On the Wa­ter

Visit the parks, path­ways and pubs that lie hid­den along­side Lon­don’s rivers and canals.

Virgin Australia Voyeur - - CONTENTS - Words STEVE MCKENNA Pho­tog­ra­phy ALI­CIA TAY­LOR

tHINK OF A Lon­don wa­ter­way and the River Thames will in­vari­ably spring to mind. Snaking through the heart of the Bri­tish cap­i­tal, it’s been Lon­don’s lifeblood since be­fore Ro­man times (and if you haven’t done a Thames sight­see­ing cruise yet, then you should — es­pe­cially when the sun’s out and iconic land­marks such as the Tower Bridge and Houses of Par­lia­ment are bathed in light). Yet it’s the city’s more se­cluded wa­ter­ways that are in­creas­ingly se­duc­ing Lon­don­ers and trav­ellers in the know. Af­ter decades of ne­glect, th­ese ‘hid­den’ rivers and Vic­to­rian canals are en­joy­ing a re­nais­sance: nar­row­boats, ad­ven­ture-seek­ers and wildlife nav­i­gate the waters, and the re­stored banks and tree­lined tow­paths buzz with In­sta-wor­thy spots that will please lovers of art, na­ture, sport, his­tory, food and drink.

Re­gent’s Canal

Arch­ing for 14 kilo­me­tres through North Lon­don, past lav­ish man­sions and gritty hous­ing es­tates, ver­dant parks and vi­brant mar­kets, Re­gent’s Canal of­fers an ab­sorb­ing win­dow into the cap­i­tal’s di­ver­sity. It hums with char­ac­ters from all walks of life: fam­i­lies push­ing strollers, cou­ples walk­ing hand-in-hand, com­muters cy­cling to and from work, and old pals an­gling for fish. A flurry of lan­guages fills the air, from Ara­bic to English, Swahili to Urdu. You can ex­pe­ri­ence it from the wa­ter with sev­eral boat firms — such as the Bow Boat Com­pany, which runs char­tered barge trips — or on foot along the canal tow­paths.

Pre­fer ped­alling to walk­ing? The San­tander Cy­cles scheme lets you pick up and drop off bikes at more than 750 points across Lon­don, in­clud­ing out­side the Lime­house DLR Sta­tion, close to the canal’s eastern end at the yacht-filled ma­rina of Lime­house Basin. In Vic­to­rian times, sea­far­ing ves­sels would dock here to trans­fer goods such as Scan­di­na­vian ice and Baltic tim­ber onto barges that de­liv­ered to canal-side fac­to­ries and ware­houses. You’ll pass th­ese build­ings as you ven­ture up the canal; some are now derelict and smoth­ered in graf­fiti, oth­ers trans­formed into lock-side flats, stu­dios and eater­ies.

There are many en­tic­ing pit stops on the way, too: Vic­to­ria Park, East Lon­don’s biggest green lung; Broad­way Mar­ket, a trendy thor­ough­fare with a bustling Satur­day mar­ket; the so­called Hag­ger­ston Riviera, where al­fresco cafes and bistros neigh­bour gal­leries and co-work­ing spa­ces; and also Wen­lock Basin, home to The Nar­row­boat, a gas­tropub perched di­rectly above the wa­ter. Past here, the canal dis­ap­pears through the 879-me­tre Is­ling­ton Tun­nel, so those on foot or sad­dles must de­tour via the streets of An­gel be­fore re­join­ing the tow­path near the Lon­don Canal Mu­seum. Oc­cu­py­ing a for­mer ice ware­house, it charts the his­tory of the cap­i­tal’s wa­ter­ways.

Close by is King’s Cross, a canal­side district that is home to Gra­nary Square — a huge pub­lic space fea­tur­ing 1000 chore­ographed foun­tains — and a wealth of ac­claimed eater­ies, in­clud­ing Dishoom, which serves In­dian street food in a con­verted rail­way shed. The square is edged by steps cas­cad­ing down to the canal; car­peted in ar­ti­fi­cial grass in sum­mer, they of­fer a great op­por­tu­nity for peo­ple-watch­ing. Scores of barges trickle by, with names like Tipsy Ot­ter and King­fisher; many are peo­ple’s homes, oth­ers dou­ble as busi­nesses sell­ing tea, books and sec­ond-hand clothes.

While the canal is, by and large, serene, there’s a real en­ergy as it flows through the bo­hemian Cam­den Town neigh­bour­hood, which is jammed with tow­path-hug­ging pubs and mar­kets that do a roar­ing trade in ev­ery­thing from Pol­ish and Thai cui­sine to retro clothes and records. Tran­quil­lity re­sumes as the canal skirts Re­gent’s Park and the Lon­don Zoo, be­fore van­ish­ing through another tun­nel, re-emerg­ing 300 me­tres later be­neath Café Lav­ille. Here, Ital­ian chefs rus­tle up Mediter­ranean-in­spired dishes in a glass-fronted es­tab­lish­ment that over­looks the canal’s fi­nal flour­ish.

Lit­tle Venice, Padding­ton Basin and Grand Union Canal

Go­ing Ital­ian is quite apt, as Café Lav­ille lies only a stone’s throw from Lit­tle Venice. One of Lon­don’s most af­flu­ent neigh­bour­hoods, stud­ded with white stucco town­houses and beau­ti­ful gar­dens, it sur­rounds the la­goon formed where Re­gent’s Canal meets the Grand Union Canal. Some say Lit­tle Venice earned its moniker from the flam­boy­ant, glo­be­trot­ting 18th-cen­tury poet Lord By­ron; oth­ers be­lieve it was down to another man of words, Robert Brown­ing, who lived here in the mid-19th cen­tury. Drip­ping with weep­ing wil­lows, and a mag­net for swans and cygnets, Brown­ing’s Is­land is one of the most idyl­lic slices of a neigh­bour­hood that counts Sig­mund Freud, Kate Moss and Björk among res­i­dents, past and present.

One pop­u­lar Lit­tle Venice chill-out spot is Water­side Cafe, a boat-restau­rant with out­door seat­ing. Another lo­cal favourite is the Pup­pet Theatre Barge; moored here be­tween Oc­to­ber and July, it’s renowned for its fam­ily-friendly mar­i­onette shows. While wa­ter­buses reg­u­larly ply Lit­tle Venice’s waters, fer­ry­ing pas­sen­gers along Re­gent’s Canal to Lon­don Zoo and Cam­den, things are at their busiest dur­ing the Canal­way Cav­al­cade, a colour­ful pageant with live mu­sic, dec­o­rated boats and a fair, held over the early May Bank Hol­i­day week­end each year.

If you tread the tow­path south of Lit­tle Venice, you’ll find Aussie-run cafe Beany Green (good for flat whites, juices and bot­tom­less brunches) and Padding­ton Basin, home to high­rise of­fices and apart­ments, slick wa­ter­front din­ing venues and Ac­tive360, which takes pun­ters on stand-up pad­dle­board­ing ad­ven­tures: lessons, races and yoga are all of­fered on the wa­ter. Padding­ton Basin’s new­est ar­rival — a se­ries of decked plat­forms and walk­ways — is said to be Lon­don’s first float­ing park. It has free wi-fi, a wildlife area aimed at en­cour­ag­ing birds to feed and nest here, and pop-up gin bars and fit­ness classes.

West of Lit­tle Venice lies the Padding­ton arm of the Grand Union Canal, a wa­ter­way stretch­ing 220 kilo­me­tres to Birm­ing­ham, a city that fa­mously has more miles of canals than Venice. You might not fancy trav­el­ling that far, but it’s worth am­bling or ped­alling for a few kilo­me­tres at least — per­haps to the in­ter­sec­tion with Lad­broke Grove, which is near to a Tube sta­tion of the same name and close to sev­eral San­tander Cy­cles

dock­ing points. This peace­ful stretch of canal sports dec­o­ra­tive wall mo­saics of lo­cal wildlife, loomed over by en­vi­able mil­lion­pound prop­er­ties and the Trel­lick Tower; de­signed by ar­chi­tect Ernő Goldfin­ger, it’s a 31-storey icon of 1970s Bru­tal­ism. For re­fresh­ments, call in at The Wa­ter­way, a bistro-style pub, or The Sum­mer­house, a fish and seafood spe­cial­ist. Both have lovely ter­races from which to watch the world — and boats — go by. River Lea

You may have heard Adele singing about the River Lea. She grew up in North Lon­don, which the river snakes past on its way from Bed­ford­shire to the Thames, and in her stir­ring tune from third al­bum 25, she says the Lea is “in my roots, in my veins, in my blood”. As it is for most East Lon­don­ers.

As it flows through the cap­i­tal’s east, the Lea splits into a tan­gle of man-made trib­u­taries and canalised sec­tions that have been re­shaped across the cen­turies, most re­cently for the 2012 Sum­mer Olympics. A pleas­ant way to savour the Lea — and Lon­don’s post-Games legacy — is to take a leisurely cruise on the wa­ter­ways around Queen El­iz­a­beth Olympic Park with Lee & Stort Boat Co. You can also kayak with Moo Ca­noes, which runs guided trips and rents out cow-print kayaks.

You’re sure to work up a thirst, so head to Hack­ney Wick, on the park’s west side, to ex­plore a clus­ter of wa­ter­ing holes and eater­ies. Seek out Crate Brew­ery, a hip pizze­ria and mi­cro­brew­ery. Re­cy­cled ma­te­ri­als such as rail­way sleep­ers dec­o­rate this ren­o­vated fac­tory and, in good weather, the beer-and-cider-sip­ping crowds con­gre­gate on the wa­ter­front ter­race. You’ll en­counter other quirky Lea-side en­claves if you fol­low The Line, a paved, con­tem­po­rary art trail thread­ing south of the park. Fringed with sculp­tures by the likes of Sir Antony Gormley, Sir Ed­uardo Paolozzi and Damien Hirst, the trail passes a patch­work of land­scapes: derelict Vic­to­rian in­dus­trial sites, flashy new apart­ments, Ge­or­gian brick mills and reed-strewn wet­lands with geese, gulls and king­fish­ers (more than 200 bird species have been recorded in th­ese parts).

A haven for twitch­ers is Cody Wilds, a wa­ter­front oa­sis and com­mu­nity project flour­ish­ing in the prox­im­ity of a re­dun­dant gas and chem­i­cal works. Once the area’s re­gen­er­a­tion is fin­ished, you’ll be able to walk or cy­cle the length of the Lea from source to mouth; un­til then, the only op­tion is to veer in­land for about a kilo­me­tre, pass­ing scrap metal deal­ers, print­ers and plas­tics firms, be­fore re­turn­ing to the wa­ter near Trin­ity Buoy Wharf, an artsy quar­ter where the Lea meets the Thames. Along­side art in­stal­la­tions and build­ings made from re­claimed ship­ping con­tain­ers, you’ll find eater­ies such as Bow Creek Cafe and the Amer­i­can-style Fat­boy’s Diner. The wharf also hap­pens to be the site of Lon­don’s only light­house — once a bea­con for ves­sels nav­i­gat­ing the Thames, it’s now home to one of the city’s most left-field cul­tural at­trac­tions: Long­player. Switched on for the mil­len­nium cel­e­bra­tions, it’s an eerily am­bi­ent piece of mu­sic played on Ti­betan singing bowls and gongs and is due to run un­in­ter­rupted un­til mid­night on 31 De­cem­ber, 2999.

CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP LEFT Dishoom at King’s Cross; a barge on the wa­ter in Lit­tle Venice; street art in Hack­ney Wick; sam­ple pizza at Crate Brew­ery; North Lon­don’s Re­gent’s Park; a boat at Lime­house Basin; dis­cover quirky art­works near Trin­ity Buoy Wharf; the canal-side steps at Gra­nary Square; a wel­come sign for sailors at Re­gent’s Canal; foun­tain jets at Gra­nary Square. OPENER, FROM LEFT The mod­ern de­vel­op­ment at Padding­ton Basin; Re­gent’s Canal winds past build­ings from many eras.

Boats at Lime­house

Basin. OP­PO­SITE, FROM TOP The Sum­mer­house on the Grand Union Canal; Ready Money Drink­ing Foun­tain in Re­gent’s Park.

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