If you were determined to get a taste of traditional, rustic, eccentric old England, there are plenty of places I could recommend you go. The Nantwich cheese show perhaps, or the Tissington well dressing. But never would I have suggested you could find English country charm in London — and in zone 1, no less — until now.
This bank holiday I headed to Little Venice, one of my favourite areas of the city, for a gentle, genteel and outdoorsy knees-up. The Canalway Cavalcade has been running for 20 years now, gathering barges from all over the country in the little pool at the junction of the Regents and Grand Union canals. All the boats were trussed up and the barge folk seemed to be enjoying catching up with their friends, while we landlubbers wandered around admiring the boats and lusting over trinkets on market stalls.
I lived around these parts for a short while, and grew extremely fond of running along the tow paths that line the peaceful watery corridors running between busy central and north-west London. It’s amazing how few Londoners can place Little Venice on a map, but in my eyes the grand white houses, little bridges and the wide, quiet avenues make this the most desirable area of the capital to live.
As the sun started to set, the stalls were packed away and a blues band started up. We took a stroll along one of the tow paths in the fading light, before heading back to grab a cider and settle in for the main event.
After dark on the Sunday of the festival , the canalway pageant begins. The boats parade along, decked out in strings of lights, with a prize from a judging panel for the most impressive vessel. We cheered for our favourite boats and kept an eye out for ones we’d spotted earlier that day, while admiring the lanterns and fairy lights and shadow puppets in the windows.
The whole event reminded me in the best possible way of an English country fete. But on water. In the middle of the city. Despite the highfalutin’ surroundings, there was nothing overly polished or cool or ‘London’ about it , which was very refreshing indeed.
It’s a whole year now until the next Canalway Cavalcade, but I’d definitely recommend popping along to Little Venice anyway for a stroll and a pint (The Prince Alfred will take good care of you) on a Sunday afternoon. It’s right next to Paddington and just up from Hyde Park, so there’s really no excuse!