What’s around the riverbend?

‘What’s around the riverbend? Waiting just around the riverbend?’ That’s what Pocahontas asks in a song from one of my favourite Disney films, and it’s a philosophy that I have a lot of sympathy for myself. The best adventures come to the curious, I reckon – and so this morning I set out to answer Pocahontas’ question, or at least to find out what lies beyond the curve in the canal that I ran to before.

The past 10 days have been crazy, combining my magazine’s press week and show week for The Gondoliers. Cycling incessantly from bed to work to theatre to bed, I’ve barely seen (or cleaned!) my flat, let alone had time to run. I suppose the epic-ambitious choreography we had in The Gondoliers counts as exercise, but, absorbed into the 2-hour adrenaline rush that comes with performing on stage, it just doesn’t give me the same buzz as running.

As a result, I was really happy to be heading out to Brent River Park again. It was a beautiful day for it too: white frost crisped the grass where it still lay in shadow, but it was a wonderful golden-blue morning, clear but not too cold. Today I took my usual wilder path, through the thornbushes and teasel clumps towards the canal. While easing myself back in after not running much over Christmas, I’ve been sticking mostly to the early podcasts in the Couch to 5km programme, but – as I wrote before – these are just too easy nowadays (happy days!). So, I decided to step things up and jump forward to pretty much where I left off before – week 5’s programme, alternating between 5 minutes of running and 3 of walking. I’ve been running for 5 minutes on the way home from the park on other outings, I reasoned, so this shouldn’t be too hard – plus, in upping my running time, I hoped to cover more ground and explore a bit more of the park than I normally see.

And ‘see’ is exactly what I wanted to do; to stave off post-show blues and associated headweasels I determined to make an effort to really see the world around me, to experience my environment as fully as I could. Once I got into it, it was rather fun – the sun was warm on my face, I enjoyed hearing the ducks on the canal as I drew nearer, and the bushes around me were covered with tufts of white fluff almost like dandelion clocks – they were very pretty.

As for what lies around the riverbend, the obvious answer is ‘more river’. But this time I got to explore along the canal itself; after following my sandy track round and through the trees, I dipped down and found myself joining the canal path. Trotting along this narrow stretch of concrete, I passed scattered canal boats and a rushing, hissing weir beside Osterley lock.

This latter discovery coincided with one of my podcast’s ‘recovery walks’, so I cheated and paused to take a photo or two of the tumbling water. While I was doing this, a woman passed, walking her dog, and she laughingly said to me: ‘Well that’s a nice picture of a sofa and a bin!’

I looked at the weir again, and saw what she meant – I hadn’t noticed at all that the water was scattered with rubbish, or that dumped furniture lay caught against the weir – all I had seen was sunlight on water, trees, and blue sky. Amazing how different two people’s perspectives of the same scene can be! I almost felt annoyed at the woman for knocking off my rose-tinted glasses – but at the same time, very relieved to have evidence of my old Panglossian positivity creeping back, that’s a very good sign.

The path hugged the canal as far as I could see, and I followed it until I passed beneath a railway bridge – it actually made me a little Cam-sick, stirring nostalgic memories of rowing outings in Cambridge where the river opened into wide green space and water spanned by metal bridges that traffic and trains rattled over. In shady places a thin layer of ice covered the surface of the water, giving it a viscous, almost greasy appearance, but where the water was open and flowing I saw a wonderful range of birds: ducks (both mallards and some rather striking black and white ones), coots, moorhens, and a dirty-looking juvenile swan, as well as robins and magpies in the hedgerows.

20170122_103839_resizedAll too soon it was time to head back. I think tomorrow I’ll do my entire run on the canal path, see how far I can get. My route home was very pretty – more ducks, a canal boat called ‘Carla’ (close enough to make me smile) – though goodness the final 5 minute run was tough, my legs felt like lead! No running the cool-down walk this time – though once I have enough energy left to do that, at least I’ll know I’ve conquered Week 5!

I half considered at least running the rest of the tow path until I got back to the steps leading up to the road – but twice I rounded a bend in the canal only to see seemingly infinite towpath stretching before me. It’s a pity – I finally dropped into a walk about 100 yards from a bridge, having rounded the last corner that I’d challenged myself to reach, only to find when I got to the bridge that the steps I was aiming for were right beside it.

Never mind – I’ll know better tomorrow. But I guess that just goes to show: sometimes what’s around the riverbend is somewhere exciting and unknown – and sometimes it’s exactly what you’ve been looking for.

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