Bill was in a particularly enquiring mood that evening.
We were travelling gently along the Oxford Canal just at twilight, looking for somewhere to stop for the night.
“What's that?” he asked suddenly, pointing ahead of the boat at an old iron bridge that spanned the narrow cutting we were passing through.
“What, the bridge?” I asked. “Come on! You've seen bridges before.....”
“It looks different to the others, one side seems curved.....”
I looked again. “Oh yes, it's a crossover bridge” I said.
Bill looked puzzled at this explanation. “Well isn't that what all bridges do?” he asked. “Cross over?”
I laughed. “Well yes, but this goes back to the old horse boats. You've noticed that sometimes the towpath is on one side of the canal and sometimes on the other? Well a crossover bridge is designed so that the horse can cross over onto the other side without having to be unhitched from the boat.”
Bill nodded. “Clever!”
“Anything that saved time was important to the old boatmen. They made their living carrying cargo around the system. Coal to the factories in the Midlands, fine China from the potteries in Stoke on Trent down to London, then they'd pick up another cargo to take back. Their boats were their living, they were born on them, lived on them, brought up their families on them and died on them. A whole travelling community of their own.”
“I guess they didn't give them sentimental names either?” asked Bill sceptically, eyeing a passing boat called 'Moonlight Serenade'.
“No, probably not!” I laughed.
“Why 'Lady Eleanor'?” he asked thoughtfully. “Does that mean something?”
I smiled. “Well, actually it comes from an old story I was told when I first started travelling on the canals. Let's find somewhere to tie up and I'll tell you......”