Regent’s Canal is London’s most well known canal route and possibly the busiest with passengers on foot, cyclists and boaters alike, but if you venture further westside and into north-west London, you meet the Grand Union Canal.
The longest canal in the UK at 137 miles, Grand Union Canal links London to Birmingham – from the vibrant west of London, it leads out into the rolling Chiltern Hills, through rural Northamptonshire and Warwickshire and into the Birmingham suburbs.
A sprawling canal route, my dalliance with the Grand Union Canal was rather spontaneous following an appointment in Kensal Green. A hot summer’s morning brought about the desire to be near water. If you talk to ramblers, they more than likely will recommend that you pick up the Grand Union Canal from Kensal Green Cemetery.
After a pit-stop coffee in a Brazilian cafe on Harrow Road, I made my way further west to Scrubs Lane, where I picked up the canal path less trampled than the Regent’s Canal. My desire to be up close and personal with water on this super hot summer’s day was dare I say, different. Water was not visible but a brilliant shade of green, as if a sheet of grass had been laid on top of the canal’s surface, was.
Grand Union Canal was visibly green after huge amounts of duck weed and algae caused by the heatwave had left its mark. Apparently scorching summer temperatures have helped algae and duck weed grow rapidly on lakes, ponds, and canals across the UK. A beautiful rare sight nonetheless, the start of my canal walk towards Paddington Basin was a serene and peaceful one, albeit unusual given the enormity of algae, which would follow me along most of the journey.
The path along the Grand Union Canal from Scrubs Lane felt very much like a local’s haunt – few seasoned walkers shared the path with boaters, temporarily moored along the canal. The tree-lined route and blackberry bushes, provided a much loved bit of green and wildling, compared with the surrounding industrial landscape including gasworks.
The route towards Paddington Basin passes through many familiar neighbourhoods in North West London and West London. Anyone who has been to the Notting Hill Carnival and has walked or raved along the procession route will have an awareness of their bearings walking along the Grand Union Canal.
While the area of the canal around Scrubs Lane is quite wild and natural, as you head towards Kensal Green and Ladbroke Grove, the surrounding areas become more built up. An area of the canal, which runs parallel with the Harrow Road, features a row of terrace houses which backs directly onto the canal just like in Venice.
Heading along eastwards, the canal path takes you towards the iconic housing block, Trellick Tower. With its brutalist style of architecture, the concrete block is no longer recognisable as it undergoes extensive refurbishment works on its exterior.
At the base of the 31-storey listed building and running alongside the canal is Meanwhile Gardens. A true community garden in every sense of the word, if you choose to veer off the canal route and check out Meanwhile Gardens, you will be greeted by an urban sanctuary which appears to be a buffer between the brutalist Trellick Tower and a popular stretch of the canal.
Meanwhile Gardens was set up as a community garden in 1976 on former derelict land along the Grand Union Canal. Supported by volunteers and a dedicated staff team, the gardens now have various landscapes, including a wooded area and wildlife garden, a quiet scented courtyard, a skatepark and The Playhut, a purpose built play centre for kids.
As the Grand Union Canal continues towards Paddington, the canal path at points sit directly under the westway and its heavy traffic. Fortunately the path soon offers up a more scenic and serene vibe as you head to Little Venice.
Tucked away in the residential area of Maida Vale, Little Venice with its wide open space is lined with narrowboats and surrounded by white stucco-clad Regency houses.
Where the Grand Union Canal meets the Regent’s Canal, Little Venice maybe busy with tourists a majority of the time, but this quaint, quirky and charming area is a real gem.
A small island with willows and wildfowl makes a kind of roundabout at the junction of where the two canals meet. The islet is nowadays known as Browning’s Island, after the poet Robert Browning, who lived nearby.
There are plenty of waterside eateries at Little Venice and narrowboat tours which can be picked up en route to Camden. As you pass around the expanse of canal space that is Little Venice, the canal path begins to narrow again approaching Paddington Basin.
The busy Paddington area can be a bit of a culture shock given that my rather peaceful journey along the Grand Union Canal ended here. But if you choose to begin your journey along the Grand Union Canal from Paddington, it does get calmer and more prettier the further along the canal path you get.
Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief @rosamedea