(All photographs can be viewed at a larger size by
clicking on the image)
A couple of months have passed since we moved to Regents Canal near Camden Lock
as temporary residents for the winter. It is a unique place to be since we are
poised between two of the most divergent neighbourhoods in London: Camden Town,
a youthful, alternative and very funky place to be and Primrose Hill, established,
well off and fairly conservative. We didn't discover Primrose Hill for the first
couple of weeks, so flamboyant and attention getting are the sights in Camden
Town. Extreme punk, piercings, tattoos, and the absolute bleeding edge in teen
fashion is what Camden is famous for. The lock itself is featured in some of the
artwork in the pubs and restaurants as Camden High Street goes right over the
canal and the bridge is a hangout for locals and aficionados. Every weekend is
a party scene and vendors of all types of merchandise set up stalls in the Camden
Lock Marketplace; browsing is always interesting as well as people watching. There
are many coffee shops, pubs and the famous Jazz Cafe that features many famous
acts. Walking down High Street is always a great pick-me-up and instant immersion
into culture, any culture.
Sometimes, however, we enjoy getting away from it all. One day we opted to
go down the opposite way from Camden, toward whatever is at the other end. We
climbed the stairwell up to the street level and found a rather staid looking
street with only one commercial venue, The Engineers Pub, a posh restaurant-pub
and friendly place to be. After a quick beer there we continued on through the
area, a neighbourhood of elegant row houses and parks. On Regent Park Street there
are delicatessens, bookshops, boutiques and cafes. We turned a corner to find
the Princess of Wales pub and popped in for a pint; there we saw a flyer with
jazz Sundays advertised and decided to make it a date for the next Sunday. Unlike
most pubs in London, the folks were friendly and talkative and it encouraged us
to return, reminding us of the country pubs we had been in outside of London.
Our mooring spot is rather small compared to Little Venice, only about 11 boats
on the average compared to Little Venice and the dozens of narrow boats and houseboats
there. More private, surrounded by high old brickwalls on the towpath side and
18th century homes on the canal side, there is no sight of traffic or roads and
there is a sense of being in a secluded spot. Having said that, there are many
tourists and locals alike, which frequent the towpath and enliven the scene. We
hear every language we can recognize and many more that we don't; sometimes interested
enquiries accost us as we leave home. The curiosity is fun for us, and we enjoy
entertaining visitors. It seems that narrow boats are just part of life for the
English, but very exotic for tourists, so Oo-La-La is part of the tourist scene
Our compatriots here are young and fiercely independent and happy in their
lifestyle. Almost everyone here is a liveaboard. Married couples, single men,
families with little babies and single women comprise our group. All of us know
each other and are familiar enough to ask for a cup of sugar or chat whenever
we meet. In a way our bonds are forged from living in the world-renowned 2002
city of London as part of its tradition, history and past. Just behind our boat
there is a ramp of stones that was created 200 years ago. Nearby is a plaque explaining
that the purpose of the ramp is to rescue draught horses that fell into the canal
when startled by the nearby train rumbling by while they pulled a canal boat.
Frequently we see tourists stop to read the plaque and discuss it. It is encouraging
to see such interest in the canals.
Not that it is always so rosy. At each end of our mooring there is an iron
gate that no one locked when we first arrived. There was no trouble, so why lock
them. Then we had a few kids bang on our windows for fun so it became a habit
to lock the gates at sunset just to avoid the annoyance.
One Sunday we found ourselves in the Princess of Wales for their 2PM jazz session.
The pub has high, open windows, so even in the midst of winter it is fairly bright
and cheerful. We found a table and settled in for a typical Sunday roast of pork
with several vegetables: brussel sprouts, cabbage, potatoes, leeks, carrots, parsnips,
peas and lima beans. After this happy repast we settled in for some truly authentic
jazz with a five-piece band. During the break we were able to talk with the members
and get a handle on the London music scene. The atmosphere was very friendly and
it became our winter refuge every Sunday and never let us down. We brought out
of town visitors and localfriends alike and they all agreed that it was one of
the best Sunday afternoons. Agreeing with them, we are now trying to keep it a
secret, but not succeeding too well. In fact, it appears the pub itself is trying
to dampen enthusiasm since all the window flyers have since disappeared, the pub
is full from top to basement every Sunday, but we still want to say it is a wonderful
place and we were lucky to find it.
The winter has been surprisingly mild for us. Much warmer than a winter in
Atlanta, Georgia or Washington, D.C., the foliage is bright green at the end of
January and the parks are very beautiful still. In fact, there are buds on the
trees and even some that have started to bloom. We keep asking folks when the
cold weather is going to start, but the answer is this is the way it is. Lovely.
Now the itch of travel is setting in, lets go! We are thinking it and saying
it but the lock stoppages are a vital concern. During the winter, the British
Waterways(the governing authority on the canals) and the Environmental Authority
(in charge of the rivers) issue a list of stoppages which indicates which locks
will be closed due to maintenance work. Generally, most of this work is completed
by the end of February and in our specific area there appears to be free sailing
on the Thames between London and Oxford, our desired cruising ground after January.
So, with a week to go here on the Regents Canal, we will be investigating possibilities
for our escape into the springtime.
.....on to February 2002