Out the northside of London’s Paddington Station you’ll find a floating oasis often unnoticed by usual visitors to the Big Smoke. Where conventional lines of existence are colorfully blurred, where one can calmly drift amid a turbulent urban sea and the slow bohemian lifestyle is holding on despite the new millennium of technology and convenience and overbearing government regulations.
Completed in 1801, the Paddington arm of the Grand Union Canal was a welcomed addition. An efficient means of timely transport of goods into central London from Britain’s plentiful north and midlands via the man-made canal system. Despite it’s importance in the begining, over time the steam train and eventual modern lorry’s made obsolete the horse drawn barges of yesteryear. For many years now the canal system throughout the UK has become almost only for pleasure with very few transport companies in operation. Now you will near only find nomadic residents, holiday accommodations, and waterside entrepreneurialism. Long gone are the days of narrow barges bulging with coal, lumber and stone being towed up the Grand Union Canal.
Many have chosen a canal boat as a way of life; some as escapism, some as retirement and even some as a solution to long commutes and high cost of London housing. Overseen by the Canal & River Trust there are many options for mooring stays and areas such as London’s Little Venice offer only 14 day stays but provide a convenient opportunity for boatsmen to explore (the
western edge of central London such as Regent’s Park, Camden and Westminster) for rubbish disposal, waste and water needs and refueling.
A land-lover visiting London’s canal of Little Venice will find miles of lovely waterside walking path’s with the occasional floating cafe to enjoy a nibble along the tranquil views and the waterbus hauling visitors to the London Zoo. One unique and wonderful floating shop near Little Venice is Word On The Water, a halcyon space for bibliophiles.
A floating haven for used books to find new life, this genuine and unique shop is struggling to stay a float. With a wonderful selection spanning all genres priced 1£-3£ and the occasional sunday afternoon jazz session on the top deck, nirvana is near. Business is a tricky game along the canal system due to regulations and despite a large customer base and support from local community, the future of this canal business is in question as it struggles for permanent mooring status from the city. A real shame should Word On The Water cease to exist as in this complicated world it becomes tougher to find genuine small businesses offering what i consider the ‘consumer holy trinity’; sincere customer service, affordable product, and a refreshing sales approach.
A beautiful alternative to your urban exploration of London, the canal waterways and Little Venice is not to be missed. Although economically archaic due to industrial evolution, war, weather and necessity; nostalgia and appreciation for this oasis amongst the skyscrapers has insured London’s canal waterways perpetuity.
( Paddington Basin 1930’s and today )
To learn more about activities, ecology and supporting goto UK Canal & River Trust
To follow along the progress and events as well as shop for that favorite hardback (or recycle your old books) goto Word On The Water
To enjoy a unique and peaceful holiday in the middle of London (or throughout the UK) goto Drifters Boating Holiday