Last year I had an exhibition of watercolours in Prague, the highlight of which were several images of the Vltava, which focused on the rafters who used to ply the river for centuries up until the 1940’s.
The paintings were a form of “nostalgie” for the time and a celebration of the extraordinary character and strength of the men who piloted these craft.
Alongside my interest in the Vltavan story I have long been fascinated by what the river Dart must have been like a hundred odd years ago. I refer to a bygone era when there were schooners delivering fruit, classic yachts sailing for pleasure, great working fishing boats and paddle steamers carrying passengers and catering for tourists.
I harken back to not such a long time ago when men cast their nets from wooden rowing boats to catch salmon. I used to accompany these men, especially “Big Patrick” to paint them at work. Woe betide they didn’t catch anything as I would be blamed.
So this is a story of the past of two very different rivers. In Prague there is nothing left of the rafts, their locations, or the hamlets that served them except a small museum over a bar/café that was the old Customs house at Vyton. This is still the regular meeting place of the Vltavan society so I was able to meet people who knew of the rafts and were able to show me photos and tell me the histories.
As for the craft of the river Dart that used to look so splendid there are various sad wrecks, which tell the tale of the decline of an era. The Brixham trawler however, still lives on in the capable hands of Trinity Sailing who are able to introduce new sailors both young and old to these wonderful boats. One of the Kingswear Castles still motors on in London of all places!
I hope my paintings can re awaken memories of those who can recall that era and to stimulate an interest in not only the history of the Dart but also the beautiful river Vltava in Prague. “
Paul Riley – May 2012