The rhythm of travel
Travel isn’t just about arrival and the new places; it’s also the journey, with its rhythms and changes. Nancy Campbell was appointed UK’s Canal Laureate in 2018 and she has inside knowledge of kayaking — something I’ve only observed, a watcher on a bridge.
In ‘The short story of a long paddle on the Leeds and Liverpool canal’ she takes me down, level with the water, into her kayak and a different sense of time. Six days, a stanza for each day, counting them out: ‘On the first day…’, ‘On the second day …’ Water levels change, rain is an event; there is patient movement but no sound until the fifth stanza:
On the fifth day the radio reported
a hosepipe ban in the northwest:
there was drawdown from the reservoir
and more dry weather forecast. Boats waited
at the high locks, then passed through two abreast
exchanging news, and saving water.
The priorities on the canal and what counts as news are different. Boats and the ‘few cyclists’ in the sixth stanza are the only traffic; in a kayak it’s a solitary world.
Campbell travels on water in other ways but stays true to the way water holds the journey’s rhythm. In ‘Weidling’ she crosses the Rhine in Basel via one of its four cable-ferries, the Vogel Gryff. The carefully-modulated free verse matches the ferry’s movement against her own apprehension that ‘The world is breaking up.’ She’s asked in the first stanza:
Who couldn’t feel the lure of this great river?
Its soft colours, wild waves, salt smell—
and lined with lindens
and then admits the outside world with its news of ‘a tanker burning in the Gulf of Oman’, and the personal pain of missing ‘someone I ought not to miss’. Water is the constant, its familiar movement a comfort:
and so I cross a river there is no need to cross
not to reach the other bank, only to feel
water surge beneath the ferry boards.
On another journey Campbell walks a tow path with a friend undergoing chemotherapy. Navigations travels in many ways, all of them revealing.