Narrow Dog to Wigan Pier by Terry Darlington – Book Review

Narrow Dog to Wigan Pier’ is a travel story about two 75-year olds, Terry Darlington and his wife Monica, journeying on a narrow boat along canals in Northern England, accompanied by their two whippets.  However there is much more to the book than that. It is also Terry Darlington’s autobiography and his personal reflections on matters great and small.

Narrow Dog to Wigan Pier - Book CoverI approached this book with some trepidation as I am neither a great dog lover nor a particular boating fan. I must admit that I nearly gave up in the first chapter, where the author bemoans his lack of success as a novelist. Lack of normal punctuation also threw me at first.

However, I ploughed on and gradually warmed to both the canal journeys and the author’s life story. In the end I found it to be a very entertaining and thought-provoking read that will particularly appeal to Seniors.

As a travel book, it has two aspects. First of all there is the description of the two canal trips, from the Midlands up to Lancaster and then a round trip via York. Secondly there are the author’s reflections on the many countries he has visited throughout his life.

I learnt a lot about narrow boat etiquette and how to handle sticking lock paddles, rough river crossings and claustrophobic tunnels under the Pennines. Interesting stuff demonstrating that advancing years are no bar to adventurous travel.

Throughout the canal journeys, the author adds his personal thoughts and pointed comments, based on a lifetime’s experience. Towards the end of his Lancaster journey, he visited Morecambe Bay and felt, as many do, the oppressive atmosphere where twenty-three cockle-pickers died in 2004. He has no doubt that much of the blame lies with the Health and Safety Executive – ‘you did not do your bloody job’.

Treacherous sands of Morecambe Bay
Treacherous sands of Morecambe Bay

When turning his boat round in York, he strongly castigates the local council for not providing safe wharfs for visitors to this great city. His appreciation of York Minster’s magnificent architecture is spoilt by a sermon being given by a ‘toff’ who wasn’t interested in being there.

I got to know and appreciate his whippets, Jim and Jess, key members of this floating household. When Jess almost lost a front leg after an accident when chasing ducks, the boat had to be berthed near Dewsbury for three weeks whilst she underwent treatment. Not the best of places to be stuck, but it gave the author plenty of time to think and write about his life. When Jess recovered, the author noted jokingly that the vet’s fees were as much as his medical bill when he fell ill in New York.

The second travel aspect of this book, his reflections on countries he visited over the last 50 years, starts with a bit of a mix-up. On his first trip to South East Asia, he was disappointed to find that Bangkok was in Thailand and not Tibet; hence he could find no yaks or holy men with the wisdom of Shangri-La!

San Francisco - 'The best city in the world'
San Francisco – ‘The best city in the world’

He enjoyed having a gin sling at Raffles Hotel in Singapore and declared the Airport Hotel in Lagos to be the worst in the world with the best music. I have stayed myself at both, and fully concur, as also I do with his description of San Francisco as ‘the best city in the world’ (well certainly it’s in my Top Ten Cities) and the Buddhist monument of Borobudur in Java being ‘up there with Stonehenge, St Paul’s, Paradise Lost’.

The intermingled autobiographical parts of this book start with the war years, which he spent in his home town of Pembroke Dock, but rapidly move on to follow the author’s relentless search for success over a whole range of ventures, including business, marathon running and organising a literary society.

As a Senior I can empathise with many aspects of his life. I was also one of the ‘lower order’ types who had the cheek to go to Oxbridge. I also taught HND students at a Tech College and carried out highly dubious government contracts in the Far East, before running my own business. So I found many of his entertaining comments and descriptions to be very pertinent.

Who would this book appeal to? Well obviously to those who enjoy traveling on canal boats and to dog lovers.  But much wider than that, I believe anyone who enjoys travel with adventure will find this book enthralling, both the canal journeys and his wider world travel.

I also strongly recommend this book to Seniors who wish to muse over the last 60 years or so, and see how the various twists and turns of their lives compare with those of the author’s, against the background of cultural and political changes. Quite intriguing. It resulted in my reading the book twice – something very unusual for me!

It is published in paperback by Bantam Books, London, 2013 (ISBN 9780857500632) and can be obtained at a discounted price from Waterstones, with free UK delivery, and from the Book Depository, with free world-wide delivery.

Terry Darlington’s has published two other books: ‘Narrow Dog to Carcassonne’ and ‘Narrow Dog to Indian River’. Both are obtainable from the above book suppliers.