Grand Union Canal Walk:
Regent's Canal and Paddington Arm to Willesden

22 July 2007

After a gap of a couple of months, caused by some busy weekends and some horrible "summer" weather, Stephen managed to find a free slot with dry weather today for a walk, this time with Ellie for company. Today, we continue along the Regent's Canal from the junction with the Hertford Union Canal, a point we reached during our April walk around the east London canals.

From the road bridge, looking down on the junction, with the Hertford Union Canal disappearing east (left) under the towpath bridge. We do a U-turn and head north and west.

Under that road bridge, we immediately come upon the first of the 8 locks we will pass today, Old Ford Lock.

A calm Regent's Canal running alongside Victoria Park

A typical scene on the Regent's Canal, with industry, new housing and brick walls - also, lots of towpath walkers, joggers and cyclists.

The new bridge which will from 2010 carry the extended East London Line along the Broad Street viaduct to Dalston Junction

A basin, a prime site in London, being used by a couple of boats and some canoes.

City Road Lock, with a modern building making maximum use of the space by extending over the bywash.

We now approach the 878-metre-long Islington Tunnel. There is no towpath, so towpath users are forced onto the streets of Islington. We foolishly followed the first signpost we saw rather than the planned route - and of course, having started to direct us, the London Borough of Islington got bored at that point, and abandoned us, so we ended up walking much further than we needed to. Ellie got bored at one point and tried to go into a delicatessen (echoes of her previous canal walk, where she went into a café) but we eventually found our way through the Sunday markets and back to the relative tranquillity of the towpath.

Ellie by St Pancras Lock. Behind the building on the left can be glimpsed overhead power lines, leading to the bridge in the background on the right, but this was almost the only sign we saw of the lines into the twin railway termini of King's Cross and St Pancras - indeed, the peace and superficially rural nature of this section was characteristic of most of today's walk.

However, in the vicinity of the next (and last) three locks - Kentish Town Lock, Hawley Lock, and Hampstead Road Locks, collectively known as Camden Locks - the tranquillity disappeared and was replaced with heaving markets, food stalls, and packed towpaths covered in people sitting eating and watching the world go by. Ellie was very good, not at all fazed by the dense crowds in the market, and totally ignoring the vast quantities of food on plates and dishes on the floor as hundreds of people had Sunday picnics. George please take note!

Above the top lock, trip boats ferry people towards Regent's Park

A trip boat chases Ellie and me as we reach Cumberland Basin with its floating Feng Shang Princess Chinese restaurant.

 This section skirts the northern edge of Regent's Park in a cutting, and passes through London Zoo.

Trip boats passing through the zoological gardens

Grand buildings line both sides of the canal on the western edge of Regent's Park. As we walked today, Stephen was listening to the first test match between England and India at Lord's, taking place 300 metres or so to the west. The TV blimp was visible not far away.

We then walked through an area with lots of residential narrowboats, with their own miniature gardens, and land-based power supplies - they're not so much boats, more compact floating apartments.

After our second diversion, over the top of Maiden Vale Tunnel, this time rather more successfully direct, we reach Little Venice, with more residential narrowboats. The towpath is closed to non-residents, and walkers are pushed onto the parallel road. Having heard about Little Venice for many years, in the flesh it was disappointing - there are many, many more attractive locations on the canal network.

Here we reach the end of the Regent's Canal at a large junction with the Paddington Arm of the Grand Union Canal. That on the right is an island in the middle of the triangular junction.

Colourful houseboats on the Paddington Arm

The elevated A40 Westway makes its presence felt for a while - mainly through the noise as this visual intrusion is only brief. Having walked beside the M25 on a viaduct as it makes its way along the Wey Navigation and Basingstoke Canal, it is sad to say that the residents of Westminster have a much poorer time than the residents of Surrey - noise-screening on the M25 makes it almost inaudible, yet no attempt has been made to use the same technique here.

From a bridge which once carried the towpath over an arm into the gas works, we look across the canal into Kensal Green Cemetery

We've come a long way today - looking across the Great Western mainline to the North Pole, which is not where Father Christmas lives but rather where the Eurostar trains are maintained.

As we near journey's end at Willesden Junction station, we take a final short break.

A pleasant walk, marred somewhat by the many cyclists on the Regent's Canal, showing a largely peaceful and surprisingly green inner north London. The Regent's Canal has been designated a Site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation, and today's walk gave a small insight into the reasons for that designation.

Zoom in for more detail, or see map in larger window: Ordnance Survey | Open Street Map | Google Maps

Total distance 18.0km in 4 hours 22 minutes (3 hours 26 minutes on the move according to the GPS), making it Ellie's longest walk so far.


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Unless otherwise stated, all images copyright (c) Stephen and Lucy Dawson