The river continues to curl deeper into Essex and on towards Bishop’s Stortfort, but the rain continues to fall and the levels are rising. The pitter patter on the roof isn’t creating the cozy, comforting, snug feeling it usually does. The locks are neither here nor there, at 13.25ft they’re wider than single but not enough space for two boats meaning that roping is a certainty as the paddles are pretty sharp. Opened in the 1780’s the canalised navigation was originally part of grander plans to link London to Kings Lynn, main cargos included: wheat, beans, peas, flour, coal and pigeon dung.
On past Parndon Mill that’s been immaculately restored since the 1960’s and serves as a creative place for artists with all sorts of skills. With a long history dating back to a mention in the Domesday Book the mill has fallen victim to numerous fires, due to the combustible nature of the flour milled from the grain produced from the rich surrounding farm land.
…And then we came to Harlow.
Moored just by the station, with a waterpoint just a boat’s length back it wasn’t rural idylic but there were plus points. Plus the town is just a short walk away. Brain child of world-renowned architect Sir Frederick Gibberd, the town’s promoters promise, ‘Whether you’re planning a few hours, a few days or a lifetime here, Harlow won’t disappoint.’ A New Town, built after World War II to ease overcrowding caused by bombing during the Blitz it boasts Britain’s first pedestrian precinct and ‘modern style’ residential tower block. With rail links to London Liverpool Street and proximity to the M11 it has secured itself as part of the London commuter belt. Like it or not, you can’t argue with anywhere that offers up Poundland, Wilkos, 99p Store AND Savers all one after the other.
It was set to be a quiet night since the trains have all but stopped but a car has rolled up, crammed full of passengers who seem to enjoy listening to the same thumping beats, over and over and over. Okay bring back the rain.
Time was up in Little Venice so we detangled our ropes from our neighbour’s, shuffled boats about, then stopped at the tap for gallons and gallons of water. The washing machine was going flat-out for most of the day. Under Cafe Laville where Nick sent a few lattes, flat whites and green teas flying by testing the horn. Amazing how small London canal world soon squashes – turning down into Camden we passed our neighbour midway through a trip boat commentary. A top lock hanger joined us – as did a volunteer, which was a bonus.
Camden was crazy busy, the lock gates double as benches, with some long-term sitters no longer recognising them as integral to the working of the lock. It took a while, but we emerged the otherside and began the run along to Kings Cross. The Islington moorings are few in number and strictly single moor but they’re very nice and have a waterpoint close by.
Bethnal Green wound round, and back, and in on itself, Victoria Park was packed with all sorts of boats and boaters – just about anything can pop out of a hatch along there. The light had begun to fade as we dropped through the final lock and into Limehouse – deserted compared to the last time we were here, we pitched up, the only boat hugging the concrete wall last night.
When the rain finally cleared and the sun broke through we walked down through Canary Wharf and beautiful West India Docks before ending up in Millwall – aside from a walk along the Thames the main purpose of the trip was to buy fire lighters…it’s not easy in London. Don’t Londoners have fires?
Back at Limehouse we moved over to the super sucky pump-out machine that managed to get right down to our green light. Yay. Fire lit, shit pumped and chicken in – even city life can stay relatively simple.
Forget asking to share mooring rings, guarding your offside from moor alongsiders and expecting any sort of gap between your boat and the next, London is a whole different ball game – one continual loop of musical boats where everyone ropes up to anything that keeps them roughly secured to the towpath, it’s not that people aren’t nice, everyone gets along well enough, it’s just the way it is.
So, writing from a different patch of water from the one we’d expected to sleep on, we took advantage of this evening’s boat shuffle and hooked up to the nearest waterpoint before settling in for the night – possibly.
A couple of days discovering and re-discovering London we’ve come across all sorts: NFL on Regent’s Street (good, but the drains were oh so stinky), Covent Garden, a lively Speakers’ Corner (not one for you SFR), Kensington Gardens, Trafalgar Square, the National Portrait Gallery (loved that)…
The house boats across the water and the enormous Georgian houses beyond make for a pretty good view, meanwhile they get to look a stack of us boaters; one big cocktail of people all getting something from the canal, somehow it seems to work.
Despite far less boat travel than normal we seem to have been all over the place this last week, thanks to legs and trains. Our mental web of London continues to gradually grow and some roads are magically beginning to link up, making a few convenient loops.
Unfortunate enough to take navigational advice from SFR, AJ and UM arrived at Paddington having traipsed through most of London on foot – this wasn’t made any more enjoyable by a very large roll of rubber we’d asked them to bring along. It was lovely to catch up with the ‘la famille’ and with London dangling off tube stops it doesn’t take too long to get right back down to the Thames and onto the South Bank. The tower poppy display is spreading, apparently the appeal for volunteers to plant the ceramic flowers was overwhelming.
‘Home’ in terms of family is now just a 30 minute Southern Rail ride away (when there hasn’t been a fatality on the line that is), which feels so local compared to Manchester or Birmingham. Swiss Family came up trumps with a great book to aid our London adventure and it was brilliant to see so many familiar faces in one place!
Having maxed out our stay in Paddington Basin we untied and headed out for water in Little Venice followed by a mega shop at the mammoth Sainsbury’s at Kensal Green. Boats boats boats everywhere, every shape, every sort, pretty much anything goes. Little Venice is twinkling tonight, breasted up and not far along from our lovely neighbours from Paddington Basin, so far so good – although the far end, beyond the designated visitor moorings has some pretty nasty bags of grot on the tow path and so much rubbish dumped in the water it’s actually impossible to moor.
It’s been a bit of a whirlwind last few days, but London life is beginning to shape up nicely.