The Bell Jar: Jo Bell's blog

"She lives the poetry she cannot write" – Wilde

Three Women In a Boat

At last we can reveal our new project!

A few weeks ago, a nice lady whom I knew slightly rang me up and we had a conversation like this:

Nice Lady: Would you like to go boating on a river you’ve never been on, and write about it, and get paid for it?
Me:                    Is this a trick question? Are you the Child Catcher?
NL:                    No. Mind you, it won’t be all narrowboating.
Me:                    No?
NL:                    No. There will be canoeing too. And walking.
Me:                   Oh, go on then.

Something from Jo Blake....

Or something like that. The nice lady is Ros Stoddart, artist and self-styled cultural engineer. The project she has devised with support from the thrice-blessed Arts Council will put Ros, me and storyteller Jo Blake onto the river Nene in Northamptonshire. No, I didn’t either – here it is.

The much-loved nature writer ‘BB‘ (Denys Watkins-Pitchford) hailed from this part of the world. He was a huntin-shootin-and-fishin man who wrote about the river, its wildlife and the land around it – for example in his book Wild Lone, which Jo has already revisited (above). In 1966 he went on a boat journey, and published it as A Summer on the Nene the following year. Our mission, if we choose to accept it (and we have, since we don’t have duck-droppings for brains) is to make our own

Something from Jo Bell...

journey on the Nene, informed by BB’s work – and to produce a collaborative piece of work drawn from our experiences, which will show in canalside locations late this year, and in 2012.

So…. in April we hire a narrowboat and travel from Oundle, as BB did. In May we go back and look at the same waterway by canoe – and in June, we will walk parts of the riverbank, to see the river from all sorts of different angles. Ros didn’t think to include a hot air balloon phase, but I think we are willing to forgive her.

Jo Blake is a talented professional storyteller, with an interest in wildlife and myths of the countryside and nature. I, as you know, am a boat-dweller and former professional archaeologist, fascinated by the Nene because it is one of the oldest navigations in the UK. The Romans were the first people to make it properly navigable, and it lies in a part of the country I know very little. Not only the

Fotheringay Castle. It's very small.

waterway but also its riverbank archaeology is fascinating – Fotheringay Castle, Lyveden New Bield and many other places of interest lie on our route.

If I had tried to design a project just for myself, full of interest, friendly collaboration and fascinating material – plus boats – I couldn’t possibly have come up with a richer or more enlivening one than this. It’s early days and we will soon be setting up a dedicated blog for the project, so keep your eyes peeled for that. [Stop press: we did, and it’s here]. In the meantime we just have to work out – which of us is Mole, which Ratty and which Toad?


6 comments on “Three Women In a Boat

  1. Julie
    March 23, 2011

    Sounds wonderful, Jo! Good to see you tonight too. Hope you all enjoy your travels – I’ll look forward to hearing more tales of the river bank 🙂 xx

  2. Angi
    March 24, 2011

    Sounds great – look forward to hearing/reading all about it. There’s some oddly geometric planting of trees next to the aforementioned waterway (SE of your google-link) and I’m intrigued to know what it’s all about! Perhaps you’ll discover on your travels. 🙂

  3. Paul Beech
    March 24, 2011

    Jo, this sounds a really exciting project. Great promotion for the Nene – a river I’ve only seen from 5000 feet up, gliding over the Fens, but which sounds fascinating and charming in equal measure, passing through everything from industrial landscape to “the country of squires and spires” as it winds its way to the coast. Great promotion also for BB, who is surely due a revival.

    I went through a BB phase back in the 70s and treasure a first edition ‘Letters from Compton Deverell’ given me by a dear friend six years ago, a really good copy in red cloth / gilt with green endpaper maps, self-illustrated in black and white under his real name, of course. It’s a delightful book in the form of weekly letters to a younger male friend abroad, describing country life and nature across the span of a year, from December to November.

    Perhaps a good motto for the three of you in undertaking this project is the quote to be found in the front of BB’s books:

    “The wonder of the world, the beauty and the power, the shapes of things, their colours, lights and shades; these I saw. Look ye also while life lasts.”

    I shall enjoy following your progress on the dedicated blog and will look out for the Jo-Ros-Jo Show at the canalside next year. Hope you’ll be bringing it to us in Northwich.

    Regards, Paul

    • Jo Bell
      March 25, 2011

      Paul (and others) thanks for sharing our excitement! The Nene is new to me which is both good (for a fresh eye) and daunting (as I will be amongst natives, with far more knowledge than I). We’re starting to build an itinerary and we’ll keep you all informed. Meanwhile thanks for the support.

  4. David Owen
    March 27, 2011

    Hi Jo,
    Harry’s brother, living in Peterborough near the Nene which, sadly, claimed the life of a friend of my younger daughter just a few weeks ago. Project sounds exciting. Get in touch when you’re in the area.


    • Jo Bell
      April 2, 2011

      Dave – so sorry to hear about this tragedy. Keep an eye out for news – we start from Oundle on 16th April.

Comments are closed.


This entry was posted on March 22, 2011 by in Writing exercises and tagged , , , , .
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