It’s not often I’m happy when the weather forecast predicts rain – but on a recent Sunday morning I was.
I’d arranged to meet friends for lunch at a restaurant near Paddington. A quick check of Google maps revealed that the venue for our get-together was located right next to the Paddington Basin, and that by far the easiest way for me to get there was along the canal. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to pop my cycling-along-the-canal cherry.
There was just one problem. If my previous experience was anything to go by, a sunny day would almost certainly mean I would be far from alone on the towpath. I didn’t fancy having to weave around swarms of Sunday strollers – at best I would be late for lunch, and at worst I would end up in the canal.
So you can understand why – as Sunday dawned – I was cheered when that dreary forecast proved accurate. Under leaden skies, heavy with rain, I had the towpath almost entirely to myself.
This western section of the canal, from where it emerges from the Islington tunnel – where I picked up the route – to Little Venice in the west, is more scenic than its eastern sibling. Passing the preserved industrial gasholder at King’s Cross, it heads through Camden – where the path rather abruptly detours into the throng of the market – before continuing on past London Zoo and the imposing classical Nash villas of Regent’s Park.
The next sight along the canal, Lisson Grove moorings, has a very different feel to it. Seemingly a residential mooring, it has a real community feel to it, with small, colourful gardens lining the towpath and bikes propped up against the wall or lying on the top of riverboats. It looked so pretty and homely that I almost forgave them their strict no cycling rule.
As it turned out, there was to be no more cycling along the canal. Shortly after Lisson Grove the towpath disappeared again, forcing me onto the roads, and when it reappeared again I couldn’t get on it as was for private moorings only.
Still, up until that point it had been like no experience I’ve ever had on a bike in London.
Forget negotiating multiple lanes of traffic, forget dodging buses, forget angry taxi drivers, forget constantly looking over my shoulder, forget watching out for the people who haven’t seen me.
On that Sunday, I had nothing to think about except pedalling and avoiding the occasional pedestrian or fellow cyclist. I felt genuinely relaxed – something I didn’t think was possible to feel while cycling in London.
I saw a handful of dog walkers, joggers and couples walking hand-in-hand, and the odd gaggle of tourists. I saw cyclists and pedestrians behaving respectfully towards each other and looking out for each other. I saw ducks paddling, geese waddling, willows trailing in the water and trees with leaves so fresh and green it was like the paint was still wet.
For the hour or so I was by the canal I forgot I was in London.
I want to get a job in Paddington, so I can cycle this way everyday.