In a city of flux, London’s waterways provide a sense of uniquely meandering tranquility to its often overworked inhabitants. Those of us lucky enough to work or live near a canal will not need reminding of their shimmering charms, and sitting in quiet contemplation while a bevy of swans glide serenely past is an often overlooked facet of city dwelling.
There are now over 2,200 miles of navigable waterways in the UK, with one of the most charismatic stretches being the 3.5 miles which connects bustling Camden to the peaceful Little Venice at Paddington. Designed and built by John Nash, Regent’s Canal was completed and opened in 1820, linking the River Thames at Limehouse to the Grand Union Canal junction at Paddington.
This walk itself is a section of the Jubilee Greenway; 37 miles of continuous paths linking 2012 Olympic and Paralympic venues with parks, waterways and other attractions. Obviously one can begin at either end of the walk, but we began west and headed north-east. Beginning just behind Sheldon Square at the exit of the Hammersmith and City / Circle Lines, walk up the stairs and voila, you’re at the start of the Regent’s Canal Walk, also known as Paddington Basin.
The poet Robert Browning’s residence overlooked this part of the canal and it was he who gave it the name ‘Pool of Little Venice’. Cross the road and follow the blue footbridge crossing back over the canal onto the towpath opposite the Waterside Café and signposted to Camden and Regent’s Park. Follow the towpath under Warwick Avenue Bridge and you will come across the pretty residential moorings of Blomfield Road. This is one of the most prestigious and expensive canal mooring sites in London.
This section of Regent’s Canal played host to an artistic war a few years ago. Mysterious Bristolian artist Banksy fired the first shots by painting over a piece by the infamous ‘Robbo’, which had stood since 1985. The piece featured a workman pasting white wallpaper. Robbo, who was outraged, returned on Christmas Day 2009, to create the word Robbo in silver letters. This would lead to a back and forth battle between Robbo and Banksy at the site, which is only accessible by boat. One of Robbo’s works featured a gravestone that read, “R.I.P. Banksy’s career.”
Once you reach Lisson Grove, follow the towpath and when you seen a splash of green, you’ve reached the northern edges of Regent’s Park. Soon you will see four mansions. Originally Nash had intended to have the Regent’s Canal running through the middle of the Park. He was persuaded to abandon that plan due to concerns that the bad language of the bargees would offend the refined residents of the area. The architect planned to build 56 villas in Regent’s Park, however only eight were ever completed.
Following the towpath you will pass under two bridges. The first is an aqueduct carrying the forgotten River Tyburn over the Canal. The second bridge is the notorious Macclesfield Bridge or ‘Blow up Bridge’. Here, in 1874, a barge carrying gunpowder exploded and destroyed the bridge. Evidence of the explosion can be found on a nearby plane tree which survived the blast.
Primrose Hill is certainly worth climbing on a clear day if you have the energy. The views from its summit are breathtaking. Back to the tow path and we pass London Zoo with dozens of brightly-feathered birds in aviaries on the opposite side to us. If you need a beverage you could drop into Queens, a legendary Victorian pub. To the left of the pub look for 122 Regent’s Park Road. Friedrich Engels lived here for 24 years and was often visited by his friend Karl Marx.
Carry on down Fitzroy Road past No. 23, once home to W.B. Yeats. Take a right into Chalcot Road and then hang left down Princess Road past a Victorian boarding school. Turn right and rejoin the Canal down steps across Gloucester Avenue. Turn left under the railway bridge and past the Pirate Castle, a water sports centre. Cross the pedestrian bridge and you’ve arrived at Camden Lock Market.
Fortunately the sight of a rusty shopping trolley clogging up canal locks is now rare, although some of the Capital’s waterways could certainly do with sprucing up. Volunteering with the Canal and River Trust (which replaced the British Waterways in 2012) is a rewarding and socially enriching use of one’s time. From their #PlasticPatrol to adopting a canal, there are various ways you can help. For more information visit https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/volunteer.