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4.4 out of 5 stars26
4.4 out of 5 stars
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on 23 September 2012
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.

For all my landlubber credentials, I always had a sneaking desire to be a sailor (lousy swimming skills stymied me in this hope, alas) but even those who have never entertained (or like the author, comprehensively lived out) such fantasies should find plenty of good reasons to read this book. In fact reviewing it almost makes me miss my old job as a journalist - it's a pleasure to write about too.

To sum up, then, Around London In A Small Boat is a revealing look at one of the great cities of the world, as seen from its water-logged underbelly - would definitely recommend!
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on 10 August 2012
If you've ever sailed on the Thames, or have any interest in messing about on the water then this is the book for you. Having paddled a similar route to the author in a kayak a few years ago it's great to get an insight into a more leisurely trip; there is a great balance between stories from the journey and notes of interest along the route.

The passion of the author for all types of water craft is clear from the very beginning; and for someone who shares such an affection for water, reading this is the next best thing to actually being there.

The book would be the perfect gift for any land locked sailors out there - just don't be surprised when they start planning their own mini adventure. On reflection that, for me, was the greatest insight from the book - there's no need to travel across the globe to explore long lost places; many of the waterways of Britain are abandoned and unloved, you just need to get out there and explore them for yourself.
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on 29 August 2012
Written by a connoisseur of the Thames who knows how she tastes on the ebb and the flow, this book is more than a description of a journey peppered with 'interesting characters met along the way'.
Sailing and boating stories combine with the author's personal history to produce an insightful and funny read.
Wistful and whimsical, I think I shall come back to Circle Line time and again.
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on 13 December 2012
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. Circle Line tells the story of a forgotten waterway around one of the world's biggest capital cities - London, many parts of which have not changed since Dickensian days. It brought back fond memories of my own adventure with Bill Beavis back in the early 70s when we competed in the first Round London inflatable marathon. There were times then when we become totally lost - and engrossed in Victorian values, and had to poke our heads above the parapets to find out where we were in London. It is clear from Steffan Meyric Hughes' engaging narrative that things have not changed.
This is a book to keep on the bookshelf

Barry PickthallCircle Line: Around London in a Small Boat
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on 28 July 2012
Beautifully written, insightful and full if natty little facts and anecdotes about the less ordinary lives lived on and around the capital's waterways. It's nostalgic in the right way, capturing the heady first romance of a life afloat that is to become a lifelong passion and love affair for Londoner, Stefan Meyric-Hughes. The relationship is an inspiring one and makes you want to get out there and experience it for yourself and in reading this you kind of are. I was going to read it on holiday but did so when I returned instead and was kind of pleased I waited as was the perfect antidote to returning back to the daily grind. A magical bit of escapist adventure discovering places that as a land dweller one passes over all the time, never having the slightest glimpse of what's really going on below. An ode to youth and maturity, to London, all who love her and her waterways.
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on 17 August 2014
"Every man must believe in something. I believe I'll go canoeing." Steffan Meyric Hughes chooses this quote from H.D. Thoreau to launch his ten day journey round the canals and forgotten rivers of London. He is, it's probably fair to say. a canoeist at heart and some of his reminiscences of teenage dare-devilry in kayaks convey a real feeling for water as a place where you can test yourself. His exploration down the South London River Wandle is undertaken in his own kayak and is one of the best pieces in a good book. The main journey is undertaken in a small versatile wooden dinghy, simple to sail, light enough to row and with an outboard engine when required. There's a poignant moment down the flight of locks from Victoria Park to Limehouse Basin where Hughes meets a small girl who is puzzled and then intrigued by the concept of a dinghy. "Can I come for a ride with you in it?" He has to refuse but rows away buoyed up by the realisation that "Kids don't sail or find some other way of leaving the world behind walls only because they don't know how to - not because they don't want to." One of the by-products of Circle Line may be a reminder of how much fun and challenge can be obtained from very small patches of water and how under-used and under- appreciated the waters of London are. There are of course odd characters living secretive lives in forgotten corners and Hughes makes the most of his encounters with the, He's also tremendously good on little known facts -- such as the plague of terrapin that resulted from the end of the Ninja Turtles craze and the number of disused power stations that are left after the age of Victorian engineering. To quote Thoreau again "One generation abandons the enterprises of another like stranded vessels." The Thames is a mighty accumulation of obsolete enterprises and wrecked vessels but Hughes's technique of personal narrative keeps his story readable and in proportion. All I would really have liked to have added to this book would have been a very much better map.
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on 9 October 2012
This book was very much worth buying. It is an accessible read from the start. The main thread is the boat trip. The frequent asides to Thames maritime tales (both the author's personal stories and more widely known events) make the book engaging. It was particularly interesting to come to understand something of the author's view of the river as one of perhaps relatively few people who know it well. There is humour and some incisive wisdom in the book. I looked forward to reading this book each evening over a week and would recommend it to others.
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on 14 September 2012
I bought this book for my husband. Here is his review:

For many the attraction of a boat lies in getting away from it all. Steffan Meyric-Hughes would seem to turn this dream on its head by taking a small boat to London and yet this is a slow, watery London of unmanned locks, dark tunnels and turning tides. It's also a London brimful of secret histories which the author spills along the way, meanwhile grappling with oar, sail and tent.
This is a thoughtfully written, honest and engaging book - I thoroughly enjoyed it.
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on 20 December 2012
If you love London, you'll love this book. And if you loathe London, it might just convince you to reconsider.
The author mingles little known tales and facts about London and the history of sailing with musings about life, modernity and everything. The kind of book that makes you long to be on the move, meeting odd characters and having adventures.

Warm, funny and touching, with moments of darkness and drama.

I couldn't put it down. My favourite read of the year.
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on 29 October 2013
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. But knowing the route as I do the book was let down by a stream of clangers. The canal into Brentford is the GU Mainline, every bridge has a plaque that says so. So it definitely is not the Bulls Bridge Branch, there is no such thing. The railway line below The Three Bridges is an obscure branch line, not the Paddington Mainline. And the Hanwell Flight developed a footbridge that is not there in reality. Perhaps these points may not seem important but clangers undermine credibility. The book also suffered continuity issues. Perhaps it was written from memory some time after the trip but for a linear journey the recollections seemed sometimes to double back and appear out of sequence. Closing out, when the industry at Lots Ait closed in the '70s the workers did not leave by the bridge. The bridge is in fact London's newest Thames crossing having been built in 2012.

I don't intend to be pedantic, but a travelogue requires a degree of accuracy to be credible. So three stars overall, five for readability, one for research and accuracy.
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