The word revictual is one  that was drummed into me and many other South African schoolchildren year after year in the endlessly repetitive history classes that culminated each year with the Great Trek.

Our history ‘began’ in 1652 when Jan van Riebeeck arrived at the Cape of Good Hope in search of a revictualling station for the Dutch East India Company. Well, to be honest, I do remember a brief mention of the Portuguese sailors that predated him and some passing reference to the existing Khoi pastoralists and the San hunter-gatherers of the Cape.

It was those early Dutch settlers who started the much-feted Company’s Gardens in the infant Cape Town. We learned of the fruit trees that were planted: apples, pears and quinces. We learned of the grapes that were grown, the vegetables and herbs cultivated to revictual passing East India Company ships.To this day some of those original plants still survive: there’s a pear tree, and part of the wild almond hedge used to keep the local inhabitants at bay.

1750_Bellin_Map_of_Cape_Town,_South_Africa_-_Geographicus_-_Gundriss-bellin-1750Even before the Dutch arrived with their culinary traditions, there was the natural bounty of Africa: from the abundant oyster beds of the Cape, to the apparently inexhaustible herds of game, not to mention a wide array of indigenous plants. But the culinary influence of the settlers is indisputable.

Recently I’ve not been revictualling in the Cape of Good Hope, I’ve been revictualling in Braunston, the heart of the UK canal system, a village that must surely have been a revictualling station since the day that the first canal boat passed though in the late 1770s.

Today you could easily cruise through Braunston, marvelling at its proud history, admiring the historic boats moored in and around the marina and possibly stopping for water, fuel or a pump out not realizing that it is a perfect place to revictual. Don’t rush through, I urge you to stop, for at least a day or two, and check out the revictualling opportunities. Braunston canal If it’s just a few basic provisions you’re after, you could do very well by stopping at The Boat Shop at the bottom lock. You’ll get milk, cheese, sugar, tea, various tinned foods, ice-cream and many other basics. What you’ll also find are all sorts of painted canal ware for your kitchen, from mugs and teapots to biscuit tins.

Sticking to the tow path,  you’ll find Gongoozler’s Rest. Gongoozler* or not, it’s a haven for those who are in need of a slap-up breakfast the likes of which it’s impossible to find anywhere else in the vicinity of Braunston. There’s the Gongoozler’s Breakfast, the Individual Breakfast, omlettes and a vegetarian option too. And the vegetarian option isn’t just a nod to vegetarians either. It’s a proper breakfast that will certainly not leave you feeling short-changed. If one of their giant breakfasts is not what you’re after I’m quite sure you could be easily tempted by a slice of cake or a bacon roll.

But a canal would not be a canal without a decent pub looking out over its waters and Braunston is well served by the Admiral Nelson. It lies at the end of the ominous-sounding Dark Lane but the approach by water is of course more fitting.Admiral Nelson

Here you’ll find something for both boaters and gongoozlers alike. You can have an elegant and fine meal in the restaurant section or a beer on the grass overlooking the lock. And the staff are kind and obliging and will even fill your own beer mug with a pint of Nelson’s Nectar as you dash from boat to pub and back while filling and emptying the lock.

Nelson's Nectar

All are well catered to along this stretch of canal, thirsty dogs provided for, too, by a kind boater.

*  According to wikipedia “Gongoozler” may have been canal workers’ slang for an observer standing apparently idle on the towpath. Though it was used derisively in the past, today the term is regularly used, perhaps with a little irony, by gongoozlers to describe themselves and their hobby.

The word may have arisen from words in Lincolnshire dialect: gawn and gooze, both meaning to stare or gape. It might be presumed that such an expression would date from the nineteenth century, when canals were at their peak, but the word is only recorded from the end of that century or the early twentieth. It was given wider use by the late L. T. C. Rolt, who used it in his book about canal life, Narrow Boat, in 1944.

“Gongoozler” as a term may also be used in any circumstance in which people are spectating without contributing to either the content or interest of an event.

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