Cycle the rabbit warren of traffic-congested streets and alleys, paddle four hours on the River Lea in a canoe painted like a Holstein cow, and walk a ten-kilometre stretch of the Thames Path ranked “best for rural beauty.” A little physical activity is our recipe for recovery from an eight-time-zone flight and the substantial Full English Breakfasts that follow it. The Queen’s 90th birthday, the London Marathon, the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death (his birth date is unknown): there was a lot to celebrate during our five days in London, England.
Our animated and handsome tour guide Matt offered legends and historical facts about great plagues, fires, wars, and famous people, as he led our international group of nine on a four-hour cycling tour along both banks of London’s famous river. The London Eye, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Shakespeare’s Globe, and Big Ben were some of our stops.
Highlights? Cycling across Tower Bridge and stopping for lunch at Borough Market, London’s oldest and largest food market with fine food from all over the world.
Alfie outfitted us with a brand-new Moo canoe and a dozen pillows for our trip up the River Lea to some of London’s wilder parts. Rowing clubs, colourful narrowboats and colourful people who live aboard them, nesting swans and coots were sighted, with stops at Walthamstow Marsh and at the Prince of Wales pub for lunch.
Why were the canoes painted like Holstein canoes and outfitted with large blue pillows where the seats should be? We have no idea, but it’s clear that paddling is somewhat different here. In the United Kingdom, the terms canoe and kayak are used interchangeably; what we North Americans call a canoe is a Canadian canoe or open canoe. Unlike North America, canoes and kayaks must yield to motorized boats and rowing shells, but at least all boats drive on the right (while cars drive on the left).
A palace and a path
Cooks were roasting beef in front of a roaring fire – just as they did for Henry VIII’s court – when we arrived at Hampton Court Palace. The Palace is a living museum, where visitors can experience the splendour of a day at court.
After wandering the Palace and its gardens, we walked a ten-km stretch of the Thames Path, from Kew Bridge to Putney Bridge. This is a green and beautiful rural walk, with joggers and cyclers on all sides and rowers shooting past at regular intervals. Such varied and spectacular bridges in London! Our favourite is Hammersmith Bridge, built in 1887, with its ornate towers of green and gold.
We’ve only just begun
Cathy wanted to see some puffins. Doug wanted to drive a narrowboat. These modest goals crept in scope to become a six-week trip to England and Wales. This post describes our first stop: five days in London. Jet lag recovered, we are ready to move on to Wales, where the day begins with Welsh Breakfast, which is English Breakfast plus a dab of slow-cooked seaweed called laverbread.
“I hope it’s cold there,” said Doug, as we rolled our suitcases from home to the Harbour Air floatplane dock on April 19. Victoria boasted shorts-and-tee-shirt temperatures, a balmy 23-degrees Celsius, while our suitcases were full of fleece, wool, and Goretex, ready for the worst-possible British weather. Doug got his wish: with single-digit temperatures, Britain has yet to warm up. Our first souvenir purchase: wool scarves.