Saturday, June 30, 2012

Canal Walk: The East End and Olympic Park

Today I went to London for a towpath trek in the East End of London and a look at the almost finished Olympic Park.

the leaving of Liverpool
 My train from Liverpool Lime Street was at the uncivilized hour of 07:15 so it was an early start for me. Walking past one of my local Tesco's I saw the staff chasing after a local smackhead who had knicked someones phone. For once I got to the station just about on time, usually I am far too early or running down the platform. After buying a paper I bumped into a colleague of mine the very talented local artist Colette Lilley, far too early in the day for conversation though. 

The trip down was fine, I had two Richard Herring podcasts that saw me through the whole trip. In no time at all I was in London. Exciting times in the capitol too with the Olympic Games just weeks away now.

View East End Canal Walk in a larger map

I walked from Euston to Holbourne tube station. The forecast hadn't been great for today but the sun was shining and it was warm already. The weather was forecast to improve throughout the day too. Perfect for a nice stroll by the canal.
I like the London Underground. I like the wind that blows through the stair wells and tunnels. I like the Art Deco style and tiles. I like the flesh eating zombies that live down there. I sat on the train trying not to look too much like a tourist. I would love to be one of the book reading commuters living the cosmopolitan lifestyle. But I am not. I am from the North and I am too impressed by seeing the name "Grange Hill" on the tube map. And the Hammersmith and City Line reminds me of Lean On Me I Wont Fall Over a Carter USM song covered by the Family Cat back in the 1990s. Oyster Cards, Londoners dont know how lucky they are to have them.

It didn't take long to get to Mile End and to be back in the sunshine. The canal is a short walk down the road from the tube station. Without thinking I turned left and headed down the Regents Canal to Limehouse. I had the choice of walking clockwise or anti-clockwise on my route. It was only 500 yards along I realised I was going anti-clockwise. As it turned out this was the best way to go.

a little birdhouse on the canal

It was 2008 when I last walked this bit of canal: see blog here and a lot has changed since then. The weather wasn't as good bad then and I managed to miss Canary Wharf due to the low cloud.  Today there was no missing the landmark building.

the start of the Regents Canal

The towpath was quiet from Mile End to Limehouse Basin, just a couple of walkers and runners. At the basin there were a few more people about. It would be a nice place to run around and there were a few people doing just that. I'm sure if I lived here I could manage to do a few laps of the basin every day. 

In the dock there are a variety of boats, some narrowboats and yachts  but there was one boat you couldn't miss. A huge white gin palace. 
Great White Whale
As well as the great white whale there were a fleet of grey fiberglass taxi boats which will take people from Limehouse up to the Olympic Park. There were some larger boats too that look ready to take the crowds to the Games. It is nice that the canal will be used as transport. Although there have been some downsides for canal users.

Water Taxis

Walking round the basin I arrived at the Limehouse Cut. The Limehouse Cut is a new canal to me, I have never set foot on it and didn't know anything about what the surroundings were like. The area around the basin is made up of new apartment buildings that are well out of my price range. There was also a pill bug walking along the decking looking rather out of place in such a modern area.

At the start of the Limehouse Cut
Once round the first bend the Limehouse Cut is a long straight stretch (over a mile) up to Bow Locks and the tidal Bow Creek. This stretch of canal is perhapse a bit dull for canal fans. The towpath is good and perfect for cyclists. The area has clearly been recently regenerated. I kept imagining that Bootle or Vauxhall could look like this. There were still some old warehouses and signs of industry but most of it was very new apartment and houses. 

the last bit of dereliction

There was a short terrace of modern houses, one on each side of the canal facing each other. This was the first place I had seen anyone who looked like they lived there. Most of the women were Muslims in bright coloured clothes. Two were authentic cockerneys though, they were having a conversation across the canal. As I walked underneath the debate seemed to be about the time it would take to get from A to B via C. The conclusion was "oh for facks sake". 
Past the sweary women I saw something I didnt expect on a canal in London, a Challenger tank. Not just the Challenger but a few scout cars and little tanks. 

Challenger Tank and friends

Armored transport

At the end of the Limehouse Cut is Bow Locks. It was nice to see some canal architecture after the long straight channel so far. The locks have a nice 1930s feel to them, with the little cabin and the concrete bridge over the canal. It can get a bit confusing around here. I had just left the Limehouse Cut, on the right was the Bow Creek. I think I was now following the River Lee Navigation. But not the River Lea. Anyway onwards.

Rail Bridge on the Lee Navigation
There were a few more people around at this point, fishing, walking dogs, looking like they were having an afternoon out in the sunshine. 

At 11:40 I arrived at 3 Mills. At 3 Mills there are two mills, House Mill (1776) and Clock Mill (1817) The missing third mill went in the 16thC but the name has stuck. 
The buildings look like they should be in a nice rural village. The site is now used for television and film production. House Mill is open to visitors on Sundays and is the largest tidal powered mill in the world but the new lock on Prescott Channel mean it has lost its tidal aspect. 

After a bit of a sit down I carried on along the Lee Navigation. beyond 3 Mills I started to see signs of construction and then the first sight of an Olympic building. The ArcelorMittal Orbit observation tower looks like two construction cranes mating, or maybe St Johns Beacon being attacked by a crane. Either way its pretty big, 115metres high.

There were a few working boats, showing that the canal has been used in the construction of the Olympic Park. The whole redevelopment seems to have been very positive for this area.

Bantum Tugs

I had wondered if the towpath on my route would be open during the construction of the Olympic Park, in fact I didn't even know if there was a towpath for some sections. I came to a sign which warned of towpath closures in just 3 days time. I was lucky to have picked this weekend to come and not next. There was a floating roadblock to stop boaters entering the site. 

Soon the towpath was joined by a high wire fence with CCTV cameras at short intervals all the way along it. There were some security guards in hi-viz jackets and the area had the feel of a large event in the waiting. To add to this music from the Olympic Stadium was drifting over towards me. The sort of corporate event music you hear in large events and nowhere else. 

Canal block ready to stop traffic. 

Towpath Closures.

Modified Art

Big Brother is Watching You
At Old Ford Lock the towpath seems very close to the Olympic Stadium. But there is another very important building here. The lock keepers house by Old Ford Lock is the former Big Breakfast house. Now largely hidden by a high hedge, this is where Chris Evans and friends used to entertain 1990s Britain in the morning. The canal was occasionally used in the show for watery features and the area was shown in the opening and closing titles.

Old Ford Lock Keepers Cottages

Not far after Old Ford Lock is junction with the Hertford Union Canal. There were police walking along the towpath searching for bombs. At the bridge where the towpath crosses over to the Hertford Union the towpath ahead along the Lee navigation was closed and more hi-viz jackets were stood around directing people. There was a very heavy duty road block too, and a police man that looked like he was cradling a machine gun. Security will be very high around here.

Gongoozlers looking at the Olympic Park

Crossing over to the Hertford Union Canal the towpath felt a bit calmer. There were some little sculptures on the canal edge. Little men stood looking at the view or relaxing in the sunshine. I like art that has to be discovered. Finding something by accident is always a rewarding surprise. 
There were a few boats moored up here, they looked like boats that people lived on. A lot of boaters have been moved or will have to move because of the Games. Not just for security but also for profit. I can understand why these boaters are unhappy about this but they are at least lucky to live on boats which can move. In other countries people have had their houses demolished to build venues for the Eurovision Song Contest or a Bible Theme Park. Hopefully these boaters, or liveaboards, can move back to an improved environment when the Games are over. 
Not all art is as nice as the little men, some of the graffiti was quite eye-catching if not anatomically correct. 

Walking along I was stopped by a lady looking for an entrance to the Olympic Park. After comparing her map to my Nicholsons we worked out where she should go. Even on my days off I am supporting people with information. 

The Hertford Union Canal borders the rather lovely Victoria Park. The towpath was much busier here and there were a lot of boats moored up with various types of people enjoying the sunshine.
The canal has a nice atmosphere by the park and some visiting Africans looked very impressed with it. 

Along the railings of Victoria Park were notices, Advice Notices, for boater who will be relocated during the Games. Most had had the boaters opinion added to them. There will be a 15 mile zone around the games in which boaters will have to pay quite high mooring fees during the Games. Boaters not wanting to pay will have to move. Some of the people who live on the boats think that the Olympic Games are just a excuse to "socially cleanse" them from this section of canal. I can understand why people who have paid for permanent moorings are upset by having to move. Continuous cruisers should of course spend no longer than 2 weeks in one lace so they should be quite used to moving about. Link to an article about the issue.

I left the Hertford Union Canal, another canal I have walked completely.My original plan was to head back to Mile End, completing the circuit and getting the tube back to the west end. But as the sun was so lovely and I had nothing better to do so I turned right instead of left and headed off to Islington along the Regents Canal.

Samuel House: I am Here
Samuel House by the canal in Haggerston caught my eye. While waiting for its demolition the flats have not been re-let when tenants leave. One by one the windows were boarded up. As a response to this the I Am Here project put pictures of the tenants in the windows to remind everyone that these were and still are peoples homes. 

I am a fan of twitter and one of the accounts I follow is @gusthefox he is a disgusting fox who lives near the canal in London. I was delighted to see a sign pointing out where Gus the fox had bummed a heron. He does that sort of thing. 


The Regents Canal is very nice, it is up there in my top 3 canals. There is very little left from its old industrial days, the slums and the factories and warehouses. What is left has been reused and restored in a sympathetic and modern way. The canal has not been ignored in the areas regeneration and is a very popular environment for people to use. If only all urban canals were so well used. 

Floating bookshop
Nearing Islington I found a floating bookshop with a floating cafe next door to it. By now I was getting a bit hot an weary. And hungry. I hadn't had any lunch and I was starting to think about food. As i trudged along someone called my name. Not what I expected hundreds of miles from home. Especially as the only person I know in London was in Ireland this weekend. But it was nice to bump into a friend and former colleague for the second time today even if after a 10 mile walk in the sun I wasn't quite looking my best. 
A welcome pint of IPA

At Islington the canal goes underground. I went overground and got a surprisingly cheap lunch from a newsagent on the way. On the other side of the tunnel the promise of a pint in the Constitution kept me going. There have been a few changes along the canal since my last trek along here. The towpath around Kings Cross has been done up and looks pretty good now. This seems to be the plan. There is a new bridge and improved access.

Again the canal is improving despite the economic climate. Once a canal is open and available it will get used and the more it is used the better it is for everyone.

At last I was nearing the Constitution. If I hadn't walked 11 miles in the sunshine I probably would have sat out in the beer garden. But the comfy seat inside was perfect. My feet appreciated the rest and the rest of me appreciated the pint.

The Constitution, Camden
After my pint I was ready to carry on to Camden and the end of the line for me. Around Camden the towpath was packed with people enjoying a rare sunny summer day. I walked past the old TV-AM studios and up to Camden high street. The market was even busier. Too busy for me so I didn't even attempt to look around. 

Canal at Camden next to the former TV-Am studios

I walked back down to Euston and then on to the British Museum. I had a mint Magnum and sat in one of Bloomsbury's lovely squares. There in the square the homeless sat alongside the tourists, all enjoying a nice sit down in the sunshine. I couldn't wait to get back on the train and a comfy sit down. Another two podcasts got me back to Liverpool and home. 

It was a good day out. The weather was amazing. I would recommend the East End for a walk, or maybe better as a cycle. I had thought about getting one of  Boris' bikes. They do seem to be popular, quite a few passed me on the towpath. The Olympic Park looks to be a very positive development for that bit of London. There has been enough criticism of the Games but I hope that the legacy for the canal will be positive and last for decades.

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