I left the West on a quest for forests.
An escort of swans guided me through the archway to London, I had to go slow so I didn’t crush them on the bridge. I was on my way. Two herons and a cormorant sat on a forked branch at Greenford. I’d taken to looking their meanings up for messages. Travelling a distance of 12 weeks in 4 days, at some points delirious with hunger, I covered long stretches of canal I couldn’t remember seeing before. Gulls reminded me to be adaptable and do what I had to, to survive. Crossing the white noise of the M25, I was greeted by a stride and a wave, then BAM! into the city, past the prison and the last mile .. to Trellick Tower.
It’s a heavy boat, kind of exhausting to move alone. I wondered if it would be easier with other people. I cleared myself away waiting for them to arrive with a running commentary from an overlooking neighbour, a Saudi princess who didn’t like cleaning much, herself.
None of us realised it would be such hard work. Regent’s park was a haze of green, we sang through the tunnels which reminded me to breathe.. our luck was in – a space in Camden. We contemplated Sturt’s lock which just wouldn’t move. Friends joined us in Broadway & opened the gates to the Limehouse basin we had eggs benedict in a lock. Then up through the cut with a wagtail passenger, a desolate stretch of industrial wasteland which choked the propellor twice, we arrived at Three Mills … for cards.
Cousins jumped on.. through the Olympic park and bars of Hackney Wick, to the cross-wind at Tottenham Hale. Before we knew it we were cruising the Lee, bracing Pickett’s lock and were finally, greeted by leaves in Enfield. Waltham Abbey was pretty … then through vulnerable targets of water sporters, we arrived.. in the promised land. of Broxbourne. where the car was parked. It would have taken an hour to drive .
After six days of glorious sun, friends joined us in bucketing rain .. then everyone left.. & I was back on my lonesome again.
What did we just do .. why did we do it. Where was I .. how did I arrive .. I was on a river, water was moving around me. Out of the window, the East, in my mind, still the West. I was where I wanted to be .. but what came next.
After a few days rest I took a left to Hertford through the rapids at Stanstead lock and on through Amwell nature reserve, a straight wide peaceful stretch.. with low flying geese. Teenage boys jumped from bridges in burning hot sun. Water meadows and wide fields opened.. Old people waved from retirement homes. I turned when the navigation ended, left a windlass on the lock and came back.
More isolated now, than I had been at any point during lockdown, there was hardly anyone about, the towns I moved through were mostly shut … The challenge on a river, is in throwing down a plank so you can reach the bank and pull the boat in before it drifts off .. fun in summer when the current is slow..
I’d chosen not to notice I’d been stumbling as if one leg was longer than the other for three days before admitting to myself, I’d banked. A neighbour who’d been swimming in 37 degree heat, volunteered to help lever me off with a plank. Then it rained.. hard! a reminder winter would come. Followed by quiet mist and still.
I wasn’t quite sure when I pulled into the Stort if it was a river or not .. packed with boats and so narrow .. If anyone came the other way, they wouldn’t be pleased to see me. They didn’t until they did, at high speed on a bend. I twisted my way slowly upstream through apple trees and fallen willows, enchanted.
At the top of the navigation is a bridge, where the river turns into a stream. I couldn’t go any further, took on three barrows of tumbling logs, had my bike fixed and browsed an abundance of charity shops. I’d gone as far as I possibly could.