The canal ways of North London are relatively little-known to the hordes of tourists that throng to London year-round. Perhaps this might be different in the summer months, but on a cold winter’s day like yesterday there wasn’t a soul around, aside from some coots, the odd jogger, an elegant swan or two and some hardy canal residents, stoking their smoky wood burners as they struggled to keep warm on the chilly water.
Regent’s Canal, built in the early 19thCentury, is the ‘granddad’ of them all, part of the Grand Union Canal (220ks from London to Birmingham), it runs for almost 14ks from Paddington in the West over to Limehouse Basin in East London and is just a few streets away from our loft in Shoreditch. There’s a tow-path alongside which is lined with houseboats, barges and narrow boats lived in by folk seeking an alternative roaming lifestyle, wanting no permanent fixed address and no council taxes around their necks.
For the boaties who choose a canal life, mooring is temporary and ranges from 48 hours up to 2 weeks, then you’re supposed to move on and negotiate the many locks along the way that look, to the uninitiated, laborious and immensely challenging things to deal with. Though I saw one capable woman negotiating a lock, all crankshafts and ropes, with a baby strapped to her chest, so clearly, I’m a complete nelly when it comes to canal business!
Amazingly, en-route to a gossipy catch up lunch with old UK friend Charlotte, we ran into another old friend from Sydney, Nick. We knew he’d moved back to the UK and was living on a house-boat, but really, the odds of bumping into him whilst he refuelled were, we thought, rather incredible. We hope to catch up with him again in the coming weeks, in a different spot of course, somewhere along the house-boat network.
During the week the canals are dead quiet and a lovely way to wander across from say Shoreditch Park over to the Coal Drops Yard in King’s Cross, with a pit-stop in a cosy pub in Angel half way along. Hardly anyone around, aside from the odd jogger. I loved one particular sign pinned to a low arched bridge – ‘Be more tortoise and less hare’ – good advice!