Exploring London’s canals and waterway walks
- Credit: Archant
Cruising the capital on a canal boat or exploring towpaths gives London an entirely new perspective, there’s an abundance of wonderful places to visit along its navigable waterways. We’ve picked some of our favourites from the bustling-weekend crowd-pleasers to the lesser-known hidden treasures so there’s something for everyone to enjoy.
This site of special scientific interest (SSSI) lies low in the river Lea’s alluvial flood plain on a bed of silt, gravel and London clay. There are over 400 species of plant that have been recorded here. The marshes are one of the last remaining examples of semi-natural wetland in Greater London. They contain a variety of plant communities typical of a former flood plain location, such as a range of neutral grassland types, sedge marsh, reed swamp, sallow scrub and areas of tall herb vegetation. It remains one of London’s wildest places. The marshes are free to explore daily and unlike many of London’s attractions, it’s also easy to get to by car: you’ll find a large car park at Lee Valley Ice Centre on Lea Bridge Road and a smaller car park at Coppermill Lane in Walthamstow.
London’s oldest canal, which dates back to 1766, is this poker-straight cut that connects the Lee Navigation to the Thames and the Regent’s canal. No longer used for transhipment between canal craft and coastal vessels, the former Regent’s Canal Dock where the Limehouse Cut met the Thames and the Regent’s Canal is today known as Limehouse Basin and has been completely transformed with new housing, a marina and a wide range of environmental improvements including walkways and boaters facilities.
Islington Tunnel was opened in 1820 and was built by engineer James Morgan; it underwent a renovation in 2000. It is impossible to walk or cycle through the tunnel as it has no tow path. Anyone wishing to follow the course of the tunnel on foot must do so from above ground using specially placed way markers. Because of the lack of a towpath boaters passing through the tunnel would have to leg their craft through. This remained the only way to travel the tunnel until 1826when a steam tug attached to a chain was used to haul boats through. In 1930 this was replaced by a diesel engine, unfortunately this is no longer in use either and the tunnel can only be accessed by a motor boat. There are however, a number of organised tours that run cruises through the tunnel, for example The London Canal Museum which charges £8.40 per adult and £6 for children.
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Kensal Green Cemetery
One of London’s Magnificent Seven cemeteries, this canalside location is the final resting place of the likes of Harold Pinter, Wilkie Collins, Anthony Trollope and the Brunels. The canal was once a fundamental part of operations: coffins and mourners would arrive by boat being dropped off at a specially constructed jetty. Aside from the screams of resident ring-necked parakeets, the older parts of the cemetery are peaceful, quietly crumbling into a romantic, ivy-laced decay.
Camden Lock is one of London’s most vibrant shopping and entertainment areas with live music and comedy venues, cafés and bars. Clustered in and around the award-winning Market Hall, you’ll find small shops and market stalls selling and awe-inspiring selection of vintage fashion, handmade jewellery and incredible food from all over the globe which you can enjoy as you stroll along the canal.
London’s tranquil canal area is home to a myriad of waterside cafes, pubs and theatres including the Canal Café Theatre and the Puppet Theatre Barge. Little Venice is home to two canals, the Grand Union and the Regent’s Canal, both of which meet in a large, picturesque pool known as Browning’s Pool, or The Little Venice Lagoon. Enjoy a stroll around the pretty streets of Maida Vale and on to Regent’s Park or take in a relaxing boat ride on the canal. This coming weekend 30 April to 2 May, the normally tranquil oasis of calm that is Little Venice bursts into an explosion of colours and cultures with the arrival of the annual Canalway Cavalcade festival. The Inland Waterways Association has hosted the Canalway Cavalcade in Little Venice since 1983.
Like what you see? Check out these 15 fabulous photos from the Regent’s Canal