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There have been boats up and down the River Crane for hundreds of years, long before the houses began to appear along the banks in the 1890s. There were the boats of fishermen who would catch lampreys off the weir that once jutted out into the Thames from Railshead. There were ferry boats across to Richmond and boats carrying fruit from the orchards that once ran all the way up to Hounslow. There were rafts that local kids built from anything that floated and rowboats kept by business men for exercise and pleasure. In the early 1930’s the writer A. G. Linney recorded a ride he made up the Crane in a skiff one summer’s evening on a rising tide…

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“It was wearing to the close of a sweltering day, and the cool, green tunnel which was the month of the little stream presented was captivating. Tall grass hung down over the rough camp-shedding on one side, and the trees swept their branches on the other, right down to the water.”

Linney noted the boats waiting outside the boat yard by Percy Road and then further on…

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“Family bathing was in full swing from every back garden; youngsters were splashing around, full of glee; City typist daughters had hustled back from the office to don their chic bathing suits and rubber hats…even respectable papas had got out their bathing suits and come in for a dip.”

Linney described the Crane as “a Rivulet of Happy Families” and it remains so to this day. During the 1950s power boats and cabin cruisers began to appear and it was not unusual for some Cranesiders to spend weekends and longer away from home moored up along the upper reaches of the Thames.

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Then a couple of months ago something unexpected took place. With the advent of the Coronavirus pandemic, the compulsory lockdown, the stark realisation that we probably won’t be going away on holiday this year and the recent warm weather an armada of canoes and paddleboards suddenly appeared on the river.

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The canoes seem to be of the “Sit-On Top” design, rather than the more traditional “sit in” kayak type and are made from bullet proof polyethylene. They come in a wide range of colours, from eye blistering “Flame” to gothic “Black”. They are stable in the water, light to handle, relatively cheap to buy and easy to paddle … and although I wouldn’t recommend them for white water rafting or canoe slaloms they are fun.

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Maybe it is the warm weather. Maybe the Cranesiders are spending more time at the bottom of their gardens. Maybe the happy families that A.G Linney noted one summer’s evening 88 years ago are still around to this day, canoed and kayaked, just messing about on the river.

Josh MacRae celebrates the joys of just messing about on the river. (1962)

– from Martyn Day