Little Venice? Hardly.


The Diplomat and I often take a stroll with Isla and Joshua around Regent’s Park, on occasion dropping down onto the canal and heading into Camden Town with its wonderful, tiny market and pleasurable second hand bookshop nestled against the aromas of London street food. We never meander onto the towpath and turn right towards the misnamed “Little Venice”. Why misnamed, you might ask me?

Well, it is hardly gondolas, Main Canal, St Mark’s Sq and the history of the Doges.

20160109_142812Take a look…

Your quintessential mixture of tawdry canal boat, gently becalmed in a sludge moored up against a power station.

Regent’s Canal is 8.5miles long; planned by Thomas Horner who wanted to link the Grand Junction Canal at Paddington with London’s docks to the east; it was designed and built in conjunction with John Nash (not the mathematician from ‘A Beautiful Mind’!). This Nash had recently completed Regent’s Park, so sought permission to name the canal after the Prince Regents; duly given the nod in 1812. The new canal was a success, opening in 1820 to trade. Thomas Pickford collected the largest fleet on the canal – 120 boats and as many horses to pull them. By 1837 the competition from the railroad chuffed large on the horizon; Euston station opened and, eventually, the canal foundered as a commercial trade route when munitions traffic ceased after WWII.

In 1963 British Waterways took over the maintenance, turning them into leisure and recreational complexes. Pity they forgot this bit when making the canal around Regents Park’s north side so pretty. To be clear, when you Google “Little Venice” the ‘picturesque bit’ is the north side of the park; it is a lovely amble/boat ride towards Camden. The start of it when you cross under Park Road eastwards turns into…well…this….

We carry the pushchair down 32 steps – kindly assisted by a man of Eastern European origin – appearing on an atypical scene of crumbling concrete, rusting iron, shoddy graffiti, garbage, a lone duck and a belligerent overgrowth of weedlife. Why do these places of Victorian aspersion remain so unloved? Like the thousands of statues around London, they are nothing more than a latrine for pigeons these days.

Discovering we can go barely fifty yards after pushing through the penumbra of the dank underbridge, replete with its homage to Camden’s own Amy Winehouse and, oddly enough, a reference to Shirley Temple we route over a switchback to the south side of the canal bank. The north side is now a private mooring for dozens of long canal boats, each unruffled by a current, fixed in place by a mat of oily dark waters.

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20160109_143100Along the next two hundred meters black, 6ft iron railings shear outwards towards us; Isla isn’t impressed. We press our faces to the cold metal to get a view that isn’t like a prison. An indelible panoramic memory imprints me with the shoddy attempts at a garden, at Victorian boxed nature pressing hard against a rearing industrial power plant; there is ochre brickwork rearing to be crowned with a net fence of grey steel. As we walk, to our left, the skies are faint glimpses against late-twentieth century apartments. Each replete with patchy concretework, with early artisitic graffitti, with bruised cells of play yards garnitured of snapped plastic toys and rusting bicycles.

20160109_142833We reach a sorry attempt at creative pathways, small mosaic snakes of stone sinuously rising upwards to the road, maudlin as they criss-cross and end in a small stone clearing of two trees. At the end a finely wrought gate, motifed with fish and dragonflies is now become an arbour, a tangle of ivy and branches grimly determined to swallow it.

There’s a poem about rivers by Langston Hughes that has remained a favourite as Time waters have eddied past me:

I’ve known rivers:
I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
flow of human blood in human veins.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln
went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy
bosom turn all golden in the sunset.
I’ve known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

Little Venice isn’t like these. It’s not even close to Kipling’s “The River’s Tale”. If you find yourself walking along the canal from Camden then take great pleasure in its aromatic froth, its glut of runners, its occasional dank fetid waters, its river steamer Chinese restaurant; delight in St Mark’s Church and strain to see where the noise of Regent’s Park Zoo’s avian populace are netted against the freedom of the skies. But stop before you cross under Park Lane, for it will leave your memories tainted, conclude your journey in a manner that isn’t quite so tasteful.

Is this what diplomacy is all about?

Yours

travelswithadiplomat

 



Categories: London

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