We got off to another early start today, managing to leave home by 8:30. We were heading for the place named in the title but stopped off first in Chapel Market for breakfast. Stiles’ Bakery provided us with porridge and coffee, and energy for the next leg of the journey.
Little Venice (map here) is a triangular piece of water at the junction of the Grand Union Canal and its spur to the Paddington Basin. An island, not quite in the middle of the triangle, acts usefully as a sort of traffic roundabout. It is here that the annual Canalway Cavalcade takes place.
While in one sense the name Little Venice is obvious (there is water and there are boats), in another it is less so because there is no real resemblance with the Italian counterpart. It seems that the name, now embraced with pride by those who live there, became popular after the Second World War. This possibly came about when Margery Allingham in Death of a Ghost (published 1934) gave the name Little Venice to a house overlooking the canal, and local estate agents gleefully seized on this as a selling point.
Some of the narrowboats were working boats while others seemed to be homes for a more leisured class, waterborne caravans, as it were. The cavalcade was a festive occasion and gave the opportunity for people to meet and catch up with one another’s news and adventures.
The word “cavalcade” is of course oddly appropriate. Nowadays it just means a procession or parade, but the word derives from old Italian cavalcata, itself originating in the Latin caballus, meaning ‘horse’. So a cavalcade is a ride on horseback or a procession involving horses. There were no horses here today, but in the old days there would have been an abundance of them, as they would have been needed to supply the motive force to the narrowboats.
As part of the activities of the cavalcade, narrowboats were competitively demonstrating their manoeuvring skills in the confined space of the basin. As that was of little interest to us landlubbers, we wandered about exploring the area. These days, it is hemmed in by roads, buildings and bridges but there are still amenities to be enjoyed.
The shops and cafes include the usual suspects, of course, but it’s quite pleasant on a sunny day to sit on a bench or a cafe terrace. There are also artworks to admire (or not, as the case may be).
We had brought a picnic lunch with us and looked for somewhere pleasant to settle down and eat it.
We passed under a bridge where I was lucky enough to get a quick photo of a Great Tit, crossed over the canal into Warwick Avenue, and entered a pretty little park that is there.
It is called Rembrandt Gardens, and a plaque informs us that it was given that name on “2 MAY 1975 TO COMMEMORATE THE 700TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE FOUNDING OF THE CITY OF AMSTERDAM AND TO MARK THE CREATION OF A SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP WITH THE CITY OF WESTMINSTER”.
There were few people in the garden when we arrived and we were able to easily snaffle a couple of free deck chairs which we set out on the pleasant lawn. Later the garden became more crowded and it was good to see how much people appreciated and enjoyed it.
For the occasion, a pool had been set up with what Tigger calls “gerbil balls”, transparent plastic globes that children can go in to roll about on the water. This proved a popular entertainment and it was fun watching them trying to stand upright or make the globes move across the surface of the water.
From here too, we could see the boats, hear the commentary over the loudspeakers and keep watch in case anything exciting happened (it didn’t).
At the end of the afternoon, we walked along the canal, which was lined with barges, most of which were really houseboats, as they were adapted for living in, not for transporting cargoes. In terms of sheer numbers attending, the Cavalcade seems to have been a great success.
We turned down Warwick Avenue, where we found this well preserved example of an old cab shelter. Now that cab drivers are no longer exposed to the elements and can avoid the weather by simply sitting in their cabs, these old shelters have mostly been converted into coffee stalls.
The bus took us to Hampstead where we changed. While waiting we saw a face looking out at us from an upper window, but it was only a hairdresser’s dummy head with a rather wistful expression.