Canal Dreams

Running secretly, silently, almost unseen through the suburbs of southern commuterland is the fifty kilometre by five metre strip of tranquility which is the restored Basingtoke Canal. Canals in the North of England can a brutal affair; blasted through hillsides, bounded by industry, an early battle between man and the landscape but this is a more sedate rural meander through gentle country, more of a compromise than a conflict between us and nature. That isn’t to say this arcadian scene hasn’t seen friction. The eighteenth century constructors ran up against unenthusiastic landowners, had the german army landed on the south coast in 1940 this would have been the site of our last stand, the volunteers who restored the canal in the nineteen eighties with the dream of reinstating a working waterway found their intentions hampered by public authorities who declared the canal a nature reserve and today, as in many places, I expect the towpath doesn’t always easily accomodate the wheeled and non-wheeled users of it’s narrow track. Fortunately easy-to-squeeze-by drop handlebars, a tourist’s slow pace and concern not to upset the natives and looking even less like the characters who adorn the covers of cycling magazines than normal meant I never exchanged any words other than good afternoon with folks out for a stroll except for when I stopped some distance short of a lady pushing an old fella in a wheelchair who, after a grinning mexican stand-off worthy only of the lamest spaghretti western you ever saw insisted I come on through promising faithfully she wouldn’t push me in the water. Who knows, maybe there is still a chance we can all get along with one another after all.

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