London’s Waterways Boating through London on the Thames Tideway. (Robin Smithett) RIGHT: Passing London Zoo on the Regent’s Canal.
THE REGENT’S CANAL Among Britain’s urban waterways, London’s Regent’s Canal reigns supreme. Completed in 1820 to link the Grand Union’s Paddington Arm with the Thames at Limehouse, it was for a short period busy carrying coal, timber and agricultural produce, before competition from the railways brought about its commercial demise. But it is as a leisure amenity that it has really blossomed, serving as a vital refuge for the capital’s boaters, runners, cyclists and anglers. The canal begins at Little Venice, junction with the Paddington Arm, one of the inland waterways’ truly iconic locations. A broad expanse of water overlooked by splendid Regency houses, its timeless charm contrasts with the glass and concrete of the new developments at Paddington Basin.
There are trip boats, trading boats, a Puppet Theatre Barge and an art gallery. Visitor moorings have a maximum stay of 14 days, and double-mooring is encouraged - making it an ideal base for exploring London. Maida Hill Tunnel, just 272 yards long, carries the canal beneath the incessantly busy Edgware Road. The tunnel is broad, but don’t enter if you see a boat coming the other way. Your boat may only be 7ft wide, but the oncoming boat could be wider! Then comes one of the inland waterways’ more memorable experiences: passage right through Regent’s Park and London Zoo. Exotic birds and animals from the far corners of the globe provide the sometimes tumultuous soundtrack, whilst Lord Snowdon’s distinctive aviary offers architectural interest. The bridges repay study, not least Macclesfield Bridge. Here in October 1874 a barge carrying gunpowder exploded killing its crew and demolishing the bridge, the iron columns of which were salvaged and re-erected. The structure is widely referred to as Blow-Up Bridge. The Regent’s Canal then takes a sharp left-turn – and yes, that is a floating pagoda housing a Chinese restaurant. Originally, the half-mile Cumberland Arm headed straight on towards Euston, a major wharf in trading days. It was infilled after World War II. With its castellated headquarters, the Pirate Castle is the best-known youth activity centre on the canal system. A children’s boat club was first established here by Viscount St Davids in 1967, before being reborn in its existing format in 1978. Youngsters from all backgrounds enjoy the water aboard rowing boats, canoes, kayaks and just about anything else that floats.
IWA waterways - Summer 2013 |
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