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Circle Line: Around London in a Small Boat [Paperback]

Steffan Meyric Hughes
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 July 2012
Magic, to a sailor, is harnessing the wind – getting something for nothing – the surprise of a gust, the boon of a side-wind and the trial of a headwind and best of all, the moment when a change in direction means turning away from the head seas and wind and spray in silence and warmth. In 1969, man fl ew to the moon and sailed around the world solo. In 2009, sailor and Londoner Steff an Meyric Hughes thought he’d try something a little closer to home, becoming the fi rst to sail and row around London in a small boat. Along the way, he discovers the history of the great city’s future and great secrets of the mysterious Thames: wrecks, bombs and intrigue. Circle Line is the story of a unique journey on the forgotten waterways of one of the world’s greatest capitals; an investigation into the way we live today; and a humorous, moving trip down memory lane.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Summersdale (1 July 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1849532931
  • ISBN-13: 978-1849532938
  • Product Dimensions: 1.8 x 14 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 126,550 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Steffan Meyric Hughes was born in Paris in 1975 and raised there, in Milan and (principally) in London where his first book, Circle Line, is set. He has won a prize for poetry (Riverside Young Poets, 1995) and works as news and features editor on the monthly consumer magazine Classic Boat.

In addition to writing, his interests include: sailing, whitewater kayaking and eating as much cheese, shellfish and offal as he can get his hands on. Steffan has now started his second book, a rites-of-passage novel (working title: The Last Descent) which revisits many of the themes in Circle Line: essentially, how to live in an increasingly technological age and the nature of urban life.

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Product Description


'The news editor of Classic Boat magazine sails and rows around London in a small boat, both along the Thames and down some of the capital's lesser known waterways. His account of the voyage is both charming and revealing.' (The Bookseller)

'A fascinating tale of the mysteries of the Thames and London's forgotten waterways, unknown to so many.' (St Christopher's Live Your Life e-zine)

'one of those entirely pointless but interesting journeys so beloved by those with an exploring nature… the first person to circumnavigate London in a small boat using the city's network of rivers and 200-year-old canals… what's best in Hughes's account are his whimsically philosophical musings on his various sailing experiences…' (The Daily Mail)

'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)

'full of interesting facts and details… he meets a wide variety of London characters… great new book…' (

'Fascinating facts and little knows snippets about the Thames and the surrounding city. Charming - and made more so by Rob Smith's fantastic cover illustration, featuring some rather lovely line illustrations of London, and a dapper depiction of the author in, well… A small boat!' (Jackie Magpie)

'Circle Line is the story of a unique journey on the forgotten waterways of one of the world's greatest capitals; an investigation into the way we live today; and a humorous, moving trip down memory lane.' (Berkelouw)

'Full of detail, this book reveals little-known secrets that will delight readers.' (Artswrap)

'Few people today sail on the Thames, but Hughes demonstrates that it is eminently possible and may even be the ideal 'staycation'.' (The Good Book Guide)

'Having sailed since he was ten, Hughes knows a thing or two about boats. … In this, his first book, Hughes reports on his ten day trip at slower than walking pace, on canals and through tunnels, before making the return along the River Thames … his 70 mile journey must surely make a refreshing change from being penned in on the Tube?' (Best of British)

'… a jolly good and often perceptive read that will be of particular interest to those who think they already know the capital's waterways, or have perhaps come across them for the first time, through the Olympics or Jubilee celebrations.' (Waterways World)

"… a voyage around London, starting and finishing at Kingston-upon-Thames. He travels via river, creek and canal to locations such as Wembley and Islington, giving us an inside look at the hidden side of London, with wry descriptions that make this a fun read." (Yachting Monthly)

'Steffan's book Circle Line chronicles his fascinating journey around London. Not by the yellow tube line, but using the network if rivers and canals surrounding the capital… a fascinating read.' (

'… a unique challenge… It's ostensibly a tale of minor scrapes, buggered locks and awkward moorings. But this is not the London travelogue you might expect from the title… the unusual mission is used as a background device for telling tales and sharing an enthusiasm for life on the water. It's mostly a pleasant read, of boating bonhomie and the slower pace of life upon the water, but not always so. Frequent paddles into darker territory (such as the fate of the Marchioness, and the launch of the Albion) make for a varied read. Yet even the most ardent of landlubbers will be charmed by this alternative way of life and method of exploring London.' (

'… our capital from an angle few now see… We are treated to his insightful comments on the old and new architecture, particularly how the waterfront has changed and even the quality of the water itself… In the tradition of good travel writing, this is a good 'sailing book.' (Classic Boat)

'Uncovering the history of the Thames and boats themselves, Hughes also discovers the feeling of loneliness that travelling this way can bring. Full of detail, this book reveals little known secrets that will delight readers.' (

'There is a great deal to like and though the book takes place over just a ten day trip the sense of adventure and discovery is significant… On the one hand it is a look at a slower pace of life brought about by pottering somewhere in a boat. On the other it is an exploration of our capital city as very few have seen it. Happily it works both ways… ' (Sailing Today)

'This book tells the unique journey on the forgotten waters of the Big Smoke and there is lots of humour thrown in too.' (The Clitheroe Advertiser and Time)

'… 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… By turns funny and poignant… 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… a delightful book, and one I'd recommend… a well written exploration of how a lifelong love of the water road evolves.' (Eileen Inlanding Blog)

'Londoner Steffan Meyric hughes wanted an adventure and so he embarked on becoming the first person to sail and row around the city in a small boat. Along the way he discovered the truth about boats, the sea and river and unravelled the history of London and the fascinating secrets about the mysterious River Thames… a unique journey… lots of humour… ' (Burnley Express)

About the Author

Steffan Meyric Hughes is news editor of Classic Boat magazine. He lives in London

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a darned good read 27 Sep 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Steffan Meyric Hughes sure can write a good travel documentary - mind, he should being a world class traditional boat journalist. I've read his stuff in the glossy magazine 'Classic Boat' where he's been working for several years. But, behind that, there is obviously a much more in-depth mind than the normal run-of-the-mill journalist. Now, anyone would have thought that a quick seven day (I think it was seven days but to be truthful that seems irrelevant now)jaunt rowing, sailing, motoring, even punting, around London in a small boat would provoke a pretty boring account of high-rise buildings, bridges, floating scum and God knows what else. But this book is different to many of the other yachtie books around. It's as much a catalogue of many aspects of his past than a straight account of a voyage, there's much philosophising on the world and, at the same time, the unearthing of many secrets of the metropolis that I as a coastal fishy fella, never name all the residents of the fine city, didn't know. It's encyclopaedic from that point of view whilst, at the same time, retains the charm of slowly travelling along canals (which I love too) and there's several weird and wonderful characters to meet along the road - sorry waterway! Oh, thanks to Nick and Matt for loan of the boat too....!!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a charming ditty 29 Oct 2012
The author keeps you engaged from beginning to end in the charming 'Circle Line', with an effortlessly entertaining easy style, celebrating the capital's unknown, unseen waterways . A civilised, witty, warm-hearted tour of both watery public thoroughfares and private reflections, Sam Meyric Hughes proves a consistently fine companion. He's now on my 'authors to look out for' list...
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My favourite book this year! 16 Oct 2012
By Gondola
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I loved this: I loved the story of the trip around London and the way the narrative branched out into tales (past Thames disasters on film, canal adventures, secret lives on the Thames) and reminiscences. Great structure, utterly readable - compulsively so in fact! Everyone who loves London should read it, sailors should make a space on their tiny boat bookshelves, and all readers of good prose should buy it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Circle 10 Oct 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Cracking read on the whole, and lots (Lots?) of stuff that, as a Londoner, I never knew. Tunnels and power stations and secret rivers and obscure facts about London's river always fascinate me.

I could go on about some of those facts and figures I most enjoyed reading - indeed I would have liked more of London and not quite so much of the diversions abroad and into childhood, which made it read at times like an early autobiography, albeit peppered with some rather serious and wise philosophising that belies the author's tender-ish years.

Having said that his upbringing by the Thames and the strong attraction he will always feel for it came out the most strongly. Surfing on the power station wave - wouldn't be allowed these days for sure... What larks!

As an inveterate sub editor I picked up a few things that need changing in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th editions. Stephenson never challenged for the America's Cup, and SAS and SBS surely stand for Special, not Secret, Boat and Air Services. And he has a tendency to explain terms that needn't be explained, such as the meaning of bathyscape, but then this is meant to be a book for all, not just those steeped in boats.

I also detected a slightly world weary tone to the writing (which is nevertheless rich and descriptive), rather than the kind of implausible optimism in the face of adversity one finds so amusing in his fellow Thamesophile, Jerome K. Cheer up Steffan!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A river with many tributaries 23 Sep 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Here is a random sample of some of the many things I have learned from reading Steffan Meyrick Hughes's distinctive book: that the Thames Estuary teems with the rusted shells of World War II gun turrets that drove their sentry occupants slowly insane; that the East European diaspora has become so entrenched a part of London life that local authorities have taken to putting up 'no fishing' signs in Slavic languages on the banks of the Thames; that Philip Larkin was an aficionado of pornography; that an excellent way of firing a shot across a despised relative's boughs from beyond the grave is to leave them a yacht in your will.

This diversity of information sums up the range of vignettes, insights and observations on offer as Meyrick Hughes cheerfully takes to the waterways of London for a historic trip up memory lane that spans a thousand years, without letting this limit his ability to address a wider array of subjects that interest him. By turns funny and poignant, Circle Lane is a thoroughly researched and well written account of one man's water-borne adventures that combines the best of hands-on journalism with an erudite and often wryly humorous reflection on a city he clearly thrives on. Not unsurprisingly, he also finds time to explain his passion for boats in a way that manages to be knowledgeable without alienating the uninitiated. Only when he reminisced about some of his sun-kissed childhood holidays sailing in the Med did I find it a little hard to relate - but then to be fair you don't get to cultivate a serious sailing habit by spending your summers visiting your (non-seafaring) relatives.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars London's forgotten waters
"Every man must believe in something. I believe I'll go canoeing." Steffan Meyric Hughes chooses this quote from H.D. Read more
Published 16 days ago by Ms. J. Jones
3.0 out of 5 stars Three stars overall, five for readability, one for research and...
I wanted to like this book, and mostly I did. Having travelled this route myself many times I was keen to see it with new eyes, and that purpose it certainly did achieve. Read more
Published 10 months ago by W. Martin
5.0 out of 5 stars Circle Line
This highly entertaining book is a completely new slant on travel in and around London.
It is a revelation for those of us who live or have lived there and reveals many... Read more
Published 11 months ago by jonmac24
3.0 out of 5 stars Curate's egg
Having cruised the London Ring twice, (minus Bow Creek and the Barrier), I thought I would enjoy this. Read more
Published 12 months ago by pippin6
3.0 out of 5 stars An easy read.
It was a quick and fairly unchallenging read. Some interesting facts and anecdotes. Good value at the reduced price I paid.
Published 15 months ago by Poppytastic
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating meander through life, love and London -best read of 2012
If you love London, you'll love this book. And if you loathe London, it might just convince you to reconsider. Read more
Published 20 months ago by CATHIE MCGINN
5.0 out of 5 stars Circle Line - Around London in a small boat
A great read...thoroughly recommended for anyone interested in boats, canals and Victorian enginuity. I took this book with me on a canal holiday and couldn't put it down. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Barry Pickthall
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoroughly enjoyed it
A delightful little book about sailing and rowing around London. Which to be completely honest I didn't thing that you could do! Read more
Published 22 months ago by Half Man, Half Book
5.0 out of 5 stars A very good read
This book was very much worth buying. It is an accessible read from the start. The main thread is the boat trip. Read more
Published 23 months ago by Will
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