Friday, August 29, 2008

What did that used to be?

Day 31, Little Venice to Uxbridge

We've just rediscovered our Waterways World guide to the Grand Union, to complement the Nicholsons. And in many ways, it's better. It doesn't have the wealth of (mainly redundant) Ordnance Survey detail that Nicholsons does, but it has far more useful things, like bridge numbers (inexplicably, Nicholsons goes to all the trouble of squeezing in the bridges' names, which is of no use whatsoever, but doesn't give the numbers) and telling you which pub is which when there are six different ones on the page. The mapping is more diagrammatic, and clearer as a result, and it has much more interesting historical snippets.

Today has very much been a day of 'what did that used to be?', starting with the Jason's Trip boat in Little Venice this morning (almost certainly FMC Portugal, according to today's steerer, but still with an outside chance of having been France. Over a hundred years old, it's been a trip bot for more than half its life).

Along the stretch we travelled tday, there were lots of disused, or in some cases tarted up, wharves and basins, all of which at one time must have been bustling with boats being loaded and unloaded. Trusting to Jim's interpretation of the WW guide, this unremarkable stretch of bank was the site of famous 'Jam 'Ole'; the destination of the last regular narrowboat traffic (coal from Atherstone), which ended in 1970. Can there really be no more to show for it than that? Was I looking in the right place?

Tescos at Bulls Bridge, which until the mid-90s was a BW maintenance depot, and before that GUCCCo's main depot, was too depressing even to photograph (although I must confess, far to useful to pass without bestowing our custom). The dry dock, restored at the time of the development - I guess as some kind of placatory gesture on Tescos' part - was looking in a sorry and neglected state.

I just wish I could put on some magic glasses or something and see these places as they were. Obviously it would be hypocritical to want to turn the clock back, because if commercial traffic was still thriving, then we wouldn't be here, and maybe it's true that things are all round better these days. But I would so love to, just temporarily, see, hear and smell it as it used to be. At least it's recent enough that we have film of those days, which moves me in a way that no other historical material does.

On a more cheerful note (though maybe not) this rather splendid heron used to be litter floating in the canal.

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