Walking onto the towpath opposite Shrimpy’s at The Filling Station it’s just a few minutes walk to the first of the docks that you’ll find along this stretch of the canal – Gattis Wharf. Today it contains the London Canal Museum and Kings Place – the arts venue that also houses the Guardian and Observer newspapers. The wharf is actually named after Carlo Gatti, the ice importer who had a storage facility in the building which now houses the museum. Another interesting spot here is the first of the sculptures along the route – a raging bull!
The next little find is Thornhill Bridge Community Gardens, a tiny little sliver of land that sits alongside the canal. I might be right in saying that it has the strangest wood carvings to be found in any public space in London – judge for yourself. Passing below some intriguing railings on Caledonian Road it’s nearly time to leave the canal behind for a while – just ahead it passes through a long, dark tunnel beneath the Angel that is only navigable by boat. I note that they’ve tried to cheer it up with some Olympic Rings, although I’m not sure how official they are. The sights continue at street level however – taking a couple of turns in the direction of where the canal emerges you’ll discover a little park that might make many of us shudder. Joseph Grimaldi Park is dedicated to the man who created that white-faced demon that haunts many of us in our dreams – the clown…
Passing by Angel tube station and turning right its time to join the canal again. The next sculpture is an odd one – Grand Junction Wharf contains a diver made of neon tubes who leaps from a high point above the canal and makes a splash below. I’m sure it’s quite a sight in the evening after dark. A little further on is City Road Basin, and at this point I should explain something about the way that property developers used to see the canal system in London. Land is very valuable in the city and to a developer a wharf or dock could be put to use if it was infilled – this is the fate that many historic docks along the route of the Regent’s Canal suffered, but City Road Basin was saved by the efforts of local campaigner Crystal Hale. These days, of course, apartments overlooking picturesque stretches of water are considered very desirable indeed. This particular basin is also notable for having some bright and colourful commissioned pieces of street art.
The canal network has lots of barges moored along it at the moment. I had assumed that this was just a regular summer phenomenon but some of the things I was to come across shortly after leaving the basin made me change my mind – the canal boats along this stretch of water contained a great deal of London 2012 paraphernalia. I suspect that families have been bringing barges down the canal network to London and using them as a base – a canal boat is certainly a cheaper option than a London hotel at the moment, given the recent price hikes that occurred when the Olympics hit town. The next thing I came across was inexplicable, and not the last of these that I walked past – a National Grid ‘Cooling Station’. I’ve been unable to determine what purpose these buildings serve – do any readers work in power distribution who could help to solve this particular mystery?
Along another stretch of towpath and past well-tended little flower garden up against one of the bridges, the next dock came into view – Reliance Wharf, which contained a particular type of barge which I’ve seen elsewhere along the network – what I can only describe as a floating allotment, with the entire space onboard given over to plantings. Next up was a little departure from the canalside, just up the steps and across to an abandoned factory building for two interesting pieces of street art – one a rather pointed commentary on London 2012. I’m surprised that it hasn’t been painted over, given how vehemently LOCOG seem to be pursuing infringing retailers – Lord Coe’s blood would boil if he saw this I’m sure. Now for the most surprising sight on this particular part of the Regent’s Canal – Samuel House. Now mostly empty, this rundown accommodation block on the Haggerston West Estate is a living art gallery. The faces that you see are those of local residents – some of whom are artists who live on the estate and who instigated this interesting use of the building with a project called ‘I Am Here‘. Isn’t it amazing? The smiling faces seem to impart an optimistic air to the building despite its shabby appearance.
The following part of the route is, remarkably, un-gentrified if only for a few hundred yards or so. I rather like seeing run-down factories and warehouses along the Regent’s Canal – they speak to its past as a working waterway where goods would be passing up and down it both day and night, coming from or going to the Thames for onward transport to who knows where. Passing by the now listed gasometers at Cambridge Heath and some of the best street art to be found along the route (including a desperately sad graffiti carrot) the canal gets leafier from here on in, as it starts to skirt the western side of Hackney’s Victoria Park. Anyone wandering along today would have been in for a treat – a travelling theatre has arrived at the canalside, and one of the performers was out this afternoon treating the kids to some rather expert bubble-blowing! Just past the performers is Roundhouse Radio’s barge,which is currently housing young people from its London 2012 project, ‘Round 1‘ – you can listen to their canalside broadcasts online, and I imagine that you can pay them a visit too if you’re so inclined.
The trees continue of course, as once you have left Victoria Park behind you Mile End Park is ahead – the Regent’s Canal follows this thin strip of reclaimed land for over a mile. Currently berthed at the northern end of Mile End Park, just beyond the giant plunger (I cannot confirm or deny that removing this plunger will result in the canal draining away to nothing), is a floating market which is going to be here for the duration of the London 2012 Olympic Games, moving to Little Venice from 20 August. Many of the floating shops have amusing names such as ‘Chapeaux On The Bateaux’ and ‘Word On The Water’, befitting their watery location – chatting to some of the stallholders apparently it has a great atmosphere when the crowds arrive in the early evening. Why not go and check it out – if you wander over there early on Sunday evening you’ll probably bump into the Londoneer…
Past a few more locks and the end is in sight – when you can see the disused chimney with Canary Wharf behind it, Limehouse Basin is just a little way ahead. The basin looks to be home to quite a few Olympic visitors at the moment – it also happens to be one of two bases for the 2012 games canal boat service, Water Chariots. Their rather swanky speedboats will whisk you along the same route that David Beckham and the torch took last Friday, depositing you 70 yards away from the Olympic Park’s Victoria Gate. A return trip from Limehouse Basin is £45 – I imagine that it might make for a rather interesting way to visit the games if you’re with a group of friends.
The next section of the Regent’s Canal that I will be exploring will take me from Camden Town to Little Venice – watch this space. You can find all of the photographs documenting my most recent journey here.