Set against a
stunning backdrop of the River Thames in Berkshire, this small Informal
boat show is a relaxed antidote to bigger more commercial shows.
show began life, many years ago as the Wooden Boat Show. After moving
to Beal Park it morphed into its present form and has grown considerably
in recent years, attracting new exhibitors.
However it has
retained its emphasis on small boats and craftsmanship, while catering
for a broad section of the boating community and introducing many to
life at the water's edge.
One of my own early memories of boating on the Thames came back to me
in a Madeleine moment as I drove through the village of Pangbourne on
my way to the boat show ground.
Back in the mists of time, my then girl friend and I borrowed
a rowing skiff from the landlord of the Thames side Swan Inn. We rowed
upstream for a mile or two until we found a quiet grassy bank, where we
spent an idyllic day picnicking, swimming and lazing in the sun.
However, like that wandering beauty spot on Proust’s
Albertine, we may or may not, have been on the river bank opposite Beal
Park. I am however determined to believe the memory that we were in
love, that the river bank was grassy and shaded by a willow tree and it
was one of those bucolic English summer weekends that H.E. Bates’ Pop
Larkin would have describe as ‘perfick, just perfick’.
And the weather was ‘just perfick’ this weekend for the 2008 Thames
Boat Show. It was unfortunate that the free trips on the river had to
be cancelled, as the rain of the previous week had caused the Thames to
be running rather fast.
However, the seven acre lake, which is one of the showground's
most outstanding features, enabled visitors to take to the water
quickly, easily and safely.
This lively event had lots to offer lovers of traditional
small craft, with demonstrations to watch and small boats to see.
The show featured all aspects of boating and many different
craft. Boats ranged from dinghies and day boats to classic craft,
narrow boats and cruisers. From coracle to plank-on-edge racers, sail,
steam, oar or paddle, electric, solar and pedal powered craft, The
Beale Park Thames Boat Show seemed to have something for everyone this
There was even a display of plastic speed boats but it was
easily ignored in favour of the majority of stands devoted to more
One speed boat that did catch my attention was the wooden
Twirler looking for all the world as though it could have been built by
Antonio Stradivari. Perhaps when her seventy year old owner as tired of
driving her at high speed he will have her restrung.
A much less visually sybaritic wooden structure was ‘The Kipperman’s’
mobile smoke house.
While it may have looked like an example of a traditional
‘convenience’, Mike Smylie was using it to cure kippers in the
He vehemently denies that the smoke house was ever previous
used for any other purpose. Certainly the taste and aroma of the
kippers he produced was testament to the efficaciousness of the
building and to his enthusiasm.
These were kippers at their best far removed from the
imitations available in the supermarkets.
The show is also a tribute to all those other enthusiasts (eccentrics?)
who have restored and maintained so many of the lovely old craft on
display, especially the steam powered launches. Though strangely
enough, in view of the increasing cost of oil, their enthusiasms are
increasingly coming to seem not quite so strange.
Far from being noisy and smelly and dirty the steam powered
launches zipped around the lake surprisingly fast and with very little
fuss and certainly no billowing dirty smoke. Despite their age they
seemed to be quieter than the usual petrol and diesel engines.
Also among the superbly maintained old craft were numerous
examples of punts, skiffs and plain old rowing boats of the sort in use
when Jerome K Jerome’s wrote his Three Men in a Boat about a rowing
trip along this same stretch of the Thames.
As the wooden boat building craft becomes less of commercially viable,
for small builders, it is good to know that at least some are managing
to keeping alive their individualism, despite the endeavours of the
bureaucrats to reduce everything to an homogenous sameness.
Fortunately there are many amateurs with a love for detail and
pride in creating something of practical beauty.
On show were the winning entries in an amateur boat building
These were not simply cobbled contraptions but superb examples
of craftsmanship. The attention to detail and finish raising the craft
into the realms of art.
The joy of this boat show is its relaxed intimate nature.
There are no pushy salesmen and no pressure to buy the latest
But beware, for many of the displays are manned by not by
salesmen but enthusiasts. Stop to chat for a few moments and you will
find that the enthusiastic love for what they do is much more
persuasive than any slick sales talk. And they all love to chat about
their specialities. Well who doesn’t?
The electric boating aficionados were apt to make more noise
than their motors as they extolled the benefits of battery powered
boating. However, I’m not sure that their green, quiet credentials
stood up to scrutiny when it came to the question of recharging the
There was also a hydrogen powered boat and one powered by
solar panels on display but neither looked very elegant and I didn’t
see them in action on the lake.
As well as boating displays on the lake there were demonstrations by
Newfoundland dogs showing off their swimming and lifesaving skills.
There were also displays or arts and crafts, specialist food
produce, cookery workshops, live music and dancing displays.
This year there was also a Classic Car Display.
Among the list, of the boat shows children's activities and attractions
was Mr Toad maintaining the literary association with Kenneth Grahame’s
"Wind in the Willows" which was written one hundred years ago this
year, about of all things, the pleasure of ‘simply messing about in
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