May 5, 2007

Canal Cavalcade

Along my favourite stretch of London’s Inland Waterways is this weekend’s Canal Cavalcade, a celebration of the boats, people, art and traditions of the canal boat way of life. The heart of the celebration is an area called Little Venice where the Grand Union and Regents Canals meet at Paddington Basin. The junction is a 10 minute walk from our flat.

The canal is overflowing with boats that have migrated here for the event. Each are done up in their finest with all the surfaces polished. Although I’ve admired these boats for months yesterday was the first time I fully appreciated the artwork adorning their internal and external surfaces. Colourful, glossy scenes of all sizes depict imaginary castles, canals and bridges all surrounded by flowers. This photo (from captures the artwork on the back doors of the inner cabin – a popular spot for paintings.

The festival includes a collection of booths selling all kinds of knickknacks created or previously owned by canal boat owners. There are several types of people that live in these vessels and each has their unique collection of stuff for sale. Some offer maps and self-published books about canals. Others have prepared jams and fudges. My favourite are the hand painted tin items that feature the Roses and Castles artwork.

Categorising folks would go something like this:

Tried and True – folks who are second and possibly third generation of boat dwellers. Their anachronistic style of living is a reminder of the Victorian roots of these boats. The men have sunburned faces, beards and handkerchiefs knotted around their necks and their wives are often next to them on the stern of the boat with their family dog loyally standing at their feet.

RV Retirees - folks who have chosen this as a retirement lifestyle, roaming England via the waterways.

Off the Gridders – these folks have their boats moored in groups. The vessels appear to be filled with bits and pieces of stuff that is sun bleached and cob-webbed. Their windows are covered over with bumperstickers that profess green living.

Alternative Lifestylers - The most surprising set of folks are the ones in their twenties who seem to live an alternative lifestyle on these vessels – as though they have dropped out of society and prefer to live in groups, drink beer and kick back on the roof. I suppose it is a bit like communal living on the 70s.

As we walked around the festival and enjoyed the crafts and food we happened upon a long boat company giving rides. We joined the cue and lucked out with the last two seats amongst a crowd of at least 75. The two hour roundtrip adventure took us into tunnels, through the London Zoo, past countless boats to Camden Lock. On our return trip there were fewer riders and we were able to spread out and fully enjoy the relaxing ride. Back at Little Venice the crowds were thinning and all the ducks and geese had their chicks and goslings out for evening exercise. It was really spectacular. If the weather is nice I’m heading back today to try kayaking!