At Dusk: The Regent’s Canal from Camden Lock to St. Pancras Basin, a set on Flickr.
Out of London’s many attractions, its wonderful canals are relatively unknown, which is, to be honest, inexplicable, as they are an endlessly fascinating — and generally very soothing — antidote to the capital’s often stressful roads.
Both of London’s major canals — the Regent’s Canal, and the Limehouse Cut — feed into the Limehouse Basin, between Tower Bridge and the Isle of Dogs, which was once so busy that it was said that it was possible to walk the whole way across the dock from boat to boat. It opened in 1820 as the Regent’s Canal Dock, joining the River Thames to the whole of the national canal system in the decades that followed.
In July, I visited — for the first time ever, I’m slightly ashamed to admit — the Limehouse Cut, which joins the River Lea upstream, on a journey to Stratford from Limehouse to look at the Olympics site. However, the Regent’s Canal had to wait until September, apart from one brief visit — also in July — when I cycled along the towpath from Commercial Road to Bethnal Green and back, for an event that I was speaking at. You can also see my commentary on those journeys here and here.
The Regent’s Canal — 8.6 miles long, and built from 1812-1820 — is an extraordinary achievement, running all the way, in a huge loop, from Limehouse to Little Venice (near Paddington), where it joins the Grand Union Canal, via Mile End, Hackney, Islington, King’s Cross and Camden. Unlike the Limehouse Cut, it was not unknown to me, as I have cycled or walked most of its length during the 27 years I have lived in London, but revisiting it as part of my ongoing project to photograph the whole London by bike provided me with a wonderful opportunity to scrutinise it more closely than I had before, and it constantly rewarded me, even though some stretches of it have been — or are in the process of being — ruthlessly exploited by developers building huge tower blocks that are horribly inappropriate.
Some of that is happening around King’s Cross, featured in the next photo set, and some in east London, which will feature in a number of photo sets to follow, from a big journey I took in September along the whole of the canal from Islington to Limehouse. I still have to cycle the section from Camden to Little Venice, but have no idea when that will take place — or when I’ll have time to upload the Islington to Limehouse set — as I currently have around 3,000 photos to upload, from the almost daily journeys I’ve been undertaking — some local, some further afield — since I began this project in May.
I hope you’re enjoying the journeys. For me this huge project makes every day fascinating, as I find new places to explore and photograph, or revisit old haunts, and begin to understand London more comprehensively than I ever have before. Thank you for your company and enjoy the journey along the Regent’s Canal!
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed — and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg, Flickr (my photos) and YouTube. Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in April 2012, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and please also consider joining the new “Close Guantánamo campaign,” and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
I’d like to request a photo of the Angel Tunnel! These great photos make me a little home sick for London, and remind me that a friend of mine and his girl friend lived one winter on a long boat moored at the City Road Basin in the late 1980s when the area was only just post industrial, which was great until they accidentally blew up the kitchen due to a propane gas leak, escaping with some singed eyebrows. All part of the traditional bohemian life of the canal. Thanks for the pictures!
Great to hear from you, Jonathan. Hopefully you can download the photo yourself and print it, unless I’ve imposed some massive block on everything without realising it. Please go ahead, and relive some memories. And let me know if there are any problems.
On Facebook, Ruth Gilburt wrote:
oh…ok then…you’re very persuasive, Andy x (either that, or I’m all too willing to take a break from grim reality) x
Both, hopefully, Ruth!
Ruth Gilburt wrote:
it’s where I used to work, so brings back other memories too x
George Kenneth Berger wrote:
I just shared these. Good photos.
Thanks, George. And thanks again, Ruth. I didn’t know you’d worked in Camden.
So, anyway, yes, there’s something not mundane or materialistic about London’s canals, as far as I’m concerned. I know they were built for commerce, but they have become something else – a haven for outsiders on the narrow boats (who the gentrifiers have not been able to get rid of completely), and a place to dream, or to live – temporarily, at least – at a different pace for those visiting, and walking or cycling along the tow path, taking hours out of their otherwise stressed and traffic-choked lives.
It’s why some of the canalside developments – the Canary Wharf-isation of parts of the Regent’s Canal – is so depressing. Some of this is forthcoming in the next set, which involves the huge new developments around King’s Cross, where, to my mind, developers, architects, PR people and corporate leeches are all having a lovefest about how great they are, while creating a monstrous soulless new mini-city. More soon …
Jaq White wrote:
It’s changed quite a bit since I used to cycle along the canal from Gloucester Crescent to St Pancras – I can hardly recognise some of those shots! But most of it is still happily familiar. I remember one evening on the way home, being scared to cycle past a group of winos by Camden, who had found some enormous pieces of polystyrene and were riding on them like rafts.. but mostly falling in! There was just enough room for me to pass them without going in myself!
Ha! Great, Jaq. That’s the spirit, eh? Where are the polystyrene-surfing winos when you need them? Actually when I was there a fight had broken out on the bridge on Kentish Town Road and there were mobs of people and lots of shouting, so we haven’t quite managed to gentrify trouble out of existence.
I also posted “Camden Street Bridge,” and wrote:
So this is one of my favourite photos from my most recently uploaded photo set – of a bike ride from Camden to King’s Cross on the tow path of the Regent’s Canal. Everywhere these bridges, carrying major traffic-choked roads, funnel the walker or cyclist through another, more relaxing, watery world.
Lucille le Diclone wrote:
ah the elfroute
Jennah Solace wrote:
The silver pods – for the bargain price of £850,000! Unbelievable! The photo is worth more I like the love-birds and the lion.
Thanks, Jennah. I am glad the photos are worth more than the insultingly ridiculous housing market, which regularly makes me feel that we are actually living in immediately pre-revolutionary France – but with added smartphones so we can Tweet and update out statuses as the streets flll up with homeless people …
And thanks, Lucille. The elfroute, eh? I haven’t heard that before, but it makes perfect sense!
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