Work! Love it or loathe it, we all have to do it. Over the years I’ve made it more bearable by commuting to the office by bicycle. That way, in my overly simplistic mind, work becomes the part of the day in between playing outside on my bike. One very snowy winter I even skied to my office in the city centre. But the other day I had a new idea for commuting to work … my canoe!
I live in Blackford on the south side of Edinburgh and my office is at Hermiston Gait, on the city’s western edge. The Union Canal forms a waterway between the two in the heart of the city. So the other morning I headed out for the office a little earlier than usual. A short walk through the quiet streets of Morningside, with my blow-up canoe rolled up inside a backpack, took me to the canal near Polwarth and after twenty minutes I was pumped up and ready for action.
The Union Canal doesn’t quite compare to the crocodile-infested waters of the Zambezi River which has been my most exciting canoe trip to date. But it seems that no matter where I am, I always get a real sense of adventure when I slip the canoe into the water and cut the surface with my first paddle stroke. Though I usually have to strongly resist the desire to hum the “Hawaii 5 O” theme tune. I had that feeling of adventure even here on the city canal. I suppose the necessity to make it to the office before the nine-thirty meeting added an extra frisson of excitement.
It was a beautiful morning as I slipped the canoe into the calm water and paddled west, slaloming between the pond weeds and cruising by the yellow flag irises. The Union Canal was built in 1822 to carry goods, especially coal, into the city. Like most canals it fell into disuse as the railways expanded but these days it’s experiencing a revival for recreational use and the enjoyment of a slower pace of life.
One of the challenges of building the canal was taking it over the Water of Leith at Slateford and here the builders, with advice from that great engineer Thomas Telford, created the 60-foot high Slateford Aqueduct. Crossing the aqueduct by canoe was a slightly surreal experience as I paddled along, high above the busy streets and commuter traffic. West of the aqueduct the canal entered a quiet section where tall trees and thick shrubs obscured the surrounding city. My world was reduced to this watery ribbon of wildness.
After a couple of gentle curves the canal became more urban again as I paddled into Wester Hailes with high-rise flats towering overhead and noisy buses overtaking on the adjacent road. But even in the concrete jungle, moorhens picked their way around the water weeds and a family of mute swans cruised the shallows. Just beyond Wester Hailes the canal leaves the city and heads west into green countryside towards Linlithgow. It's here that my commute by canoe ended. I hauled the canoe out of the water, rolled it up and walked the final stretch into the office.
It’s fair to say that a canoe is not the quickest way to get to work but it certainly adds a twist to the daily commute.
Start/finish: I put the canoe into the canal at Ashley Drive where there are helpful put-in places and got out close at the Calder Road bridge, again there is a helpful in/out place.
Information: I have a Gumotex Solar one-person inflatable canoe which packs down into a large backpack. It weighs about 11 kilos but by the time you’ve added the foot pump and other kit, it’s quite a heavy package so you can’t walk too far with it. It takes about twenty minutes to put the whole canoe together including the detachable tracking fin which keeps it straight in the water. The canoe is very easy to handle. I use a paddle that breaks down into three pieces. Inflatable canoes are perfect if, like me, you don’t use a car as you can take them on buses and trains – it’s just a piece of luggage. They are also especially useful if you are doing a non-circular journey and need to hop on transport to get back to your start point.
So far, it’s never punctured!