The first bridge you come to after leaving the Weir is the Bridge of Shit. To cross here is a rite of passage. You leave behind the bustle of Lower Clapton parklife and pass over the canal to the marshword.
This is often the most polluted section of the canal. It’s victim to a drift of detritus from the weir. Here’s where you’re most likely to see the Hackney Crap Steamboat busy at work.
The Hackney Crap Steamboat is like a regular boat, but instead of a bow a mechanical wheel scoops rubbish from the canal. The bottles, cans, wrappers and footballs are drawn into the belly of the boat on a large tray. On the side of the boat is the slogan “I Eat Rubbish”.
It’s common in the summer months for the air around the bridge to fill with the stench of shit. For a couple of weeks it was so bad the canal barges dwellers had to flee their moorings. At the height of The Mighty Stink I came past to see men on punts, wobbling in the water, while men on the tow path passed them huge white pads. They laid the pads on the water to soak up the crap. There must have been thirty of more of these aquatic Tampons, tessellated into one sheet, bobbing in the filth. It was as if they were dressing the canal in a nappy.
I don’t blame the Bridge of Shit for being this way. It’s a good bridge. It knows its place. It’s there to carry you from once side to another. From the urban parkland sprawl to the Victorian water filter beds, a place that once saved London from choking to death on its own excrement.
Faeces in Memorium. Gloria in excelsis.
From here you can see the stones of Hackney Henge and trees rising out of the ramparts. To the right you can see the barges lined up along the canal, smoke puffing from their chimneys, pot plants on the decks, hippies sawing wood and wasters drinking lager in damp armchairs. Look behind you and you’ll see the walls of the electrical plant, hear its humming, and beyond it the vast red edifice of the recycling station where trucks unload the city’s waste.
And in the midst of all this there’s you, caught between somewhere and nowhere, wondering what that bloody smell is.