You think you’ve seen it all and then you travel the canals of Britain into the city of London. The trip on our 60 foot narrowboat was to end at Limehouse Marina right beside the Thames in East London. We gave ourselves 2 weeks. 2 boats, ours ‘The Glad Victor’ and Eddie’s and Miriam’s “My Precious’ (our marina neighbours) travelled together down the Grand Union Canal and across and down The Paddington Arm of the Grand UnionCanal into the heart of London.
Only a couple of problems though. There was no room for us at the Limehouse Marina during the time we had chosen to travel and major work was being done on the locks at Camden Town with a total closure at the critical time when we would have been returning from Limehouse. The marina manager at Limehouse said he’d let us moor outside the marina along the 20 foot high wall, but none of us fancied climbing up ladders to get to civilisation and so that wasn’t an option. We’d play it all by ear.
Our first day out was a relative breeze. 2 other friends came with us to help with the locks and enjoy the pleasures of cruising. They are landlubbers, Sandy and Graham, friends who live in one of the apartments surrounding our marina. They helped with locks and steering and such until we reached Rickmansworth. Then we all partied on the back of the boats, went to dinner and said goodbye to our landlubber neighbours.
The next morning we set off. We were in uncharted waters for us. Eddie had been this way before and led the way. The amazing thing about The Grand Union Canal, even down into the city, is the diversity along the way and mostly feeling like you’ve never left the countryside. The banks are lined with trees and other greenery, reeds and the like. It has been well-preserved, even to the point of overgrowth. Positively bosky. There were sections where I thought I was on The African Queen, my best friend taking the place of Kate Hepburn.
We cruised through Copper Mill Lock N0. 84 and south to Black Jack’s Lock No. 85. With a name like that I was expecting a story of nefarious goings on, maybe a smugglers’ or thieves’ den or some fellow named Jack who murdered people. No….it was an old flour mill and no one knows who Jack was. Which is a mystery in and of itself. But never mind. Out of the lock we went, under Black Jack’s bridge. And there it lay.
I almost lost my tiller. Over on the left bank sat a crocodile. A great bigger than life reptile. There is precedent here. Some people photographed a croc somewhere down along the Thames a while a go. Real or not? No one can say. And you hear tales of crocs in the sewers from time to time. I stared at this one, but it didn’t move. No one on Eddie’s boat seemed concerned, so I assumed it was a fake….a damned good one too.
When we got to the next lock, Eddie told me the croc wasn’t even a stuffed real one, just a plastic thing. Could’a fooled me. Eddie said it had been there for years. But last time he passed by here in another boat, the croc’s mouth was open with a baby inside….not a real one of course. I guess the years since then have politically corrected such attempts at humour. I’d have put an effigy of Tony Blair in its mouth. Not going there though.
On we went, along to Uxbridge, with no harrowing incidents when suddenly, up ahead, hanging from a steel beam on the skeleton of an old cement factory, I thought I saw King Kong. It wasn’t. Someone years ago put the monkey up there and not a soul would dare remove it. We are nothing as human beings if not superstitious. It brings all who pass under it good luck. We needed it, we were heading toward Southall.
We were making our way to the Paddington Arm of The Grand Union Canal. You’d think it was the best kept secret on the Cut. Here you are, chugging along, straight ahead because the canal doesn’t deviate at this point and suddenly, with no warning, an old, white, stone bridge appears to the left. If there is a sign pointing out that under this small bridge begins The Paddington Arm of The Grand Union Canal, I didn’t see it. Not even when I discovered what the bridge led to and looked for a sign.
Turn the boat 90 degrees, under the bridge and onto The Paddington Arm….I hope. but Eddie, at least, knew the way. We passed a marina and some parks and homes. This section of the Cut seemed more urban and easy to ignore. Up ahead swam a mess of swans. I’d never seen so many in one place on the canal. At last, something ordinary. Swans. Beyond the swans we moored up for the night, as far away from people as possible except for other boaters. Out came the Prosecco and the barbecue.
The next day we headed toward Alperton and were scheduled to moor alongside one of Eddie’s friend’s boat and the boat of someone else mooring there. It was a relatively short journey, but the rubbish people throw into the canals was beginning to build up. You could hear it trying to interfere with the boat’s propeller. You wouldn’t believe what people throw or drive into the canals. But more on that another time.
For now, we were about to be entertained by a magician who also happens to be a comedian. A real comedian, not just a funny guy. But more about him in the next Blog. This has been enough excitement for two days. Read on and be amazed, bedazzled and certainly bemused.