Canal Walks
"the loveliest inland waterway in England"
That's how somebody once described the Regent's Canal. And considering that there are thousands of miles of "inland waterways" in this country, well that's some title.
Anyway, this is an invitation to come along one Sunday afternoon* and explore it with us. You'll be glad you did. Everything slows right down. To 18th-century speeds. There are no cars, indeed, no speedboats on the canal. It's often leafy. It's tranquil. It's a London "dimension"you just don't get to see normally. You're looking at the back of houses that you'll only ever have seen from the front before (assuming that you're a Londoner and you've perhaps moved through some of the streets in a neighbourhood lucky enough to be blessed with a canal). There are piquant little delights: some of the houses, for example, have tiny landing stages where their garden meets the canal. Tiny landing stages with, yes, a little boat moored there.
And there's – how shall I put this? – a certain towpath cameraderie. A narrowboat chugs by from time to time, people wave and say hello. I think there's probably an intuitive recognition that, "hey, we're far from the madding crowd – and isn't it great". Ergo the knowing friendliness: "we're the elect, we've found this place, we've left the rat race behind."
What else? Well, the canal and towpath – especially when they're canopied over with mature plane trees – can be out-of-a-painting beautiful. And even when they're not beautiful – when you're into 19th-century industrial archaeology and territory – they're always interesting.
Takes a special kind of guide as well. All the London Walks canal guides are IWA members. (The acronym stands for Inland Waterways Association.) They're boat owners. They've plied these waters for years. Mark Twains of London, in other words! And that's what you want because what that means is they know their stuff, they see and point out fascinating tidbits – "horse dips", for example (and no, I'm not going to say more – you're going to have to go on a canal walk to have that bit of a canal and that bit of the long ago past opened up for you properly – out there – rather than here, on the computer screen) – that you and I would just never see off our own bat.
And get this – they donate their share of the gate to the IWA! So theirs really is a labour of love. So when you go on a Regent's Canal Walk, well, full marks to you, because you're also doing your bit to keep one of London's most beautiful and interesting "elements" in good health and good working order. To say nothing of good trim.
We've got about half a dozen canal walks. We do the whole of the Regent's Canal. It's a good few miles long – from Little Venice to Limehouse – and so we've broken it up into four "sections". You get right stuck in, in other words – do all four of the walks – you will have walked the entire length of the Regent's Canal.
In addition, there's one that explores up the Grand Union Canal to Kensal Green and Cemetery. And one that "does" the Paddington Arm. Fascinating that one. It's like a miniature Docklands. Extraordinary mix of the long ago old and the day after tomorrow. Some of that new architecture down there – well, it's like tracer fire.
And, finally, the Bow Back Rivers & 2012 Games walk. The BBR is astonishing all by itself. You've got the River Lea but to that you have to add a complex of canals. And to that, now, you have to add 2012. Well, you can imagine. Makes for a very special walk indeed.
Now when do they happen? You might not have picked up on this but in fact there's a "pattern" to the Canal Walks strand of the London Walks programme. Basically, the first and third Sunday at 2.30 pm From the Repertory Walk is the preserve of the Canal Walk team. It's not lockstep. Very very occasionally the pattern will be broken. The classic example is the Canalways Cavalcade Weekend in May. If that's not a first or third weekend, Roger, who heads up the IWA team of guides, will put in for – and he always gets it! – the 2.30 pm slot on the Sunday afternoon of the Canalways Cavalcade Weekend. How could it be otherwise because the Cavalcade is the Regatta of London's canals and canal people and indeed canal vessels. And they're all there – it's an extravaganza of colour and shapes and hail fellow well met-ness!
But that's the exception that proves the rule. For the most part, to get squared away with the London Walks Canal Walks programme, all you have to do is go here – to the list of Sunday Afternoon at 2.30 pm Tours du Jour! The 2.30 pm From the Repertory Walks on Sunday afternoon. Once you pull in there just scroll down and look for the first and third Sunday afternoons in any given month.
And the joker in the pack: we usually do one extra one over the Christmas Season. Either on Boxing Day or New Year's Day. You'll be able track that one down in the Special Walks section.
There are "blurbs" – write-ups – for several of the Regent's Canal Walks. You can find them here – in the From the Repertory Walks page.