I like a good, brisk walk. Embracing. Invigorating. Especially out in the country. This time of the year, autumn, is the best for walks I find. Where I used to live, going for a walk meant taking urban streets to the park. Love that park and walking in it, but getting there was boring….avoiding doggy doo on the pavements (sidewalks) and crossing streets with cars on the move everywhere. To get to the country, you have to drive or take a train.
That’s why I love living on the boat with the canals right by. Running alongside the canals is a towpath. They are, or were, an integral part of the canal system in Britain. Before engines were used in the narrow boats, Horses towed the boats along the canals from the side, the towpath. For every foot of canal in Britain, there is a towpath alongside. If I am correct, you can walk from London to Scotland along a towpath. A beautiful walk at any point….even through the major towns and cities.
I live on the Grand Union Canal. I could, if I took the notion, walk the length of it from London to Birmingham, 145 miles. I’ve cruised around 70 miles of it. I can tell you it would make a great walk. Just in my short section of the Grand Union, you can sit quietly while King Fishers fish, otters frolic, swans hiss at you, ducks laugh at you, Canada Geese honk at you, Herons look down on you and even mink play along the banks. Under the water, a variety of fish from barbels, bleak and bream to chub, carp, perch, pike and my favourite, the three-spined stickleback can be caught and released.
On my walks, I meet Chris along the way who comes to fish on his days off to get away from a world that increasingly ‘gets on my tits’ as he describes it. We philosophise and try to set the old world to rights. The man is a gem. He loves the towpath because, he says, ‘everyone is friendly and says hello’ or stops to chat. ‘You find all the good people along here’ he says. ‘No terrorists or baddies, just decent human beings.’
There is only one group that terrorizes the towpaths. They don’t mean to, but they have, many of them, become a menace of late….the cyclists. Many of them go hell-bent-for-leather along the towpaths with little consideration for the walkers. They sneak up on you at a rate of knots and whiz by without a ring of a bell or an ‘Excuse Me’, expecting the walkers to psychically move aside for them. It’s unnerving. Campaigns have begun, posting signs along the way asking cyclists to slow down at least. So far it has elicited little heed.
But I unwittingly got my own back on one cyclist a while ago. I was on my way back from buying groceries and saw a boat ready to go through one of the locks near our place. We are a friendly and helpful bunch, we boaters, so I called to the chap at the helm, who looked to be alone, if he would like any help opening the lock gates. he said he would. I turned off the path toward the lock when, to my surprise, a cyclist travelling at the speed of light had decided to go around me the way I was turning. There had been no warning of his impending arrival.
Accidents have happened on towpaths between walkers and cyclists. Some of them have been quite catastrophic where human contact is concerned. My encounter had all the hallmarks of just such a disaster. But I will give this particular cyclist accolades for steering adeptness. He missed me. Unfortunately, as he turned his wheel to bypass me, he had nowhere to go but into the canal….which he did. For a brief moment I thought he might fly over the watery expanse, much like the kids ferrying ET to safety. Nope. Right in.
I shall not repeat what the chap in question said to me from his vantage point. Somehow, I was to blame for his unwanted baptism. To the rescue came an even more scathing verbiage from the boater I was about to help. He told the cyclist, in no uncertain terms, that he deserved what he got and was lucky not to have hit me. He said he’d be my witness. The cyclist pulled himself out of the water, then his bike, said nothing, left us both with a look that could kill and sloshed off down the towpath, even faster that ever. He obviously learned nothing.
The boater and I laughed until we cried, then philosophised on the need for cyclists to be more courteous, more thoughtful and perhaps to leave the towpath to the walkers as God intended, even though neither of us believe in God. Anyway, the terror continues. Just yesterday another cyclist flew by me without a word of apology. The next topic for me and Chris next time. Even the fish aren’t safe from cyclists.