Monday, April 25, 2016

Meandering through London's other world and a meeting with a special blog pal

Going to London last week wasn't only about the London Book Fair; it was also an opportunity to do what Koos and I do best - canal walking.

London is blessed with a number waterways that most people rarely notice unless they use them for cruising, cycling or walking. When I was a child, we just used to head for the Thames. My father loved to take us to the docks or to the Embankment where we could see ships of all shapes and sizes loading, unloading or just lying at their moorings. As a former naval man, he was drawn to the river and I remember well that on frequent Monday evenings, he would go down to the Thames to join his former seaman buddies on one of the Admiralty ships that lay off the South Bank. I forget its name now, but the one he went to was used as a kind of club. Oddly enough, though, the canals were never an attraction for him. Not that I can remember anyway. In those days, I honestly think they tended to be just somewhere for people to dump rubbish and old shopping trolleys.

With the resurgence of interest in canal boating, however, the canals have come back into their own and they are now places where people escape from the press and stress of city life. On the second afternoon of our stay, and once I'd finished at the LBF, we took a bus east, eventually getting off at Mile End, right by the Regent's Canal. Our bus route had taken us through the colurful eastern districts of Whitechapel and Stepney Green which have traditionally always been populated by an eclectic mix of people. They are busy, multi-cultural and lively, but when we stepped down to the canal towpath from the A11 main road, just next to the Queen Mary University of London, it was like stepping through that wardrobe door in the Narnia stories into a different world. It really was. The noise, traffic and fumes of the city streets vanished and peace descended. Sure, we had to watch out for the commuter cyclists who sped along the towpath as their chosen route, but almost without fail, these were gracious in their thanks for our consideration. It's as if a gentler spirit comes over people when they are close to the water, isn't it? So as we wandered north between the array of narrowboats that lined the canal side to our left and Mile End Park to our right, the tranquillity was incredibly therapeutic.


At the end of the park, we came to the Regent's Canal junction with the Herford Union Canal that led off to the north east, so of course we had to follow that. According to the map, this section runs between South Hackney and Bow, and I was sure I recognised images from Walter Steggles' paintings of the canal at Bow. I may be imagining it but it all looked familiar and as if nothing much had changed since this great East London artist painted his memorable works in the 1930s. Just exchange the working barges for a few run down narrowboats and the scene is just the same,




 At some distance along the Hertford Union Canal, we sat on a bench and chatted to a charming chap complete in city suit who was enjoying a smoke in the evening air. He told us quite a bit about the area and how it was becoming 'gentrified' at the expense of the local people. I wasn't surprised to hear that although developers are obliged to build a quota of social housing, there is still considerably less than there was before. As usual, then, the original locals can no longer live in the areas in which they grew up. There is simply not enough affordable housing as the private properties are way beyond their means...beyond anybody's I would have thought. The average price for a canal side apartment? Somewhere around GBP 1 million!


A little further along and under another bridge, the canal joins the Lea River, at which point we decided it was time to call it a day.

The next aftenoon, being Thursday, I left the LBF and met Koos at Tower Hill underground station. From there, we went down to the river at Wapping to see some friends of ours who have their barges on the Hermitage Moorings. We spent a lovely couple of hours with them, but in the end the motion of the rocking barge on the Thames got to my stomach and we had to retreat to the shore. All the same, we had another great walk through the old redeveloped docklands to Shadwell Basin, another haven of stillness right next to the tourist trap gone mad that is the Tower of London and its famous bridge. It's amazing how quiet and peaceful it is there, and yet the wall to wall tourists are just a couple of streets away. I can only liken it to being in the unreal calm of the eye of a storm.

Shadwell Basin: The calm eye in London's tourist storm 

On our final day, we left London and caught the train out to Southend which was where we'd flown into. One of the reasons for choosing this destination was that I'd particularly wanted to see an exhibition of paintings by The East London Group (see ref Walter Steggles earlier) that I knew was on at Southend's Beecroft Gallery. We'd also planned to meet up with a couple of long term blog pals. For me, it was the chance I'd been wanting for years to meet the very special and truly lovely Fran of the blog Bonnie of Clyde fame. For Koos, it was a reunion with a blog friend of old too. 

What a terrific day that was. The exhibition was great, but the meeting with Fran was just the highlight of my trip. We had so much to talk about and as we both knew we would, we got on like a house on fire straight away and I am now on a promise to take a ferry over and visit her on her barge, something I am looking forward to doing immensely. So to finish off this rather long (okay it's me) post, here are a couple of photos to prove it. Have a great week everyone and I promise, yes, I really do, that my next post won't be as long as this one!

The wonderful paintings of  The East London Group

Fabulous Fran from Bonnie of Clyde


17 comments:

  1. Oh my!
    Well isn't that great that you have met up with the lovely Fran, I envy you Val :)
    I have always found great solace from being next to water, no matter wether it is at the coast, at a canal or even by the side of lough, it comforts me.

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    1. It was wonderful to meet Fran, Mel! And yes, water does bring peace, doesn't it?

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  2. What a wonderful few days, Val :)

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    1. It was lovely, Cathy. It amazes me there are these quiet spots in London.

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  3. How exciting, I had no idea there were canals in the city of London. I can imagine they are peaceful hideaways too. I have been to Southend - for a few years our daughter was teaching in Essex, not too far from there. I like the sound of the East London group exhibition, something I would enjoy. Best of all, you met a Blog friend - always a great experience :)

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    1. Patricia, I think you would have enjoyed the exhibition. Southend itself isn't much to write home about, but it was a very special day!

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  4. How wonderful, to turn your back on London's usual excitements, and find the bits that mean the most to you!

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    1. Always Jo. Having grown up in London, its usual excitements aren't all that exciting for me anymore, but I love the colour and vibrancy of its diverse neighbourhoods…and the canals are just magic!

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  5. Trust you to get another barge post out of your visit!!You are as bad as me and libraries!

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    1. Every bit as bad, CarolStar. It's cos we love them, isn't it?

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  6. Nothing you write could ever be too long, Val! What a marvelous part of London you and Koos experienced - the best part! I love what you said about a gentler spirit settling over people near water. Great photos and wonderful words to support them. Thanks!

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    1. Thank you, Steph! I am so glad you like it and don't get fed up with reading my over long posts. I must learn to keep them shorter though. It's my failing!

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  7. Hi Val - I owe you a couple of visits - I'll be back once the frenetic life as eased sometime - when I've no idea.

    What an amazing trip this was - lots accomplished, places visited - the Shadwell district does look amazing to visit and to see - I hope at some stage to spend some time there ... and in Greenwich.

    Glad Southend worked out so well - and these small airports can have their advantages at times ... happy days - seeing the art work and then meeting Fran - looks just wonderful ... cheers Hilary

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    1. Well, Hilary, you've more than made up for anything here. Thank you for a lovely comment!

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  8. Towpath cyclists really irritate me. Have they never heard of warning walkers by ringing their bells? Oh, and have you ever been to Birmingham? Fantastic city canal walks there

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    1. I haven't been to Birmingham, Stephanie, but it's been high on my wish list for years! I'd LOVE to go there! I must say these towpath terrorists - sorry, cyclists - were very good. Nearly all of them rang their bells, but it could be because they are daily users who go to work by bike, so they probably realise it's in their own interests to warn people.

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  9. Thank you Val, it was so lovely to meet you too. It was great how we had never met in real life before (although it did take far too long) and yet I felt like I was with an old friend :). It will not be nine years until we meet again! Xxx

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