London's canal boat dwellers live in city oasis

Tue May 5, 2009 10:13am EDT
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By Rebekah Curtis

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Eric Naylor chugged for nine days through nearly 100 locks to reach the big canal party on time, mooring his traditional barge in London's Little Venice district to track down old friends among the growing flotilla.

The retired computer analyst and his wife Sally are among hundreds of British boat dwellers who flock to the Canal Cavalcade in the British capital each year, to celebrate the camaraderie of life on the water in traditional canal barges.

"The canal is a big floating village," Naylor said, leaning on the tiller with a metal flask of beer after the 107-mile trip from Warwickshire in the West midlands of England, and sporting a Victorian style neckerchief and waistcoat for the event.

A few boats away, a 73-year-old retired lock-keeper of nearly 40 years agreed that canal life has retained a traditional village spirit even in a big international metropolis like London.

"You don't need a mobile phone down here, you've got the 'tow path telegraph'," he said referring to the word of mouth gossip that travels at light speed in the tight canal community.

Morris dancers, boat steering competitions and a jazz band marooned on an island entertained tourists who squeezed down the tow paths peeking into the floating homes of the converted barges which at one time were a vital form of transport for coal and other goods along Britain's network of canals.

"It's intriguing. It looks like it's a very closely knit community...not easy to penetrate," said Javier Espinoza from El Salvador, who also found the tourist reaction to the boat community was equally intriguing.

"People take pictures like the boaters are monkeys in a zoo. They have this look of fascination."   Continued...

<p>A traditional Venetian gondola passes between narrow boats in the Little Venice area in London July 21, 2006. REUTERS/Toby Melville</p>