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.
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|