Regent's Canal review
I'm going for a look down regents canal today. But not by boat though -- on foot. Because boats are dangerous, boats sink. And I can't swim. So I am playing it safe and walking the 2 1/2 mile stretch between Little Venice and Camden Lock.
I recommend starting off with a tube to Warwick Avenue. If you come out of the station and head south for two minutes you can take a left into Blomfield Road (by the bridge), which is where I am standing right now.
It's quite pretty down here. This is where all the 120-year-old retirees and easy-going dudes live in their flip-flops. Their houseboats are all parked up along the water's edge with pine plank patios and terracotta flowerpots. I'm not sure that you can really call them boats anymore though because they have never sailed anywhere in their life -- they are all rigged up with pipes and wires and garden trellis gates. Some of them have got chimneys coming out the top. Everyone seems to have a push bike with a bell on it. People leave out saucers of milk for the squirrels. Instead of guard dogs they've got garden gnomes and pottery frogs. Half of the trees have got wind chimes on the branches and there's a carpet of artificial grass along the towpath to hide the ugly concrete. There is no way that I could live down here myself because it's just too damn happy.
There's a nice little cafe overhanging the bridge at the far end if you need a rest (but you've only been walking for five minutes -- what's wrong with you? You're even less fit than me!) After that carry on over the road and walk up Aberdeen Place.
The canal goes underground for a short distance here, so just carry on walking until you come to a little alleyway at the end. Keep an eye out for Guy Gibson's house along the way (with the blue plaque on the front) -- he's the guy who lead the famous Dambusters raid in World War II.
Head through the alley next to the "Danger of death" sign (seriously! it's by an electricity substation), and you'll come across the canal again. You might be able to head down the stairs and along the towpath but sometimes they chain it up and you'll have to walk along the top instead.
This is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the ugliest and scariest parts of the waterway and if walk along here at nighttime then you are totally nuts. One look at that towpath and you will instantly know what I mean. I write these reviews on my mobile phone but I daren't pause for a single second down here (too scared of getting mugged). I just motored on through at the speed of light until I found a quiet seat at the other end, because you never know who you are going to meet down there in the river dungeons. I am guessing that this is where the hoodlums live. Murderers and muggers, and rats the size of farmyard pigs. If you want to hire a hitman then this is a good place to start looking. And Lord knows what is lurking in the stinking water. Torsos and bones and rotting flesh (I might be exaggerating slightly). If you die then it's not my fault. I am not to blame, so you cannot sue me because I have given you plenty of warning.
You are probably wondering why on earth I have taken you on this walk. Well, bear with me, because it gets better.
If you are still on the towpath then it's easy, just carry on running under the bridge, otherwise you will have to cross over the road and find the pathway down to the other side. Now we come to a few more houseboats. No flowers though. No pottery frogs this time -- just concrete and council flats and electricity substations. They don't call this bit Little Venice -- they don't bother to keep up that pretence anymore. It's just a dirty canal with a few houseboats in it. They've got a few lifebelts nailed up along the towpath in case someone falls in, but trust me: if they fall in that water then just leave them to die because there's no point: the life jacket will just melt as soon as you chuck it in.
After that comes a couple more scary bridges (even scarier than the last ones). You can hear the traffic rumbling above your head like thunder and meet a few tramps. These tramps don't even bother to ask you for money because they have given up. They are just waiting for the end. If they still had a bit of life left in them they would have chosen somewhere prettier to park their sleeping bag. You'll be kicking cardboard bedsheets and discarded cartons and cans and manky plastic bottles filled with stale brown water. Pigeons will be cooing in the rusty iron girders above your head. This is the London that no guidebook ever tells you about. They don't put this place on the tourist trail. You never see guided walks coming down here. It's just me and you and a few tired old homeless geezers. Remember to take a few photos so you can impress your friends back home.
If you do happen to go upstairs then remember to come back down afterwards, because it's important that you stay along the towpath... because after that last bridge comes safety! The canal butts up against the northern edge of Regent's Park at this point, and you can forget about the grey and brown and concrete colours of the towpath, because now you've hit the greens and creams and sunshine yellows of the park. I actually saw a mother duck paddling along with her duckling daughters -- that is how much of a sea change it is.
The riverbanks around here are home to some of the most expensive mansions in London. How can I explain it best... it's like they've dug the canal out of the hillside, and you're walking along a little valley with the trees and houses above your head. You can peer up into their manicured lawns and admire their ornamental gardens. Obviously the walls are still covered in graffiti though (this is London after all), and the edges are decorated with cigarette butts and a mess of nettles, but don't let that put you off -- it's definitely a pleasant place for a stroll. And it gets better... because after fifteen minutes you will find yourself staring up at London Zoo!
The canal passes straight through the top edge of the zoo (actually inside it), and the banks on either side will have cages on them. They are very high up though (two or three metres above your head) so it's not the most fantastic view in the world, but you can definitely see a few animals.
There are a few more cages and buildings after that, but you wont be able to see any more animals unfortunately... but hey, it was a nice little diversion while it lasted.
You've probably been walking for about ten hours now (if you walk at the same pace as me), but stick with it, because you are nearly at the end. When you come to the bend of the canal you will see a very nice Chinese restaurant. It's a three story pagoda boat with bright red paintwork and a Chinesey-style sloping roof, and it's just sitting there in the water. Its a shame it's not a pub because who wants a plate of noodles at the end of a three-mile walk?
Keep walking along the towpath and things will start to pretty up as you get closer to Camden. This is my favourite stretch of the canal and it's got some nice boats and houses to look at. You might even see a few people punting on the river. You'll hit some more dark bridges eventually but these ones have got a totally different feel to them than the scary ones that came before. These ones seem like an attraction and if you keep your peepers peeled you can spot some bizarre pieces of artwork dotted amongst the brickwork.
Next up comes a pirate castle (no pirate boats though -- just canoes), the lock, and the craziness that is Camden... but that's a whole other story for another day.
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