London’s waterways are enjoying a fantastic renaissance. Zoe Craig shares her tips on just some of the things you can get up to while messing about in boats this summer.
Bob around buying books
One of London’s most unique bookshops Word on the Water has been plying its trade along the city’s canals for just over a year. As well as second-hand classics and contemporary fiction, they stock books on philosophy, art and photography, rivers and canals, and children’s books. Organiser Paddy Screech is buoyant about his burgeoning business: “I was already living on a boat, and looking for a way to ensure I didn’t have to leave to go to work each day. We’re very happy with our trajectory so far. We now have a poetry slam every month, and we’ll have live music on the roof whenever there are musicians who want to come and play.”
Watch puppets tread the boards
London’s Puppet Theatre Barge has been weaving its watery magic into children’s imaginations since 1982. Current puppeteer Stan Middleton’s grandparents formed the touring Movingstage Marionette Company in the 70s, but couldn’t afford anywhere on land, and settled on using a barge instead. This summer, the adapted Thames lighter will be at Richmond on Thames. Until September 29, they’re offering three different productions, including a show inspired by A Midsummer Night’s Dream suitable for everyone over the age of eight.
Float your way to a fetching new fringe
Having your hair cut on a canal boat has to be one of London’s more unusual pampering experiences. Experienced stylist Nicola Dawkins has been providing trims, colours and restyles for almost four years around the canals of the UK. “I have a mix of regulars and people who come for a one-off appointment. We’re always very accessible – either near a car park, or a tube station. That said, clients do need to make a bit more of an effort; in return they get to see places they didn’t necessarily know about. I get people coming in saying “Oh, I didn’t know the canal came through here!” It does perhaps have a different clientele to a usual salon: people who are a bit more outdoorsy, or more adventurous types.” And in case you were worried a canal-based cut might be a bit wonky, Nicola’s reassuring about her boat not bobbing about too much: “It’s a wide beam boat, so it’s very stable, very sturdy. Inside you don’t know you’re on the water, until you take a look out of the window at the view.”
Set sail for Slovakian treats
A new floating cafe on Regent’s Canal, Vareska specialises in traditional Slovakian treats. That’s Kapustica (sauerkraut, smoked sausage and mushroom soup), Vyprazany Zeler (battered celeriac steak served with a gherkin and potato salad) and Plnena Placka (a potato pancake, flavoured with garlic and marjoram, and filled with either chicken or a vegetable sauté). Mother and daughter team Danica and Barbora have a strong green ethos: all packaging is recyclable; instead of a generator, they have a solar rig; and wherever possible, they source ingredients from the UK. Apart from their stunning smoked paprika sausages, which travel to the boat directly from the motherland.
Enjoy a boat-bound beer
Following a colourful past as a packed passenger ferry on the Humber estuary and some active service during the war carrying barrage balloons and radar, the Tattershall Castle now does important work keeping civil servants, students and tourists alike well watered while enjoying great views of the Thames at Embankment. There are even regular comedy nights on Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays. Enamoured regular Tom Lewis says, “It’s just a bit different, so a great place to take mates from out of town if they’re down on a sunny weekend. Particularly if they’re originally from anywhere near Hull.”
Word on the Water and Vareska are part of a Floating Market moored at Regent’s Canal in Mile End during the Olympic Games, until August 16. The Floating Market will then move to Little Venice from August 20 to September 9, during the Paralympics.