Little Venice

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.

Sunshine and water
Sunshine and water
Narrowboats were gathered for the annual Canalway Cavalcade

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.

Colourful gathering
Colourful gathering
The narrowboats were tightly packed in the basin leaving little room clear for manoeuvre

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.

Canalside stalls
Canalside stalls
There was a festive atmosphere enlivened by the stalls lining the canal, selling goods and refreshments

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.

Festooned with bunting
Festooned with bunting
Most of the narrowboats were decked out with bunting

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.

Canal bridges
Canal bridges
Today, the canal is hemmed in by bridges, roads and tall buildings

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.

Amenities to be enjoyed
Amenities to be enjoyed
These include shops and cafes and art works as well as this miniature stadium

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).

Standing man Walking man
Standing and walking
The standing man is by Sean Henry and I assume the walking man is too

The Family
The Family
This group is by Jon Buck

We had brought a picnic lunch with us and looked for somewhere pleasant to settle down and eat it.

Under the bridge
Under the bridge
I managed to snap this Great Tit flying around under a bridge, perhaps hunting for insects

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.

A lawn to sit on
A lawn to sit on
There was a lawn to sit on with free deck chairs or benches around the perimeter

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”.

Flower beds
Flower beds
There are beds of green plants and flowering plants like these in a well kept garden

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.

"Gerbil balls"
"Gerbil balls"
For now, just one customer but later, the pool was full

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.

The boats viewed from the garden
The boats viewed from the garden
We could also see the basin and the boats from here and listen to the loudspeaker commentary

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).

Narrowboats lined the canal
Narrowboats lined the canal
Though some of the narrowboats were still working boats, either transporting goods or carrying people on tours, most now seemed to be used as houseboats

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.

Cab shelter
Cab shelter
Probably now used as a coffee stall but, if so, it wasn’t open

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.

A face looks out Head with a pensive expression
The face at the window
A face looked out at us but it was only a dummy head with a wistful expression

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.

Duck and ducklings on the canal

Copyright © 2011 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

About SilverTiger

I live in Islington with my partner, "Tigger". I blog about our life and our travels, using my own photos for illustration.
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