We recently read somewhere that, if you want to know how long a narrowboat trip is going to take, you have to add the number of miles you’re travelling plus the number of locks and divide it all by four. I wish we’d known that before we decided to travel the entirety of the Regent’s Canal in one afternoon.
The day had been going so marvellously. The sun was shining and we were helped at every lock by adorable rosy-cheeked Enid Blyton characters.
However it wasn’t until we reached Kings Cross and the sun began to set that we realised we still had a million narrowboat miles left to go (Official Rule: five normal miles = one million narrowboat miles) and that we’d now probably have to finish our journey in complete darkness.
In some trepidation, we pushed forward into the gathering dusk.
The first place we came to was Camden.
I love Camden. I used to live in Camden in some hazy far-off day before my house floated.
Camden by canal though, is horrific. It is dingy and grimy and the water is so dirty that it actually feels sad.
Once you’ve dealt with the general surroundings, there’s also the people of Camden to consider. They’re not so much gongoozling as gong-oozing across the towpath. As fellow boat blogger Joel over at The Angry Boater puts it, they’re a mixed set of ‘trendy, touristy & druggery’.
And that’s by day. By night, stood there holding the boat in the first of three locks while Ed ran ahead to open the others, I more than once considered fetching the axe.
Those weren’t the only problems of traversing Camden by night though. We had not expected The Man Who Lives in The Lock.
Still standing at that first lock, I was greeted by the return of a confused-looking windlass-bearing Ed.
“I couldn’t open the second lock.” he said.
“There’s a man in it.”
“What? What’s he doing?”
“Well… he’s eating his dinner.” After much confused whispering it transpired that a man had moored in the lock for the night. Since we haven’t been boaters for very long and haven’t got a clue whether the middle of a lock is a legit place to moor up and eat your dinner, we just politely asked if he wouldn’t mind us using his mooring spot for a little while. He graciously accepted and we were on our merry way.
If we thought we had got past the worst, we were sorely mistaken. Next up on our list of trials was Regent’s Park.
The first terrifying thing about Regent’s Park by night is that you’re not allowed to moor there which means that, not only is it pitch black, it is also completely deserted. The second terrifying thing occurs when you pass the aviary at London Zoo.
All of a sudden, Dark + Abandoned + Fog + Giant cage =
It also didn’t help that the first thing we came across in the park was a drunk man collapsed on the towpath, illuminated only by the lights of a concerned cyclist who had stopped to call an ambulance.
To make matters worse, it was rapidly becoming clear that our headlight wasn’t doing a great job of illuminating our path. Ed dispatched me to the front of the boat where a quick examination showed that the lamp was at the wrong angle to properly illuminate the canal. I wiggled it around a bit.
“That’s right, leave it there.” yelled Ed.
I let the lamp go.
“No it’s moved now.” yelled Ed.
I wiggled the lamp.
“That’s it.” yelled Ed.
I let the lamp go.
“No! Where it was before!” yelled Ed.
Feeing very hard done by, I sat at the front of the boat with one arm in the air holding up the lamp. I sat there by myself in the cold for the whole dark horrifying stretch of Regent’s Park.
I sat there as we slipped into Maida Hill Tunnel where unknown things drop on your head and the light reflects off the tunnel ceiling in such a way that some people might have to close their eyes and wrap their scarf around their head so that they can’t see the canal demons.
YOU DON’T KNOW. YOU WEREN’T THERE.
Eventually the bright lights and welcoming sights of Little Venice pulled into view and the traumatic journey was finally, finally over. As we emerged from the tunnel…
…we vowed never to venture out into the darkness again.