The orig­i­nal vi­sion,

DestinAsian - - DISPATCHES -

as ar­chi­tect John Nash saw it, was one of “barges mov­ing through an ur­ban land­scape,” fa­cil­i­tat­ing com­merce via an ex­pan­sive wa­ter­way cut di­rectly through Lon­don that would link Padding­ton Arm (a branch of the Grand Union Canal) with Lime­house Basin and the River Thames to the east. Con­struc­tion be­gan on Re­gent’s Canal in 1812 un­der the su­per­vi­sion of Nash, who by the end of his il­lus­tri­ous ca­reer had also de­signed such Lon­don land­marks as the Mar­ble Arch, Re­gent’s Park, and parts of Buck­ing­ham Palace.

Nash opened Re­gent’s Canal to great fan­fare in 1820—and at a fi­nal cost more than twice the orig­i­nal es­ti­mate. Span­ning nearly 14 kilo­me­ters from end to end, the wa­ter­way be­came pop­u­lated with long river barges trans­port­ing build­ing sup­plies and as­sorted sun­dries in­land to ar­eas that in­cluded Cam­den, Is­ling­ton, and Hack­ney. Nar­row tow­paths lined the canal to ac­com­mo­date the horses that pulled the barges. These were, in fact, per­haps too nar­row, to judge by the short stone ramps built to help any horse that fell into the wa­ter get back to shore.

Though com­mer­cially vi­able for a time, the canal felt the in­evitable squeeze of mod­ern­iza­tion as early as 1845, when an at­tempt was made to con­vert it into a rail­way. By the time small trac­tors re­placed horses on the tow­paths in the mid1950s, im­proved roads and rail­ways had ren­dered Re­gent’s Canal’s trade vi­a­bil­ity ob­so­lete. The last ship­ping barge sailed the canal in 1969.

Af­ter a pe­riod of dis­use, how­ever, the canal again thrives, though in ways Nash could not have pos­si­bly en­vi­sioned nearly 200 years ago.

Sup­plant­ing the horse (and trac­tor) traf­fic of yes­ter­year, to­day it is run­ners, bi­cy­clists, bird watch­ers, and dog walk­ers jock­ey­ing for pre­cious lit­tle tow­path space as Re­gent’s Canal set­tles into its sec­ond life as a serene es­cape within the city. Hid­den by ivied brick walls and mod­ern hous­ing de­vel­op­ments in some parts, shrouded by lop­ing wil­low trees and holly-decked bram­ble thick­ets in oth­ers, the canal is far re­moved from Lon­don’s touristy cen­ter. From pleas­ant Lit­tle Venice, near Padding­ton Sta­tion, to beloved East Lon­don green space Vic­to­ria Park, where the canal veers south to Lime­house Basin, canal-go­ers will dis­cover scores of old wood-burn­ing house­boats, the bird­song of chirp­ing blue tits and wrens, and the many mer­chants con­tribut­ing to Re­gent’s Canal’s on­go­ing re­ju­ve­na­tion.

Sum­mer­time cine­mas, pop-up art shows and shops, and for-hire party boats are among the re­source­ful barge busi­nesses trolling the canal these days. Some, such as mo­bile vinyl spe­cial­ists The Record Deck ( there­cord­deckuk.

word­, keep cus­tomers up­dated with their moor­ing lo­ca­tions on so­cial me­dia; oth­ers,

Above: Brows­ing the book­shelves at Word on the Wa­ter. Op­po­site, clock­wise

from top left: Fresh-baked cook­ies at café and bar Barge House; a barista at the same es­tab­lish­ment; Re­gent’s Canal at Is­ling­ton’s Cole­brooke Row; the Kim­chi­nary out­let at KERB Cam­den Mar­ket.

like Bri­tish seafood restau­rant Lon­don Shell Co. ( lon­don­ and book­sell­ers Word on

the Wa­ter (­don­the­wa­ter), have semiper­ma­nent an­chor points.

Paddy Screech is one of three busi­ness part­ners man­ag­ing the float­ing book­shop, which is housed in a re­fit­ted Dutch barge that’s more than 100 years old. “Our cap­tain, Noy, brought the boat from Rot­ter­dam in­tend­ing to sell it in Lon­don, but he fell in love with it and un­con­sciously told those who came to view it ev­ery­thing that was wrong with it to put them off,” Screech says. “When we pre­sented our plan of open­ing a book­shop he jumped at the chance.”

Shelves at Word on the Wa­ter, Lon­don’s only wa­ter-bound book­shop, are stacked with an en­gag­ing col­lec­tion of lit­er­ary gems, cre­ative non­fic­tion, chil­dren’s lit­er­a­ture and, in Screech’s words, “books that con­vey the wis­dom that only a life of great chal­lenge can gen­er­ate.” Screech

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