A far-flung corner of a remote province

Braunston to London: Days  9 – 10

Motoring on a highway is about getting from A to B as comfortably and as fast as possible.

Narrowboating on a canal is about the details of the journey. The destination – when you remember there is one – is of secondary importance.

Motoring on a highway is about mile-long sweeps of cambered concrete, about the large print on the road map, about last-second instructions on the GPS.

Narrowboating on a canal is about the secret views you catch through gaps in the hawthorn hedge… It’s about small signs erected almost shyly, along the way, promising cream scones or local ales… It’s about maps that plot your progress on a scale of a mile to an inch…

Motoring on a highway, above all, is about the big picture. Narrowboating, above all, is about the miniature.

And that’s what today’s blog, nominally tracking our progress from Berkhamsted to Uxbridge, is dedicated to: miniatures.

Take the plants that have found a niche within locks, for instance. They grow on the walls, or on the gates; they flourish in the cracks along the margin of locks; they’re small and infinitely tenacious… For the moment they must be nameless, because, to my shame, I haven’t yet mastered the botany of nondescripts.

Or take the wildflowers that flourish… everywhere. Fields of dandelions and buttercups and daisies… Banks of Queen Annes Lace… Forget-me-nots in extravagant profusion.

And then, of course, there are the details you notice scrawled in the shadows beneath bridges, or more flagrantly, on the buttresses that support them. We followed one artist through the bridges spanning the canal as it dropped down through Hemel Hempstead and Kings Langley.

So down we came through Apsley to Watford’s Cassiobury Park, through Rickmansworth to the outskirts of Uxbridge. En passant, we threaded our way delicately through a canalboat festival in Rickies at which some vintage boats, lovingly restored, prepared to show themselves off in all their finery. (And what some of them lacked in age and distinction, they more than made up for in colour and exuberance.)

And finally, thirty three locks after we left Berkhamsted, we’ve come to rest along a quiet stretch of canal just a mile or two from Uxbridge. We’re in London. We were left in little doubt about that when we witnessed with our own eyes an underground train passing across the canal on its way to the heart of the metropolis. And yet here, if we mute the distant thrum of traffic, we might be in some far-flung corner of a remote and watery province, the haunt of moorhens and herons, of mute swans and cormorants.

Reflections

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