GREAT CANAL WALKS: REGENT’S CANAL
Get in some last-minute Christmas shopping on our Regent’s Canal walk, taking in not one but two of London’s markets...
Get some last-minute Christmas shopping in on our London walk which takes in two markets
It’s the festive season – otherwise known as the darkest part of early winter – so instead of a muddy rural towpath, we’ve headed for inner London and the Regent’s Canal. Here you can take to a nice dry concrete path as you walk off that excess turkey over the holiday, or perhaps combine a walk with last-minute Christmas shopping.
We’re going to start at Limehouse Basin and head into London – for reasons you’ll see later. The easiest way to get there is on the Docklands Light Railway to Limehouse Station.
Back in the 1980s this was a run-down former dock amid a lot of dereliction, but now it’s surrounded by modern housing – amuse yourself by looking at the prices in the waterside estate agent’s windows! Turn right and walk all around the basin (making sure not to take the Limehouse Cut by mistake), or left for the shorter route to the first lock of the Regent’s. As with all the canal’s 12 locks, it was originally paired, but like all bar one of them, one chamber has now been converted to an overflow. Two more locks follow as Limehouse is left behind and the canal runs north through East London. It’s still a far cry from the
EastEnders image – there’s plenty of modern canalside housing, and Mile End Park has been created and extended on the right-hand side. Not so long ago you wouldn’t have seen many boats moored, but today it’s busy with residential craft.
The towpath’s well used, too – especially at peak commuting times when I’m embarrassed to say (as a sometime cyclist myself) that some of the two-wheeled commuters have yet to entirely take on board the ‘drop your pace’ message. But we walked it on a weekday late morning and had no issues.
The Hertford Union Canal heads off on our right, forming a link to the River Lee as well as a dividing line between the modern Mile End Park and the older Victoria Park. Finally, a mile and a half of near-continuous park (not bad for the East End) comes to an end.
A rather more stereotypical area sees the canal lined with industrial premises, crossed by a railway viaduct (the fourth since we started – for those who want to cut their walk short, we’re seldom far from a station) and accompanied by some impressively large gasholders.
A long straight takes us past Kingsland Basin and a mixture of modern buildings
as we pass Haggerston. Wenlock and City Road basins lead off, while Sturts, Actons and City Road locks continue the climb.
Islington Tunnel has no towpath, so we must leave the canal. At least five different designs of pavement markers show the route through Islington’s busy shopping streets. But, just in case you miss them: from the towpath head straight on along Duncan Street to a T-junction with the main Upper Street. Turn left, then first right into Liverpool Street, and first left into Chapel Market.
Despite Islington’s ‘trendy’ reputation, this is a ‘proper’ London street market with lots of traditional fruit, veg, fish, meat, clothing and bric-a-brac stalls as well as some more upmarket produce – so it’s just as well that we’ve not got far to go, as you might find yourself carrying the odd bit of extra shopping.
Turn right into Penton Street, second left into Maygood Street and follow a path ahead to regain the towpath at the tunnel end. Ahead is Battlebridge Basin, home to the London Canal Museum.
Anyone familiar with the next length past King’s Cross and St Pancras stations a few years ago is in for a surprise: it’s changing beyond all recognition with the regeneration of ex-industrial land. We take a temporary floating towpath where the right bank is being remodelled; there’s new building almost everywhere, and the strangest new addition is the re-erected cast iron frame of an old gasholder with a lawn inside – see page 7.
Look out for Eurostar trains leaving St Pancras, and continue through some more conventional urban surroundings to Camden, where the canal snakes its way through a short cutting. In yet another area under redevelopment are the final three locks: officially Kentish Town, Hawley and Hampstead Road – but to most Londoners, the name associated with the top lock is Camden Lock.
Our walk ends at the famous Camden Lock Market, with hundreds of stalls selling everything from collectables and books to clothes, jewellery and gifts. And that’s why we’re ending our walk rather than starting it here – you won’t want to walk six miles carrying your last-minute presents or New Year bargains!
You only need to lug them as far as Camden Town tube or Camden Road Overground station, a short walk away.
Between Hoxton and Haggerston
Islington Tunnel’s eastern portal
St Pancras Lock amid new development
A festive ‘Santa flash mob’ at Camden