Saturday, 9 August 2014

A day out on London's Canals

It was all The Boy's fault.  Some weeks ago now, he wanted, unusually for him, to watch television.  So we turned on CBeebies, and there was a programme about a canal trip in Scotland, going on the Falkirk Wheel, lucky them.  And we talked about canal boats, and he reminded me that he'd been on one for his Great-Baa's 90th birthday, when we'd gone on the Wey and Arun Canal.  I was thinking that a trip on the Waterbus from Little Venice to Camden Market and back might be a plan - I have vague memories from when I was little of going on the Waterbus to the Zoo, presumably over fifty years ago!

So when I got home that night, I looked up the London Waterbus Company's website, and they were advertising these day trips.  So very bravely I rang up to enquire, but got their answering-machine, and was very pleasantly surprised that they got back to me a couple of hours later to say that at the time they weren't sure whether the trip would go ahead, but they would get back to me a couple of weeks before the date to confirm. Which they duly did, and the tickets arrived in the post.

And yesterday was the big day.  We were scheduled to leave from Camden Lock at 09:30, so for a more pleasant trip in the rush hour - although, as it is August the Tube wasn't too crowded anyway - we left from Brixton and changed at Euston.  We weren't quite sure there was time to get coffee, so managed without.

The waterbus was called The Water Ouzel, and was a converted narrow-boat, with seats like an old-fashioned bus - not all that comfortable for a whole day!  Fortunately it didn't rain, so the sides were rolled up and we could see plenty.  The bodies of the 1950s and 1960s might have fitted comfortably four abreast, though, but those of the 2010s didn't, really, and there was much sucking-in of breath whenever anybody had to walk down the length of the boat to the loo at the back (they had lovely-smelling soap; I looked to see what it was but I don't think it was what it said on the tin, as that said it was tea-tree).

We set off down the Regent's Canal towards the Thames.  The canal drops about 86 feet through a series of locks, and, thanks to a girl on a bicycle, we weren't held up at many of them.  Mostly we shared the lock with another boat - a holiday let for the first part, then a narrow-boat that has been restored to its former glory called "Empress", and finally, towards the end of the day, the Tarporley

After the first three sets of locks, we went past St Pancras and its eponymous lock, and then past King's Cross.  Apparently the lines from King's Cross go under the canal, whereas the ones from St Pancras go over it.  Then came the horrible Islington Tunnel, which was not pleasant, but I concentrated on looking at photos of my phone and we did, eventually, come out the other end.

After this, we were held up for a bit by a digger blocking the canal.  Apparently, electric cables run underneath the towpath, and somebody had accidentally driven a spike through one, fortunately when the electricity was turned off.  So when it came back on again - ka-BOUM!  And this was being repaired.  But they were supposed to have reopened the canal at 11:00 and it was well past that - we had to wait for about 30 minutes while it did move, with serious ungraciousness on both sides!  However, we were eventually away, down through Islington, Hackney, and so on, and eventually past Victoria Park and the entrance to the Hertford Union canal (Duckett's), and arrived just outside Limehouse Basin shortly after one.  We were told to be back at the boat just before 2, so we got out and found somewhere to sit and eat our lunches, and then went off for a walk round the Limehouse Basin - one can, as I thought, walk all the way round it - and a quick look at the Thames. 
Then it was back to the boat, and we set off across the basin and up the Limehouse Cut, the oldest canal in London, past the Bow locks (which name the rather stupid couple sitting behind us thought was screamingly funny)
Three Mills
and on past what is now the Queen Elizabeth Park - we were given a map diagramming the various waterways through it, but most of them are not yet open to navigation.

Finally we turned left into the Hertford Union.
When we got to the locks, they suggested we get out at the bottom lock and walk up to the top lock, if we would like; there was a shop where one could buy ice-cream, apparently.  So we did.  But then the boat didn't come and didn't come and didn't come, and we were left hanging about at the top lock for about an hour.  Sadly, someone had failed to shut the sluices after using the middle lock, and there wasn't enough water in the basin between them.  So we had to wait while it filled up - they opened the sluices of both gates in the upper lock.  Finally it came up and we were able to continue our journey, back on to the Regent's Canal, back through Hackney and Hoxton, back through the Islington Tunnel and, finally, back to Camden. 

We were tired by then, and hungry, and decided to eat before we set off home.  The local Wetherspoons was incredibly busy and incredibly noisy, but next door was a Japanese restaurant called Hi Sushi Salsa, which we chose.  It was mostly sushi, which the Swan Whisperer doesn't really like, and although I like it, I have no idea how much to order for a main meal, so we both went with noodles.  He ordered udon with seafood, which he said was lovely, and I ordered gyozi ramen.  Which was also delicious, but I found the ramen and broth under-seasoned; unusually, it could have used more salt, and I would have liked a touch of chilli or Japanese ginger in it.  The pork gyozi (pot-stickers to my American friends) were absolutely lovely, delicately seasoned and I wished there had been more!  We then ordered ice-cream - at least, that's what I thought I'd ordered (the Swan Whisperer went for mint choc chip!), but it turned out to be ice-cream in some kind of skin, called mochi, which Wikipedia tells me is a kind of sticky rice cake.  Delicious, but not quite what I was expecting!  And Tiger beer to drink, which I don't think we've had since we were in Hong Kong over 30 years ago!

Then we really did head home, staying on the Northern Line all the way - and when we got off the Tube, the rain that had been promised to spoil our day had finally arrived!  Luckily there was a P5 fairly soon, so we didn't get too wet, and we got in just after 9:00 pm.  I was very, very tired!


  1. You are the champion of being a tourist in your hometown. I love it! The tour makes me think of Samuel Pepys, who is always talking in his diary about going places "by water." Pepys probably wouldn't have known from ramen noodles, however!

    1. Arguably not.... and the water Pepys was talking about was, of course the Thames, which was the principal highway in those days. The canals had not yet been built, nor would they be for another century.

      The thing about London is that there are always new things to see and do - and with the grandson, new eyes to see and to do them. This trip was unsuitable for children, but it was still great fun.