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on 31 January 2017
This could have been so much better. The author travels by boat along the Thames, the Brent, Grand Union, the Lea, back on the Thames and a sojourn along the Wandle in south London. There are some interesting anecdotes but very little of the metropolis that is London comes across. If you know London you'll be familiar with a lot of the places mentioned; for someone unfamiliar with London this book would not tell them very much. I suspect the author was trying to cater for a nautical readership and a general readership, but he doesn't succeed in either. Anyone who has explored the Thames would know there is a wealth of history, both good and bad, literature and heritage to be encountered.
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on 3 January 2017
I picked up this book because I'd recently sculled the length of the Thames, have a life-long fascination with the Thames and London's waterways, and was intrigued by the quirky nature of the premise. The book itself is fine, weaving personal odyssey with snippets of history engagingly. However, we parted company after I came across this statement: 'I hold little affection for rowing, as you will have gathered, and not just because of its lack of subtlety and magic.' I will defend to the death a man's right to hold forth authoritatively on subjects he patently knows nothing about. Running down rowing because you prefer sailing is fine if one is your bag and the other isn't. Justifying it by suggesting that the reason for your preference is that one possesses magic and subtlety and the other doesn't is also fine, if that too is what you want to do. The problem is that whichever way you look at it the statement is simply wrong. As an art and a discipline, rowing is a pursuit of immense skill and craft. At their very best oarsman operate like an ensemble of musicians. Working in concert, each engages in an endless back-and-forth dialogue with their colleagues, their instrument, and their environment, endlessly processing and reacting to constantly shifting subtle variations to produce a harmonizing song of speed and purpose. It is an infinitely subtle and endlessly magical pursuit. Each to his own. We all go to the devil in our own way, after all. Others might get along with the book fine, but I couldn't take to it after that.
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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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on 23 March 2015
Disappointed with this book.
The plot, to sail and row in a circle though London using the Thames and The Grand Union Canal sounds like a good challenge and read.
It's not.
Little Venice is not mentioned but there are pages of what life was like at Standard Life.
Very little about the trip but a whole chapter about the Dockland Light Railway
Other meanderings include, the Mausell Forts in the Thames estuary, and how the Secret (?) Boat Service came to Westminster Boating Base to learn how to paddle.....!

This should have been an account of a unique voyage.
Instead it's like listing to a couple of weekend sailors in the pub swapping stories.

So a part of the challenge is unfulfilled.
Someone has rowed and sailed The Circle Line.
Who is going to write a book about their experience?
And not about The DLR, SAS, Maunsell Forts etc.
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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 2 September 2013
Having cruised the London Ring twice, (minus Bow Creek and the Barrier), I thought I would enjoy this. For me it reaches its peak in Chapter 8 with the delightfully written meeting with Frank at the residential moorings above Hanbury Locks, a passage which I found quite moving. Also, the cat in Chapter 7 brought good pictures in my head.
The problem with books like this is that the authors tend to divert from their main topic to introduce various irrelevant reminiscences from their past lives in other parts of the world. This is no exception and I found myself jumping chunks to get back to the journey which I had paid the money for.
I don't regret buying the book and found much of interest, but, oh dear, a book about this fascinating cruise which never once mentions the wonderful Little Venice and the Maida Vale tunnel beyond, (neither of which can be avoided on the cruise), but instead regales us with South Africa, Thailand, and other exotic places, shows a disregard for fully reporting the chosen topic. Little Venice is a true highlight of this journey. So, as I say, curate's egg, good in parts.
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on 10 April 2018
A very enjoyable read for someone who does not sail. I must get back to London and spend some time watching the waterways and not just the people and buildings.
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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 27 July 2015
As a boating Londoner thoroughly enjoyed it. But you don't need to know anything about boats or be a Londoner to enjoy this book.
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