The very next weekend I launched into my first long ride on the Grand Union Canal, which took me into London. The ride was way too ambitious. It was years since I rode regularly. The round trip was almost 50 miles.
The Grand Union Canal winds its way south and east from Uxbridge to London center through all kinds of scenery from gray industrial areas to green parks, from low end apartments to high end residential. I dropped below a viaduct to the towpath in Uxbridge and passed between two office buildings. While it was disconcerting, I quickly found that this is not typical for the canal. In most places it is below street level and is abutted by parks and homes.
Narrowboats are a common sight on the canals. They are all about seven feet wide and come in many different lengths. They need to fit the locks and they need to be able to pass one another when traveling in opposite directions. The condition of the narrowboats ranges from dodgy to pristine restorations. There are marinas as well as places to tie up along the banks. Those who occupy the banks are itinerant and must move every 14 days.
The English own narrowboats on the canal for a number of reasons. Some people use them as you would use a cottage in the country. Families spend the day or the weekend on the boat, enjoying fresh air, barbecue, and other families nearby. Others live on the boats since the cost is low compared with a flat or a house anywhere around London. I actually considered doing that until I realized that I was not willing to put up with the cold nights and a multitude of other inconveniences. I also tried to find a flat, but found that difficult because the demand was so high. They would come onto the market and disappear very quickly.
It was near Uxbridge where I rode through one of these narrowboat communities along the banks. Some of the boats had generators so that the owners could watch television. Many people enjoyed the company of others and the ambience of the canal. There were barbecues and get-togethers along the shore.
There is a stretch of industrial sites and housing that was not as picturesque. The canal tow path is well travelled and well maintained through these areas. The difference for me was that I didn’t stop to enjoy any of the scenery since there was little to enjoy. I breezed through this area quickly.
As I approached London center the parks and bridges made picture postcard scenes. A narrowboat owner in upscale London areas lives in a stylish flat and keeps their boat at the village dock. The properties and parks on this portion of the canal were candy for the eyes. The verdant banks and adjoining parks along the canal give comfort from the crazy traffic and rush of the surrounding city.
When I arrived at the Cafe Laville I realized that I needed to turn around and head back to Uxbridge. I have never eaten there, but I knew from trips downtown that I was near Regent’s Park and Kings Cross. I once went through Kings Cross to change trains. It was a long way back to Uxbridge.
Back in Uxbridge I showered and had dinner. I went to bed early, feeling quite tired from the ride. I didn’t anticipate waking several times during the night with painful cramps in both legs. I walked gingerly the next day or so.