Wednesday 1 May 2024

Cowley Lock to Kensal Green via Little Venice. Grand Union Canal and Paddington Arm.

On our way back to the boat from Anne & Andy’s we popped in for lunch with Mum and Dad, then swung by to pick up our post from Karen’s. Back at Cowley all our holiday stuff got chucked in the boat, followed by a big pile of shopping and we spent the evening cramming everything away and making Legend look like home again. Over the years, we’ve created a lot of storage in this boat, but we’ve also gradually accumulated a lot of stuff. It is now pretty much at bursting point and one thing out of place can make the whole boat feel untidy and cluttered. Our problem of course is that all the things we’ve collected on this Voyage of Adventure hold memories of the amazing places we’ve been and the wonderful people we’ve met, and while we know we should be ruthless and regularly cull our possessions, and we’d dearly love to have clear walls and worktops, we just can’t bring ourselves to get rid of anything. C’est la vie, as they say.

On the Friday morning we shook ourselves out of holiday mode, pulled the pins and carried on down the GU. First stop was the services above Cowley lock, before a couple of CRT volunteers dropped us down onto the long Bulls Bridge pound below the lock.

This pound includes the Slough Arm, the Paddington Arm, the Regents Canal to Camden and the GU main line to Norwood; an impressive twenty six miles in total. We carried on past the Slough Arm... Yiewsley, where we stopped at a very handy Legend-sized gap right outside Tesco. We’d assumed that it would be a restricted shopping mooring, but there were no signs at all, so we stayed for a couple of nights. In the afternoon we went for a walk around Little Britain lake, but couldn’t get all the way as the path was under water, so we diverted to the road up to the Malt Shovel then came back along the canal.

Saturday was another parkrun, Stockley Country Park this time.

They were short of volunteers, so Dave helped with bar-code scanning when he finished.

On the way back to the boat we picked out a parking spot where we could leave the car while we took Legend into the city, and in the afternoon walked back to Cowley to get it.

There wasn’t a nearby junior parkrun on Sunday, so we had a rare lie-in before setting off towards Bulls Bridge where we turned left onto the Paddington Arm.

We were heading for Horsenden Hill at Perivale where we’d moored eight years ago. We remembered there being off-side visitor moorings and a lovely little park with paths leading up to the top of the hill where there were fabulous views over London. It wasn’t like that at all. The park was still there, but the off-side moorings were now all private, and when we walked up the hill we could still see bits of the city, but the trees had grown up so much it wasn’t quite the panoramic vista that we remembered.

However we got a perfectly good spot on the towpath, had a nice walk and spotted a community café in Perivale that would be open on Tuesday morning.

On our way back to the boat on Monday, Dave got knocked over by a guy on an electric bike who, in turn, went over the handlebars and ended up in the hedge. It was all a very slow-motion affair, no-one was hurt, the lad was very apologetic and we all ended up friendly, but it could easily have gone really badly. These unrestricted Ebikes are becoming a menace in and around London, and no doubt around other cities as well. If you’ve not come across them, they are - for all intents and purposes - electric motorbikes, easily capable of well over 25mph and silent, apart from the hum of their big fat tires. Unlike legal Ebikes, you don’t need to pedal to make them move, you just hit the Go button or twist the throttle and you’re off. It seems to be that because they are illegal on the roads, riders are using the towpaths where there is less chance of being caught, and they can get in and out of the city much faster. The smooth resurfaced towpaths on the southern GU and the Paddington arm are perfect for high speed electric commuting; great for the planet and the air quality, but walking beside the canal requires eyes in the back of your head and stepping off your boat is becoming a risky business.

In the morning we walked back into Perivale to the Rendezvous café. What a delightful place! Really chatty, lovely people, lovely coffee and home made Welsh cakes. And no charge, just donations. We loved it.

After that we set off for Little Venice. We’d got a booked mooring on Rembrandt Gardens from 1pm, so we pootled along the cut, over the North Circular and into the urban sprawl. It might just have been our modified memories, but it seemed to be seedier and grubbier than eight years ago; more broken or sunken boats, more rubbish and more obvious overstaying. At one point we thought we'd come across a boat on fire, but it turned out to be just a really smoky chimney.

We put our rosy specs on and focused on the good bits. All the tulips, bluebells, lilac, May and cherry blossom, surrounded by the many vibrant greens of spring was more than enough to brighten up the canal corridor as we chugged our way further into the city.

As soon as we’d tied up and had a quick brunch we were off out for a walk around Paddington and The Regent’s Park. The last time we were here we were moored in Paddington Basin right outside the tube station entrance and there was constant piling work going on in the building site opposite. These days it’s all different; that mooring is now used by a very posh looking café bar and the building site is now the very striking Brunel Building.

That evening we walked across Hyde park to the Victoria Apollo theatre to see the musical ‘Wicked’. We had tickets in the upper dress circle, almost above the lighting gallery, but it was still a great experience, and a lovely walk home.

On Wednesday morning Dave went out for a run along the Regent’s canal towpath and round Regent’s park outer circle. There were lots of other runners and cyclists doing the same thing and he found it all a bit surreal. He’s not used to his runs being social occasions.

After breakfast we set off on a mammoth walk across London starting with Camden Market.

That’s where we got our jewelled dining table light from and, because we’re going to leave it in the boat,  planned to get another one for the caravan. However, although the shop was still there and all the lights looked just as lovely as they did before, we got cold feet and decided to wait till we were in the caravan before we chose something.

From there we went - via the café at Camley St Nature Reserve behind King's Cross... the Garden @ 120 Fenchurch St and sat on a roof-top bench with our picnic.

After that we carried on to Tower Bridge - via ‘spoons for several warming coffees (including a takeaway) - then crossed over the Thames and walked along the South Bank, popping into the Tate Modern for a bit, before crossing back on Hungerford Bridge.

We got some hot chilli, hot mac-n-cheese and a bag of doughnuts in a little Sainsbury’s which we took to the Victoria Embankment Gardens and had dinner amid the beautiful tulips.

Getting going again was a struggle, but we took the shortest way back; Leicester Square, China Town, Oxford Street and Marble Arch, getting back to Legend at about 7pm. 

Dave - including his run in the morning - clocked up nearly 19 miles (43,500 steps on his pedometer). We really do try to squeeze everything into our days out, but we pushed this one to the extremes. It was terrific and we had a brilliant time but we went to bed a bit broken.

In the morning we had a saunter round Little Venice and into Paddington Central. Like everything else in this fast paced city, that has changed since we were here before; the seating and flower beds are now well established and it’s a lovely little oasis of calm, and a great lunchtime suntrap.

There was a Plant Giveaway going on, so we went online and eventually got signed up for it and came home with two very nice house plants. Legend isn’t the ideal place for horticulture; we’re so often away they either get too cold or too thirsty or both, so we tend to avoid having the responsibility. However, we seem to be doing OK with our spider plant at the moment, so we reckoned we’d be able to keep these two new ones alive till we get over to Ireland.

Pulling out of Little Venice was a bit of a rigmarole. We got back with the plants at about 11:15 and found the boat that was booked in after Legend already there and tied to a tree behind us. Our booking slot didn't end till noon and his didn’t start till 1pm so we could have made him wait, but his back end was stuck out in the navigation and while that wasn’t our fault, Dave felt that clearing off would be the most diplomatic policy.  He wasn’t pushy or anything, but the only communication we got was “No rush” then he just stood and waited for us to go, so it’s not like we missed out on a lasting friendship.  As it was we departed at about 11:30, chugged round the island and headed for the blue bridge that marks the start of the Paddington Arm. Our first priority was the services at the other end of the bridge ’ole, which is where the real fun began. There was a girl already moored on the water point facing us, so we hovered under the bridge waiting for her to finish filling up. She came out and told us that if we didn’t want to wait, there was a second tap at the other end of the bridge. We looked at the gap between the end of the café boat and the bridge, and Dave reckoned we’d just be able to slot in and still leave room for a narrowboat to get past, so we began to pull Legend backwards. At that point the girl’s water tank began overflowing, so we presumed she was finished, but she casually informed us that she’d be there for a while longer as she was going to wash her roof. CRT has published policy about water use, and washing your boat is specifically mentioned. However, diplomacy once more seemed the best policy, so we pulled back to the café boat and hooked up to the other tap.

While we were, two more boats came along the cut; happily neither of them were widebeams, and one of them joined the queue for water (or boat washing, or plant watering or whatever.) Our tank reached full at about the same time that the girl decided her roof was clean enough, so she came through the bridge to turn round and we went through the other way to carry on. Our aim was to only go as far a necessary to find an unrestricted mooring. There were still things on our London list we hadn’t done, but out finances wouldn’t stretch more than two nights in Little Venice. Since we were last here, CRT has added quite a few more bookable moorings, but has also put the price up to £25 per night. Last time it was free to more in Little Venice, Paddington and Islington and only £10 in the secure mooring at Battlebridge Basin. We really don’t have a problem with the increase; with the cuts in funding from DEFRA and inflation hitting hard, they have to get more funding from somewhere, so charging premium rates for city centre visitor moorings is really a no-brainer. We didn’t have to go far; Dave found a spot just after the big A40 flyover at Westbourne Park and pulled in. After lunch we set off for another grand walking tour, this time taking in Portobello Road in Notting Hill, the lovely Holland park, Kensington High Street with it’s fantastic Whole Food Market, then back home along Queensway.

After dinner we carried on with the theme and watched Notting Hill.

On Friday morning we had a walk along the cut to Kensal Green to see if there were any gaps and found a nice one just by the old gas works. That would put us equidistant and within easy walking for our two chosen parkruns that weekend, so we hot footed it back, fired up the mighty Lister and set off. It was a lovely sunny day and even though we didn’t go far, it was perfect to be boating. After we’d got moored up, for the first time this year, we were able to have lunch out on the verge, after which Ann-Marie got this year’s veggie seeds sown. It’d been a while coming, but Spring really had arrived. 

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