Ex­plor­ing the cap­i­tal’s canal be­fore ven­tur­ing onto the newly opened Olympic Park wa­ter­ways

Canal Boat - - CONTENTS -

Are­cent travel pro­gramme on tele­vi­sion spot­lighted the Re­gent’s Canal and de­scribed it as “One of Lon­don’s Best Kept Se­crets”. This may seem a du­bi­ous claim if you are among the crowds at Cam­den Lock, but oth­er­wise it could be a fair com­ment on the nine-mile link from Lit­tle Venice to the Thames in East Lon­don.

The lock-free sec­tion be­tween Lit­tle Venice and Cam­den opened in 1816, so it has just cel­e­brated its 200th birth­day. The re­main­der of the canal to the Thames at Lime­house was com­pleted in 1820. In its work­ing hey­day, the wa­ter­way pro­vided an im­por­tant link from Lon­don’s Dock­lands to the main canal sys­tem. Coal, tim­ber and agri­cul­tural pro­duce were car­ried in huge quan­ti­ties. Since the 1970s it’s been the pre­serve of leisure craft, and par­tic­u­larly in re­cent years res­i­den­tial boaters.

We be­gin our jour­ney at Lit­tle Venice which is a tri­an­gu­lar shaped pool, con­ve­niently sit­u­ated close to Padding­ton rail­way sta­tion, where the Re­gent’s Canal meets the Padding­ton Arm of the Grand Union. This is a busy boat­ing lo­ca­tion at most times of the year, but it be­comes very lively dur­ing the early May bank hol­i­day when it hosts the Canal­way Cav­al­cade (see our news pages). The pool is over­looked by a num­ber of fine Re­gency houses which are in com­plete con­trast to the huge mod­ern de­vel­op­ments which flank the nearby Padding­ton Basin. A wa­ter­bus ser­vice op­er­ates from Lit­tle Venice to Cam­den Lock via the Lon­don Zoo.

The Re­gent’s Canal be­gins be­neath an ele­gant road bridge, be­yond which a line of moor­ings brings you to Maida Hill Tun­nel, soon fol­lowed by an­other shorter tun­nel at Lis­son Grove. Soil ex­ca­vated in the build­ing of these tun­nels is said to

The Re­gent’s Canal be­gins be­neath an ele­gant road bridge, be­yond which a line of moor­ings brings you to Maida Hill Tun­nel, soon fol­lowed by an­other shorter tun­nel at Lis­son Grove

have been used to build the nearby Lord’s cricket ground.

Be­yond Lis­son Grove the canal en­ters Re­gent’s Park over­looked by im­pos­ing man­sions with slop­ing waterside gar­dens.

Look up un­der­neath Bridge num­ber 8, which con­tains the cul­verted River Ty­burn within its brick­work – the clue is a V-shaped groove un­der its arch. The next bridge is the cel­e­brated Mac­cles­field Bridge pop­u­larly called ‘Blow-up Bridge’. In Oc­to­ber 1874 a barge full of gun­pow­der ex­ploded be­neath the bridge, killing all its oc­cu­pants. The bridge was sub­se­quently re­built us­ing the orig­i­nal sup­port­ing cast iron pil­lars ( but turned the other way around, as ev­i­denced by the grooves worn by boats’ towropes, some of which are on the ‘wrong’ side). Then comes Lon­don Zoo with Lord Snow­don’s aviary towering above the wa­ter. Only wa­ter buses are al­lowed di­rect ac­cess to the Zoo from the canal at a spe­cial stop, so boaters wish­ing to visit must find a moor­ing fur­ther on and walk back to join the queue at the road en­trance.

Af­ter the Zoo the canal takes a sharp left turn by a float­ing Chi­nese restau­rant. Soon you will pass the castel­lated Pi­rate Cas­tle which is the head­quar­ters of a youth ac­tiv­ity cen­tre.

Next to come is Hamp­stead Road Lock which marks the end of a long pound stretch­ing right back to Cow­ley near Uxbridge on the Grand Union main line, some 19 miles away. Bet­ter known as Cam­den Lock, this area is usu­ally thronged with crowds of on­look­ers en­joy­ing the ad­join­ing mar­kets (see in­set).

A short flight of locks takes the canal to St Pan­cras where it’s crossed by a num­ber of rail­way bridges in­clud­ing one car­ry­ing Eurostar ser­vices. St Pan­cras Basin is the head­quar­ters of the St Pan­cras Cruis­ing Club.

By St Pan­cras Lock is the un­usual sight of a hous­ing de­vel­op­ment built within the frame­work of an old gas­om­e­ter re-erected across the canal from its orig­i­nal site. This length of canal run­ning be­hind St Pan­cras and Kings Cross sta­tions has been at­trac­tively re­de­vel­oped and has be­come

City Road Basin is a large ex­panse of wa­ter backed up by an im­pres­sive ar­ray of new tall build­ings

pop­u­lar with vis­i­tors. Also pop­u­lar is the Lon­don Canal Mu­seum at Bat­tle­bridge Basin. Housed in a con­verted ice ware­house, the mu­seum tells the story of the cap­i­tal’s wa­ter­ways (see in­set).

Soon comes the half-mile long Is­ling­ton Tun­nel which has no tow­path, but there are mark­ers to show the way for walk­ers to fol­low the route over the top, which passes through a street mar­ket. The canal emerges into a fine wooded cut­ting flanked by the gar­dens of ter­raced houses be­fore City Road Lock.

City Road Basin, which branches off on the right, is a large ex­panse of wa­ter backed up by an im­pres­sive ar­ray of new tall build­ings on the north edge of the City of Lon­don. This was once a busy com­mer­cial cen­tre thronged with work­ing boats. Now the basin is of­ten oc­cu­pied with youth­ful ca­noeists from the lo­cal boat club.

The Nar­row Boat Inn can be seen op­po­site Wen­lock Basin which is mostly used for moor­ings. The canal con­tin­ues east­ward through an in­tensely built -up area to Kings­land Basin which has ex­ten­sive moor­ings.

Next comes Vic­to­ria Park which is flanked by two canals: the Re­gent’s and the Hert­ford Union, which forms a short cut to the River Lee avoid­ing the run down to Lime­house Basin. The park, with its ex­cel­lent lake­side cafe and pagoda is a green gem set in the heart of Lon­don’s East End. It was once known as ‘The Peo­ple’s Park’ be­cause of the po­lit­i­cal meet­ings and ral­lies which took place here. Now it hosts nu­mer­ous an­nual fes­ti­vals and mu­si­cal events. The Hert­ford Union Canal runs along­side Vic­to­ria Park for most of its length, de­scend­ing through three locks be­fore join­ing the Lee Nav­i­ga­tion.

We’ll stay on the Re­gent’s Canal, pass­ing Mile End Park which is a nar­row strip be­tween the canal and a main road but con­tains an ecol­ogy park, an art pavil­ion, a sta­dium, a wildlife lake and ar­eas of grass­land with wild flow­ers in sum­mer. The park was cre­ated from a for­mer in­dus­trial area which was

sub­jected to se­vere bomb­ing dur­ing the Sec­ond World War.

Next, the canal passes the Ragged School Mu­seum (see in­set), be­fore de­scend­ing through the last cou­ple of locks to reach Lime­house Basin, now hous­ing a ma­rina with ex­ten­sive moor­ings and over­looked by the Dock­lands Light Rail­way. For­merly known as Re­gent’s Canal Dock, it pro­vides the link to the Thames via a tidal en­trance lock. It han­dled pro­duce and raw ma­te­ri­als from all over the world, as well as coal and British made goods trans­ported via the canal sys­tem.

It was busy un­til the late 1960s but closed to com­mer­cial traf­fic in the 1970s de­spite the con­struc­tion of a short new link to the Lime­house Cut, avoid­ing the need for a sep­a­rate tidal lock for the Cut.

To­day’s boaters use this new link to ac­cess the Lime­house Cut which is about a mile long, to­tally built up through­out its length, and leads to Bow Locks.

Bow Locks form an­other con­nec­tion to the tide­way, via the tidal Bow Creek which twists and winds down to the Thames. They also mark the start of the River Lee Nav­i­ga­tion which runs for 27 miles to Hert­ford. The area above the locks is known as Three Mills: the House Mill was built in 1776 and is Bri­tain’s last re­main­ing tide mill; the ad­ja­cent Clock Mill is an­other listed build­ing; the third mill no longer ex­ists.

Hav­ing be­gun our jour­ney amid the Re­gency sur­round­ings of Lit­tle Venice and Re­gent’s Park; we end them in one of Lon­don’s new­est open spa­ces, as we turn right above Bow Bridge to en­ter the Queen El­iz­a­beth II Olympic Park’s wa­ter­ways, re­built from the for­mer Bow Back Rivers for the 2012 Olympic Games. Pre­vi­ously an ob­scure and in places derelict net­work of wa­ter­ways hid­den away from the main wa­ter­way net­work, they have now re­opened af­ter clo­sure for the Games, with two re­stored locks open­ing up more routes.

En­ter­ing via St Thomas Creek from the

Lee, you can cruise a cir­cuit via the City Mill River and Old River Lee, pass­ing the for­mer Olympic Sta­dium, now the con­tro­ver­sial new home of West Ham United foot­ball club, as well as the Lon­don Aquatic Cen­tre and the fu­tur­is­tic Arcelor­Mit­tal Or­bit, be­fore leav­ing the Olympic Park re­turn­ing to the Lee below Old Ford Locks.

An­other short new cir­cuit has now been made pos­si­ble by the re­open­ing of City Mill lock fol­lowed by the re­cent restora­tion of Car­pen­ters Road Lock. The lock is in­ter­est­ing from an en­gi­neer­ing point of view, as it has the only ‘dou­ble ra­dial guil­lo­tine lock gates’ in the coun­try. Built in the 1930s its de­sign in­cludes two curved gates that pivot on hinges set in the lock walls, ris­ing to en­able boats to pass un­der. From Car­pen­ters Road Lock you can pass through the Wa­ter­works River to re­turn to St Thomas’ Creek at the more con­ven­tional City Mill Lock, com­plet­ing Lon­don’s lat­est new cruis­ing ring.

CRUISEGUIDE YOUR COM­PRE­HEN­SIVE GUIDE TO THE WA­TER­WAYS AROUND THE UK Easy-to-fol­low map • in­for­ma­tion for boaters • ten top pubs guide

Above: Cruis­ing through the re­opened wa­ter­ways of the QE2 Olympic Park Far right: The canal skirts Re­gent’s Park and the Zoo. Right: Where it be­gins: Lit­tle Venice, with the start of the Re­gents Canal to the right

Above: A cast iron tow­path bridge spans the canal above Cam­den Lock Below: New tower blocks form a strikinng back­drop to City Road Basin

Above: The re­de­vel­oped canal­side be­hind St Pan­cras is pop­u­lar with vis­i­tors

Right: Leav­ing the re­built Car­pen­ters Road Lock to pass the Lon­don Sta­dium

Pass­ing the en­trance to Kings­land Basin

Top: Bow Locks pro­vide ac­cess to the tidal Bow Creek, lead­ing to the Thames Above: The same scene in 1980, when tim­ber barges still reg­u­larly used the Lee Nav­i­ga­tion

Below: Cruis­ing on the River Lee past the Lon­don Sta­dium, now home to West Ham United

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