It is winter time. I venture a chilly walk. This is my freedom.
My eyes follow the snaky twists and turns. A heavy fog blankets the water obscuring the dark entrance to the century old brick tunnel. This is as far as the footway goes, I would have to go by boat from here. There is a small abandoned wooden sloop without sails tied up next to me but I do not take it even though I am tempted. No doubt it would serve me well, but the tunnel is long , pitch black and frequented by longboats that would easily break the tiny vessel apart. I will save my rowing adventure for another day.
When I recall my canal walks, the smell is the first thing that enters my mind. A distinctive odour of diesel fuel and thick smoke combined with the organic aroma of algae, wet soil and the rain sodden weeds that line the footpath. A pungent whiff of damp clings to my clothes and hair; the scent is lingering. Even days later, I carry the canal on my person.
The world has a grey blue filter pulled over it. The air is icy. The tips of my fingers are numb and I rub my hands together to combat the cold. The wind blows through me and I pull my jacket tight around my body, I should have worn a scarf. My chest feels heavy from the cold, or perhaps it is melancholy, but that is not a new sensation. The dry leaves left on the trees rustle in the breeze. On occasion you can hear the squawk of a crow somewhere in the distance. Children eagerly feed swans and ducks at the water’s edge. I observe them as they excitedly throw large lumps of white bread at the expectant birds. The parents in these scenes always appear anxious to leave, uttering encouraging phrases such as “alright then, last piece” or “come along, I think that’s enough now”.
I envy the people in boats who do not have to negotiate the amblers and the cyclists; I often wish them to disappear entirely. The canal being man-made means the scenery is less naturalistic and far more industrial. The old brick and wrought iron warehouses that line the opposite side of the water give the distinct feeling of being in a Victorian novel or Penny Dreadful. On a misty twilight you wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Jack the Ripper emerge from the shadows. How quickly the eerie scene can shift when the fog clears and the orange sun sets on the horizon. Suddenly the buildings are silhouetted into mere shapes; artistically reflected off the water’s mirror-like surface.
I often forget myself and walk for several hours. Eventually I have to turn around, reluctantly retrieving my steps towards home. The comforting smell of burning wood billows from moored boats; I am suddenly impatient for a pair of warm socks and hot tea. “Until tomorrow,” I think. The water laps gently against several hulls and I know it is saying: I’ll be here.