ALLAN ROGERS FINDS A GRAND LIFE
ON THE GRAND UNION CANAL
What surprised me was just how quickly the bustle of the London was left behind. We had only rounded a couple of bends before nature reached her green fingers into the city.
Chugging up the canal at just over walking pace, passing under bridges decked with traffic jams we easily imagined the frustration seething above.
A waterside pub with the name ‘Grand Junction Arms’ gave a clue to the canal traffic that once was there. As he landlord cleared the relics of lunches from the waterside tables some Canada Geese flew in and helped him by removing the more choice tit bits.
As the waterside scene got progressively more pastoral, we found ducks, head down, tails up dabbling in the water and moor hens that nested on branches that swept low and almost floated on the water.
Some had already launched their family of chicks into the drama and of life afloat. Little balls of fluff scarcely bigger than an egg cheeped loudly and paddled furiously, all in different directions while the mother did her best to head off the unruly brood.
We now had sixty foot of long boat to ourselves and I began to get the hang of controlling it’s momentum, handling the tiller and aiming it round the bends.
It was hungry work and appetising smells led me to believe that my mate was doing wonderful things down in the galley. The dream was short lived, as we rounded the bend and navigated past the Heinz soup factory. With rumbly tum I wondered which of the 57 varieties was gurgling and slurping through maze of pipes.
There are about 3000 miles of navigable waterways in this country. If you travel by train sometimes you catch the occasional glimpse of canal boats adding to the kind of idyllic rural scenes that Constable might have painted. Recently I became part of the picture
In London, near Paddington, at Little Venice we joined one of the craft from Bridgewater Boats for a trip back to their base at Berkhampstead on the Grand Union Canal. What surprised me was just how quickly the bustle of the London was left behind.
At first I peered, fascinated into desirable waterside apartments, art galleries and small factories but we had only rounded a couple of bends before nature reached her green fingers into the city.
We saw our first heron, he stood aloof on one leg like a garden statue regarding us with a beady eye. With his pointed beak he was poised and ready as he waited for breakfast to swim by. We were in a green corridor of country and when we passed under bridges where there was just enough noise to make us appreciate our escape.
Every now and then the city intruded and at Ladbroke Grove where they hold the Nottinghill Carnival, we found moorings outside a large Sainsbury’s supermarket. This was useful, we might have been water gypsies but we were glad to be able to stock the onboard fridge with wine and the other essentials
Twelve miles from Paddington we found a field with cattle munching contentedly.
It was called ‘Bulls Green’ and obviously had managed to escape a few hundred years of development.
The thriving metropolis was not quite as we had imagined.
On day two of our inland voyage, we were well into the open countryside.
An aqueduct carried us across the M25 motorway to places where blossom was spilling down to the water’s edge and weeping willow lined the bank
We realised just how relaxed our pace of travel was when we were overtaken by a pair of cyclists. They were travelling along the 145 mile Grand Union Canal walk that runs all the way to Birmingham.
The tow path occasionally switched sides and when it did there were little white bridges over which once the horses that once pulled the barges would have crossed.
We chugged on exchanging waves with other long boats, often their smoke stacks gave a clue to the wood burning stove and the cosiness within.
In some stretches we passed rows of moored boats, some with their own garden on the bank.
Most were as smart as paint and decked with tubs of flowers, others had sun blistered paint, and were and barely floating.
At the locks we soon unravelled the mysteries of making boats go up hill and were surprised at how little effort it took to move the massive beams that were counter-balanced with the gates.
It was there that we took time to chat with other boaters, like the couple from Yorkshire who told us it would take them a month to navigate home. With the huge network of canals there certainly seemed no shortage of places to explore.
We admired boating dogs with coloured neckerchiefs and looked at the little cottages beside lock workings that dated back well into the 1800’s.
We slept deep that night, lulled by the gentle movement of the boat.
Just a few miles around the bend lay the old town of Berkhamsted where Lindy Foster was waiting at the historic boatyard for a daft duck to hatch her eggs in a hanging floral basket and for us to deliver the boat.
We did so firmly convinced that there was nothing quite so worth while as simply messing about in boats.
Canal Holiday Cruises http://www.canalholidays.co.uk