that my parents bought when my sister was given her first record player.  Other dubious parental acquisitions included Oklahoma!, South Pacific and Noel Coward at Las Vegas – no wonder the Christmas that With the Beatles arrived was like emerging from a long dark tunnel into the light.

I still remember some of the Water Gipsies tracks, ingrained like scars: Castles and Hearts and Roses, When I’m Washing Up and Clip-Clop:

Clip-clop, clip-clop goes the old grey mare
She ain’t non-stop but she gets us there
I walk with Beauty on the path
In case she slips and takes a bath.

Subterranean Homesick Blues it is not.

(NB ‘Gipsies’ is the spelling for both the book and the film – I think it should be ‘Gypsies’)

In the late sixties, desperate to escape a dictatorial regime at home, I toyed with the idea of living on a narrowboat near Ye Olde No. 3 at Dunham Massey.  Lacking the finance and any awareness of the practicalities it was an odd pipe dream which came back to me as we moored for water at the same location last week.  In practice it was 1976 before I ventured onto the waterways, the same summer and the same canal as Timothy West and Prunella Scales started their life long watery journey. In a similar fashion I have been wedded to the cut ever since, so much so that I have a mental map of the English waterways which is at least as good as my grasp of the English motorway system – oddly, I can’t seem to overlay one on top of the other despite their regular proximity.

All of this is just an excuse to reproduce a series of images from our recent lazy trip along the Trent & Mersey and Bridgewater canals, from Anderton to just south of Altrincham – all very familiar territory with not a clip-clop to be heard:

... Oakmere entering Barnton Tunnel - 572 yards with a number of kinks

… Oakmere entering Barnton Tunnel – 572 yards with a number of kinks

... entering Saltersford Tunnel

… entering Saltersford Tunnel

... approaching Preston Brook Tunnel

… approaching Preston Brook Tunnel

... on the Bridgewater Canal

… on the Bridgewater Canal

... filling up at Ye Olde No. 3 - the Bridgewater, near Dunham Massey

… filling up at Ye Olde No. 3 – the Bridgewater, near Dunham Massey


… Moore Swing Bridge, across the Manchester Ship Canal

... into Preston Brook Tunnel

… into Preston Brook Tunnel

... very clean - pristine again at Anderton Marina after the trip along the Bridgewater

… very clean – pristine again at Anderton Marina after the trip along the Bridgewater

... final day on Oakmere, back at Anderton

… final day on Oakmere, back at Anderton


  1. sustainabilitea · October 22, 2016

    Glorious! Deborah Crombie’s “Water Like a Stone” centers around a narrowboat and we were overjoyed to spend a day on a boat with English friends on a French river a few years ago.


    • northumbrianlight · October 23, 2016

      Thanks Janet for the tip re Water Like a Stone – looks interesting and set on a part of the canal system I know well.

  2. Cate Franklyn · October 22, 2016

    I love these boat trips!!! I remember my mother’s three album “collection” of West Side Store, My Fair Lady and Perry Como! What a rockin dude he was. LOL.

  3. Su Leslie · October 22, 2016

    Beautiful images. You make canals and narrow boats look so enticing. My own experiences were more mixed and veered a bit more towards the “help, how do I escape this nightmare” end of the spectrum.

    • northumbrianlight · October 23, 2016

      Thanks Su – the canals certainly have the potential for a nightmare under the wrong circumstances. It is actually quite easy to up end a boat in a lock 😱

      • Su Leslie · October 25, 2016

        Aaagh! That makes my experience sound much less dramatic.

  4. LaVagabonde · October 23, 2016

    The soundtrack of your childhood resembles that of my mother’s. The frenzied chirpiness of the 1950s/1960s. Bonechilling. We will all be happy! Or else.Some of it got passed down to us. No memory of childhood Christmases is complete without the Sing Along With Mitch Miller Christmas album. Creepy Mitch in a Santa hat leering from the cover.

    Anyway. Love the images of your waterway voyage, as usual. Such a whimsical vessel that is.

    • northumbrianlight · October 23, 2016

      Many thanks Julie – I love your description of creepy Mitch – the damage they did to us 😜

  5. MotoADVR · October 23, 2016

    Stellar photos!

    • northumbrianlight · October 23, 2016

      Many thanks – Oakmere’s Beta Marine engine makes a wonderful noise which, as a motorcyclist, you would thoroughly enjoy 😉

  6. Jane Lurie · October 24, 2016

    Terrific images!

    • northumbrianlight · October 24, 2016

      Many thanks Jane, the waterways have long been one of my favourite subjects.

  7. michaelwatsonvt · October 24, 2016

    Marvelous! Thank you!

  8. restlessjo · October 27, 2016

    It looks blissful, Robin… even without a clip clop 🙂

    • northumbrianlight · October 28, 2016

      It was a grand week thanks Jo – the other thing I didn’t mention is that the musical version of the Water Gypsies features Dora Bryan who sings like she used to talk. Under these circumstances, the clip-clop is preferable 🙂

      • restlessjo · October 28, 2016

        Fond memories of Dora Bryan but maybe not as a songstress 🙂

      • northumbrianlight · October 28, 2016

        Me too, particularly such gems as Carry on at your Convenience 😀

  9. Tina Schell · November 2, 2016

    A very lovely series of photos, you’ve really taken us there!

  10. decorway · May 13, 2017

    Reblogged this on I am a Traveler.

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