Researched and written by Jeannette Briggs
The Regents Canal is known to most Londoners, whether they are interested in canal boating or not, largely because its route traverses some of the truly beautiful green areas of London like Regents Park and The London Zoo.
The Regents Canal is part of the network of canals which were constructed in the 18th and 19th centuries across the north of London to link the Grand Union Canal Paddington Arm which connects Paddington westwards to Brentford, with the east of London and Limehouse basin and the docks. It was constructed between 1812 and 1820 and for a short time before the building of the railway network it was the industrial transport system of London.
Above: The Regents Canal at Blomfield Terrace - photo courtesy Stephen Worsfold
Regents Canal at Blomfield Terrace -
photo courtesy Stephen Worsfold
At the beginning of the railway era in the 1840ies a bid was made to drain the Regents Canal to turn it into another railway route. Fortunately for us this plan was never carried out, and the canal survived otherwise we might have been denied the site of colourful houseboats and canal boats that line the towpath. It is a haven of peace and beauty in the middle of one of the largest cities in the World.
Above: The Regents Canal at Little Venice London - Photo courtesy Stephen Worsfold
The Regents Canal at Little Venice London -
Photo courtesy Stephen Worsfold
Above: The Regents Canal and willow trees on the Island at Brownings Pool - photo courtesy SW
You can take your canal boat all the way or walk most of the towpath from Paddington towards Camden through the area known as Little Venice . sadly you cannot arrange canal boat hire here but you can take the London Waterbus from Camden Lock You pass the island near where Robert Browning wrote some of his poetry - Browning's Island. Many recently famous people now live or have lived in the elegant Georgian and Victorian terraced houses adjacent to the Regents Canal, including J.K. Rowling, Michael Bond, Earl Spencer, Paul Weller, Madonna and so on...
The canal is traversed by two bridges of note at this point. The first bridge is actually an aqueduct which carries the River Tyburn over the canal. It was designed by John Nash the architect, who wanted to ensure a supply of water for his ornamental lake in Regents Park
The second bridge is Macclesfield bridge which is commonly known as "Blow Up Bridge". The first bridge here was destroyed by a massive explosion in 1874, which killed three men and a horse. The barge was carrying an inflammable and volatile cargo of loose gunpowder in sacks and barrels of petroleum.
Above: Macclesfield Bridge - colloquially known as "Blow up Bridge" on the Regents Canal - photo courtesy SW
Above: A narrowboat traversing the Regents Canal - photo courtesy SW
Just past Macclesfield Bridge you pass through London Zoo (more properly known as The Zoological Gardens London), and it is a delightful incongruity to be on a canal boat sailing past the great Aviary holding many species of tropical birds (designed by the Earl of Snowdon) and to hear the calls of such animals as gorillas and cheetahs in the depths of London!
You can complete your canal boat holiday journey or take a canal cruise along this stretch of the canal from Little Venice to Camden Lock passing London Zoo Try www.londonwaterbus.com.
Above: The Regents Canal at Camden Lock - the towpath and cruise boat Water Ousel - photo by J Briggs
Above: The Inland Waterways narrowboats rally - photo courtesy S Worsfold
Camden Lock is a delight - the whole area around the locks has developed into a huge tourist attraction with the food stalls, clothes and jewellery, and thousands of restaurants of all kinds in Camdem Market. People flock to the canalside here especially at weekends. Canal cruises rather than self-drive canal boat hire are available here. It is a busy tourist destination and a popular journey for canal boat holidays.
Look out for such annual events as the Inland Waterways canal boat rally called Canalway Cavalcade, which happens every May Bank Holiday, when the canal is filled with canal boat veterans that have made the journey here from all over the canal network.
Continuing eastwards, beyond Camden Lock and the mile - long tunnel in Islington towards Hackney and Stratford you reach the site of the 2012 Olympics was located. Part of the route is beautiful, especially where the cuts through Victoria Park near Mile End.
This is the East End of London, which is becoming more and more gentrified and glamorous. lots of flats and studios are springing up alongside the canal with views, and investment money is pouring into the whole area. The local residents here are beginning to appreciate the canal as a valuable ecological asset, instead of somewhere to dump a supermarket trolley or decorate the walls with graffiti. This situation can only improve even more in the future.
In the main, the towpath is well preserved and in a good state of repair and enough canal boat holiday makers managed to make the trip along the canal at this point to ensure that the area maintains an air of leisure use.
Above: Canal boats on the Regents Canal in little Venice- photo courtesy SW
Above: Canal boats on the Regents Canal in
Above: Cyclist and son on towpath - Regents Canal by Victoria Park - photo courtesy SW
At Mile End the Regents Canal is joined by the Hertford Union Canal which links it with the River Lea and the Lea and Stort Canal . The Hertford Union passes through Victoria Park and is very peaceful and pretty. The Regents Canal itself continues south through some fairly industrial scenery until it reaches Limehouse Basin . There are safe canal boat moorings here.
Above: Regents Canal near Mile End - photo courtesy S Worsfold
Above: Limehouse Marina and Basin - Photo by J Briggs
Boats can enter the Basin from the River Thames at this point through the great locks. This area was subjected to bomb damage during the War and has been regenerated only recently. Thanks to the partnership between the old British Waterways Board and the London Docklands Development Programme. Yet again, a massive programme of rebuilding in the area is underway, and the old warehouses are being converted to upmarket studio flats and apartments. Transport in this area is better than it ever has been, thanks to the Docklands Light Railway and what began in the 19th century as an industrial highway is now becoming a charming residential and environmental amenity.
The Limehouse Basin is a haven of peace and beauty in the heart of the East End of London with a magnificent job in regenerating this section of the canal network for canal boat holiday trips. Facilities for boaters mooring here temporarily are great - moorings are free for 24 hours and there is fresh water, rubbish disposal and pump out facilities.
Above: Limehouse Basin and Marina - photo courtesy J Briggs
I recommend the Regents Canal and the Limehouse Basin to anyone who is interested both in industrial architecture and in remarkable scenery and natural beauty.
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