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The Regents Canal

Limehouse Basin, just next to the Thames in East London, is busy. Not as busy as it may have been when ships from all over the world were unloaded here but now full of houseboats, yachts and sometimes a tall ship or two.

The sharp edges of the new apartment blocks bring into focus the aged brick walls and cobble stones of the dock.

And from here it is possible to walk or cycle most of the way across the capital to the other side of London.

Along the way there are many surprising sights. Further up the canal there are locks with charming country cottages where lock keepers lived and worked.

The tow path through East London has long stretches of open space with trees and patches of grassland.

Aquatic plants grow at the edge of the canal which swans and their cygnets nibble at.

By the canal there are colourful displays of flowers, some cultivated and others wild. There is also vegetation here and there climbing up walls, their leaves purifying the air and their berries providing sustenance to birds.

The houseboats look snug and cosy with the smell of smoke in the air from thier wood burning stoves. Any day of the year gives us the opportunity to walk or cycle across London and notice a whole variety of features from the past and present.

No wonder so many people choose to live here. Mile End is so close to the centre of the city and is a densely populated area - yet just a few minutes from the tube station it is possible to tie up a house boat and return to the tranquility of the river in the evening after work.

This is an ideal place to visit on a winter’s day. But after walking or cycling through East London and arriving in North London, the canal continues through a long tunnel and there is no towpath. Instead, walkers and cyclists must follow the path up to the road and then look out for way markers which direct them to the other end of the tunnel.

When the canals were built and horses pulled the barges, they would be led away at this point and taken to the far end of the tunnel. People would lay on top of the boats, not to rest - quite the reverse. They would 'walk' along the roof of the tunnel with their feet, pushing the boat along.

It is possible to visit the tunnel on a boat now and to learn about the canal. It is dark and damp but in the distance there is the brightness at the other end of the tunnel. The opening is a semi circle and the daylight is reflected on the water, forming a perfect circle.

Above the roof of the tunnel drips and drips - there are underground streams above the tunnel.

Arriving at Kings Cross, one of the busiest transport hubs in Europe, it is time to cross one of the bridges into a nature reserve. Right here, in the innermost part of the capital.

We have strayed from East London postcode areas into North London but we have also made our way towards the heart of London – and the rural retreat of Camley Street.

Join the Regents Canal Towpath at Limehouse Station or Mile End Station


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