When I think of canals, I think of Venice or Amsterdam. But I recently discovered that these aren’t the only cities crisscrossed by canals. Good old London has them too!
London’s (and Britain’s) canal system was a child of the Industrial Revolution and its demand for cheap transport for goods and commodities. It may sound odd to modern ears but the boats were horse-drawn and the horses walked along the tow paths. One horse could carry thirty tonnes at a time. Nowadays, water buses transport passengers to and from Camden Town.
The horse-drawn boats are long gone but the canals still remain and became part of a lifestyle. The area known as Little Venice consists of a pool of water where the Grand Union and Regent’s canals meet. It is sought after as it provides a posh postcode on the (relatively) cheap, as this is where houseboats can be moored. It is a lovely, quiet area surrounded by mainly elegant Georgian houses along tree-lined streets.
Regent’s Canal lies just north of Central London. It is 8.6 miles (13.8 km) long and was built in the early 1800’s as an alternative way to transport goods to Paddington Station. Some sections of the tow path are open to the public and some are for residents only. I walked along Regent’s Canal for a while on a sunny spring day. It was a very pleasant stroll and it provided a glimpse into houseboat life.
There isn’t much space so every nook and cranny is filled with stuff. The small kitchens -or should I call them galleys? – were very functional and luminous. Many boats had a table and one or two chairs on deck to take advantage of the fine weather, as well as potted plants and even gardening implements. As far as I know, some moorings (hopefully all) offer full facilities: showers, washers and dryers and the like, as well as connection to water, electricity and phone services. There were well-tended patches of garden along the tow path brimming with spring blooms.
It seems to me that living on a houseboat fulfills both the desire to own a house and the freedom to take it with you, as some British narrow boats are capable of navigating the European canal systems.