Friday 25th February
Way back in chilly December we went to a ‘Christmas Extravaganza’ organised by a couple of companies working for one Richard’s clients. It was indeed a big event with lavish food (including salmon from Foreman’s – we’re spotting their produce all over the place since we moored there last year 🙂 ) and a huge ‘raffle’ which included the fabulous prize of a day cruise for up to 8 people, and five dogs, on the Indigo Dream.
The very lucky winner got her party together and, after much negotiating between them, arranged their cruise for today. We were slightly nervous because who knows what the weather’s going to, ahem, spring, on us in February; any number of things could have scuppered the cruise. But we’ve had as perfect a day as we could have hoped for – not as spring-like as yesterday, but mild and dry for cruising with the odd sunny spell to keep the smiles on our faces.
We came up to the boat early this morning – enjoying a blindingly fast drive up from Surrey – we’d forgotten it was half-term – the roads were deserted! Cousin Paul had vacated the boat just before we arrived, giving us time to fill the water tank, do a pump-out and have a desultory clean before our guests arrived. Sadly Bentley, our guests’ labrador had to be left at home as he’s got a slightly manic doggie friend staying with him and they felt it would be too much to bring both. It’s a shame as I think Lynx would have enjoyed the company. Lynx has been very quiet all day – I think he’s missing his pack-mates. They haven’t really been separated for this long before so it will be interesting to see how they greet each other when we get back (probably Sunday morning).
In the meantime, we had plenty of company, with a full complement of 8 crew members – a group of old friends who enjoyed the cruise, the chatting and the on-board supplies in equal measure.
I don’t know what I expected, but the canal was just as I remembered it – fantastic! The only major change was at the end of our journey, with the newly reopened far end of Paddington Basin. It’s such a relief that the towpath is now open – it was so so awkward to access the train stations before, and there are a few extra mooring rings as well. All useful as the basin was pretty full – maybe 3 spaces available at 5pm…
But back to the start, well, sort of, I spent a large part of the day swapping between entertaining and steering so I didn’t pay a lot of attention to the surroundings apart from pointing out a few landmarks to our guests. We noted in passing that the towpath moorings in Mile End and in Victoria Park were full to bursting – ok, no news there! But it will be interesting to see how many move on when the winter mooring ‘season’ is over. According to the guys on a BW boat there are 80 boats above and below Victoria Park, no longer is it just the bit between the lock and bridge which is full.
The Regent’s Canal was otherwise deserted – we only met one other boat on the move all day, and that was at St Pancras. It was like having our own private canal! The waterway provided it’s usual fascinating contrasts – swanky canalside developments surrounded by the deprivation of Tower Hamlets; water so crystal clear you could really see the mass of submerged litter! Our guests were fascinated – it’s a truly unique view of London.
They are all keen walkers, so some of the ladies walked between the locks. They had a bit of a shock when they set off at City Road Lock without realising that the towpath-free Islington Tunnel lay ahead. They had a mini-adventure navigating the tunnel by using the plaques set in the pavement way above the canal. They found their way back to the boat at the far end of the tunnel, using a cunning combination of female intuition, frantic conversations over the phone and directions from a traffic warden – I’m amazed they’re not still wandering the streets of Islington!
We made good time up the canal – Camden Market was busy but there were only a few gongoozlers today – I was surprised, but then again, I keep thinking it’s Saturday because we’re cruising! I expect it’ll be busier on the return trip tomorrow. Don’t forget to take your BW key with you as they have welded up one gate latch and repaired another so the gates should now be locked and there are less goths to sweep into the lock.
I hadn’t expected to reach Paddington Basin before dark, but all of a sudden there we were – as always the trip didn’t seem like half enough – it’s always such a temptation to show our guests just another mile. Fortunately, mooring in a dead end prevented us from indulging the fancy! We said ‘goodbye’ to the party with some reluctance – they’d been good company and they’d obviously enjoyed the canal and the boat and were suitably complimentary about Lynx (and gave him lots of fuss).
As I mentioned, the ‘Edgware Road’ end of Paddington Basin is now open, providing a few extra mooring spaces and welcome access to Edgware Road itself. During the works which closed the towpath we’ve been exploring the eateries around Sheldon Square; but now we could back to the main road and it’s exotic mix of lebanese and other middle-eastern restaurants. We were amazed by the ‘buzz’ on Edgware Road – it’s a very atmospheric place – lots of people on the street, women laughing behind their veils and the aromatic smoke from the decorative shisha pipes being smoked outside the abundant middle-eastern restaurants. The trouble was, I fancied a Chinese takeaway and a quick Google search suggests that there isn’t a chinese takeaway within miles of the boat! How can that be? There’s normally one on every corner!
However we did find the oriental cafe/restaurant “See” just off the end of of Paddington Basin, conveniently placed near to the Tesco Metro. It’s an unassuming little place so we’ve walked past it many times without a second glance. However we had a fine meal there with some very good service – we’ll go again (they do takeaways!). Note for next time: the Pad Thai is very spicy – too much for me but just right for Richard!
By 8.30pm we were back on board – we were all knackered, including Lynx, who hasn’t slept his usual 22 hours today so maybe that’s why he’s been so quiet. We forced ourselves to stay awake – after all, we are in our prime and only children and old people go to bed that early. But by 9pm we were forced to admit defeat!
I’ll admit that the charity cruises are a bit of an effort, but they are also hugely enjoyable and today’s was particularly rewarding. The Christmas Extravaganza raffle raised an enormous amount of money for the organiser’s cause. But today’s guests also put generous donations into our Greyhoundhomer collecting tin. The charity has recently had to become self-funding (it had previously received some central funding from the Retired Greyhound Trust) so I’ll be able to hand over the £120+ which all of our guests have donated this year alone, knowing that it will make a huge difference to this small charity. Thank you everyone for your generosity – it’s much appreciated.
Richard took some great photos of the deep excavations at the Crossrail works in Paddington. The PR folk at Crossrail are working hard and I found their Paddington newsletter a good read, though it’s all about trains and doesn’t mention the canal at all!. The works are fascinating, not least because they occupy such a narrow space between the canal and the main station, neither of which can be violated! The main station features the most amazing arches with elaborate steel and glass facades designed by a young Brunel. I was relieved to find that it’s a Grade 1 listed building so Crossrail have to carefully work around it. The canal, in the meantime, is protected by sturdy piling – can you imagine what a disaster a breach would be!
Crossrail seem very aware that impressive Victorian buildings, like Brunel’s Paddington, were built to impress and impose, defining the wealth and power of the empire. I get the impression that this is what they’re aiming for on completion – though to wow rather than cow foreign visitors arriving from Heathrow.
When he looked over the works, Richard observed that the excavations seemed to go through layers of old buildings. Apparently there is a huge archaeological survey going on as they dig – as well as more modern archaeology, they’re hoping to find medieval, roman and even prehistoric artefacts. I’ve often mused on whether London will every be ‘finished’ – as soon as one building is completed another is demolished and so it goes on. But I guess that a city that’s grown organically round (some might say infested!) the river over so many centuries without any particular plan in mind can never be ‘finished’ because there’s no end point in sight! As an aside, we watched a fascinating programme on BBC the other day on ‘Britain from above’, the first episode featuring mainly wartime aerial photos of London. After the devastation of the Second World War, there ‘Abercrombie Plan’ for London would see the city laid out and organised with precise logic. Needless to say, it never caught on and, as new canalside developments attest, the city continues it’s ramshackle spread down the centuries!