This weekend I went to east London.
‘Oh no’, I hear you cry, ‘why would you go there? It’s far away and filled with hipsters.’
Let me elaborate.
This weekend, my relatives are in town, and they like canals. They used to go on canal holidays before it was trendy. Also, my aunt was a geography teacher and so she is knowledgable about things like gentrification and urban planning and change. They wanted to go to see the Olympic Park and the area around it, since when they were younger it was kind of dangerous to go for a visit.
We decided to walk down the Regent’s Canal from the Limehouse Basin, then cut across on the Hertford Union Canal to the River Lea which runs through the Olympic Park. It took about 2 hours and was blessedly flat – this is the advantage of canals, there are never serious changes in altitude! Despite a little rain at first, it was mostly a cool, cloudy but dry day. Overall, a really nice weekend jaunt.
The Regent’s Canal stretches all the way across London. In fact, Camden Town Market is on the same piece of water! At the west London end of the canal, it connects with the Grand Union Canal, which goes all the way to Birmingham! I find it quite exciting to think that I could walk along the canal all the way from Camden (or Limehouse) to Birmingham. Canals always have pathways by the side, if you didn’t know, so that the horses can draw the boat to its destination.
Another pleasing thing about canals is all the infrastructure that was connected with them. On our short walk we passed many little cottages which the lock-keepers still live in. They are like this old fashioned oasis in the middle of the city – you walk under roads and bridges, completely detached from the bustle of everyday life.
Unfortunately, canals did not have long-lived success in the UK. They started to be built on a large scale in the 1790s, but by the 1830s the railways were clearly the future. The canals fell out of use, and many fell into disrepair. In a lot of towns the canal has a reputation for being stagnant, smelly, and filled with shopping trollies. In London, however, they have taken advantage of the existing infrastructure to really spruce up the whole thing. On our whole walk, the canal was lined with new, shining flats for young people and commuters. They were out as well – walking, running or cycling on the canal, or in the little coffee shops and pubs that lined the route.
We ended up at a great micro brewery called Howling Hops. The atmosphere was very hipster, but my relatives really enjoyed it and thought the beer was great. We had lovely burgers and sweet potato wedges, washed down with lager brewed less than 10m away.
To get home, we walked through the Olympic Park. We could see the London stadium in the distance (recently taken over by West Ham FC) and then went through Westfield to get to Stratford station. This was easily the most confusing part of the day, since we seemed to have to go through the shopping centre to get to the station. It was quite a stressful contrast to go from the tranquillity of the canal to the busy busy shops and restaurants, but still good fun.
We all had a little nap on the tube home, which only took 30 minutes – clearly we hadn’t travelled as far as we thought! If anyone is looking for something to do in London (apart from the other things I’ve suggested before), having a walk down one of the canals is a good idea.
What do you think? Do they have canals in your town?
Until next time xx