I’m reminded of all this as I peer over a bridge crossing a canal in Ladbroke Grove. Beneath me is a large barge grumbling up the canal. It is laden with a colourful assortment of red and blue gas cylinders and yellow bags of firewood. I had forgotten about the other world, a subculture beautifully integrated into London life -and most of us unaware of its presence.
London’s canal system is easy to access and well worth investigating. As canal boats were once towed by horses around England’s substantial network of canals, a wide towpath along the water’s edge makes it easy to navigate on foot and bike. I took to my feet.
On a crisp, spring like day, I set off from Harlesden, easy to reach on public transport. I am heading for central London.
It is a lovely varied walk. Peaceful, too. As soon as you dip down and away from the traffic, you enter a different world. Ducks and geese paddle on the slow-moving waters, birds in bushes and the occasional clank of work on one of the dozens of boats moored along the canal. There is a still, almost lazy feel: people reading books in the sun on the deck or roof of their boats or cycling gently to or from work.
And the boats, too: most are neat, tidy, colourful and frequently ingeniously decorated with flowers, clever iron art. It’s like walking past an ever-changing floating art gallery.
Canals, of course, pass the rear of what people see from the streets: gardens, allotments, waterside factories still sprouting forlorn hoists in the hope of loading barges long scrapped; all invisible except to those on the canals.
Closer to town the semi-rural nature changes. Pubs and cafe’s, a supermarket, apartments now line the banks and, close to Paddington (a small stroll to the station from the canal bank) a pumpin’ canal boat café/restaurant. A perfect spot to finish this section of the canal.