diamond geezer

 Sunday, October 14, 2012

Limehouse: In Limehouse Basin a motor cruiser sails past the canal entrance searching for its mooring. One jetty used by Water Chariots during the Games is very very empty, while at the other fifteen black motorboats have been mothballed beneath plastic covers. Under the DLR viaduct, a man with a windlass pushes open the lock gates while his young family watches. Their little boat (named Petit Bateau) is tied up by the footbridge, with an iPad and some delicatessen bread laid out on deck. For them a journey up towards Islington awaits, whereas my eight and a half mile walk is over.
Mile End Park: Clunky hire bikes and sleek two-wheelers are out in number. Boats at winter moorings have chopped logs and herb gardens on the roof. Where warehouses stood a decade ago, now geometric flats with tinted balconies hold sway. A cluster of retail boats sell vintage clothing, tea and cupcakes, or will if anybody stops. South of Mile End Road the bustle ceases. Only a few continue past the empty park, the weedy locks, brick chimney and preening swans.
Hackney: A gradual descent of locks, between converted warehouses and new-build flats. This is the trendiest part of the canal, overrun by beardy youth in chunkyknit scarves. By the Rosemary Branch a boat owner in snood and yellow trainers emerges and locks up. At De Beauvoir Town the towpath cafes throng with Observer readers. Towards Broadway Market the towpath throngs with dogwalkers, couples and joggers. It's almost too busy for bikes, but repeated tings help force dozens of cyclists through.
Islington: Beyond the tunnel, over the hill, and through the Farmers' Market (that's lunch sorted). Through the eastern portal comes the sound of chugging with distant lights in the gloom. A neon sculpture dives into the water by City Basin. Past the barge selling coffee is a barge selling books. The launch of David Fathers' new Regent's Canal title is underway. The author signs ten pound copies while his supporters swig wine from plastic beakers on the towpath. He signs my copy with a flourish, thankfully believing I bought it elsewhere last week. Glad I kept the receipt!
King's Cross: A narrowboat named Arthur Dent is moored up beneath the railway at St Pancras Lock. Tall red cranes reflect in the water as plastic bottles float by. Granary Square is not yet the beating heart of a new neighbourhood - a security guard keeps watch by the fountains. Noah's dad is trying to teach him how to weave his tricycle between the oncoming joggers. A noisy swan flaps the length of Battlebridge Basin. Time for a diversion into the London Canal Museum.
Camden: A mixed aroma of global food wafts from the quayside Market. Grab noodles, try halloumi, or buy calamari off a teen with tunnel earrings. Photographers sidestep one another, trying to capture the best shot. Five men stand around an open cover in the towpath, staring at a broken pump. TV-AM's rooftop eggcups overlook a wire-mesh duckling stuffed with plastic bags. Only a few tourists leave the bustle of the Lock and wander away beside the water beneath the streets.
Regents Park: The first flush of autumn gilds the leaves. Nash's grand mansions rise from canalside lawns. Two swans glide by, rippling the flat water. A number of international tourists are out enjoying a brief stroll along the towpath. In the Snowdon Aviary the birds are aflutter, but the rest of the Zoo's animals stay silent. A small group of novices from London Kayak Tours lower their craft into the water and paddle away.
Lisson Grove: Above the cutting, the substation hums. A woman in red lycra bends and stretches by the tunnel mouth. A steady stream of Sunday morning joggers pants by - I step aside to let them pass. Alongside the private moorings one owner relaxes in her deckchair, soaking up the morning sun. Radio 4 floods indistinctly through an open window.
Little Venice: It's a crisp blue morning at the triangular basin. The sun gleams off a creamy-white stucco terrace. Oaky woodsmoke puffs from a narrowboat chimney. There are still seats available for breakfast aboard the Floating Boater, if you hurry. The first waterbus of the day is preparing for to transport a handful of early tourists to Camden. The Regent's Canal begins beside the old lockkeeper's cottage.


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