Hughes, S.M. (2012) Circle Line: Around London in a Small Boat Summerdale Publishing 97818495 32 938

Steffan Meyric Hughes, a boating journalist, takes us on a looping clockwise tour… in his tiny dinghy, with autobiographical side trips and historical digressions. It works very well.  The mixture of cartoony mishaps, encounters with eccentric waterborne humans (and the odd angry swan), historical trivia and seafaring adventure stops the book from languishing in the doldrums. The unusual perspective on the London that we take for granted launches Hughes into romantic rhapsodies on the transcendental, elemental experience of sailing. The result is an intriguing and lively read. Time Out

I suspect for many the attraction of a boat lies in getting away from it all. In Circle Line Steffan Meyric-Hughes turns this on its head through using a boat to get even more involved with it all by taking a slow, watery journey through a London of urban canals, dark tunnels and turning tides. His journey is an exploration of a London brim full of secret histories and intimate details, revealed as he grapples with oar, sail, belligerent outboard motor and flimsy tent.

Through vignettes and philosophical musings, insights and observations Meyrick Hughes offers an informed and honest account of his 7-day exploration of the canals and rivers of London. By turns funny and poignant, Circle Lane is an often well researched and well written account of his journey along the Grand Union and Thames. It’s a story that combines anecdote, autobiography, wryly humorous reflection on a city, and an obvious passion for all things boatesque in a way that manages to be both knowledgeable and inclusive.

Circle Line is an often revealing insight into the roots of one man’s passion for the water way, and into one of the great cities of the world as seen from its water-logged underbelly.

If I have one quibble with the book, it’s a slight one – Hughes’s heart is without doubt with the rivers and open sea, to my mind he skims the canal section, and as a result has missed an opportunity to explore more deeply something of its subtle drama, mystery and history; indeed you can feel his palpable sense of relief  when he leaves the constrained waters of the canal and returns to animation of a flowing river or tidal water…

That said, this is a delightful book, and one I’d recommend, though perhaps not as a detailed travelogue useful for those planning a similar journey, but more as a well written exploration of how a lifelong love of the water road evolves.

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3 thoughts on “Review of ‘Circle Line: Around London in a Small Boat’ by Steffan Meyric Hughes

  1. Thank you so much for this kind-hearted review! My heart belongs, as you say to the rivers and seas of the world, but that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the canals too. I loved the ‘subtle drama’ of the coconut rituals, the wonderful locks and the unique window they these waterways to human, particularly industrial, history. Crossing the A406 by aqueduct was one of the high points of the journey. I could happily spend a lot longer on the canals, absorbing their gentle magic. Part of my irritation on the canals came from my love of the ‘free ride’ and as you can neither sail nor hitch a lift on a tide on the canals, I suspect they are better explored under power. One day I’ll do it properly and repeat the journey on a narrowboat with family/friends.

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