Grand Union Canal. Uxbridge to Paddington.
On the Tuesday in the middle of our stay in Uxbridge we got a job counting train passengers at Finchley Park. As our shift finished at half past one in the morning we were given a hotel room. Not the most luxurious establishment in North London, but it was clean and we got breakfast, and best of all it had a bath! Re-sult! It wasn’t until we got back to said room at half past one that we realised that there was no bath plug. No doubt removed by the management in an attempt to persuade guests that showering is better for us, for the environment and for their profits. However, we boaters are made of sterner stuff. The little complementary soap in the bathroom, although completely useless as soap, was the perfect size for ramming in the plughole.
After breakfast we mingled with all the commuters, waving our Oyster cards around like we’ve been doing it for years on our way back to Uxbridge. We untied the boat and set off towards Cowley Junction.
We pulled over for lunch while a patch of rain went over then at the junction turned right onto the Slough Arm. It’s an act of faith turning in; there’s a big widebeam moored right on the junction and you have to start turning before you actually see the entrance.
Although it sounds a bit rubbish, looks boring on a map, and the “basin” at the end is nothing more than a winding hole, the Slough Arm is – mostly - rather lovely. Contrary to what we’d heard, it wasn’t silted up, there wasn’t miles of blanket weed, (well, not so much that the occasional blast of reverse wouldn’t clear it) and, over the space of three hours on a Wednesday evening, we cruised to the end, turned round and came back to Cowley Junction.
Going under the M25 on the way back
As dusk was fast approaching we banged the pins in just before the main line and had an early night.
Our London adventure continued the following day from Cowley to Bulls Bridge where we turned off the main line onto the Paddington Arm and on to Horsenden Hill. Almost as soon as we started off we were mooring up again, outside a very handy massive Tesco, for essential supplies. Well, you never know when you’re going to be near civilisation again do you?
The turn at Bulls Bridge is quite pretty, nothing like it must have been in the working days with lots of noise, boats all over the place and horses everywhere.
Lindsay had told us about a nice off-line mooring at Horsenden with paths leading off up the hill, but by the time we’d spotted it we were too late. We’d just decided to turn round and have another go at it when we spied a gap on the towpath side opposite the little country park so we nipped in and tied up.
In the afternoon we walked through the park and up to the top of the hill to look out over the Big City.
Horsenden Hill was our last mooring before heading into the metropolis. We had expected the GU to get more and more urban after Uxbridge but, despite glimpses of industry and housing through the foliage, for the most part it’s surprisingly green until you cross over the aqueduct over the scarily busy North Circular.
The North Circular Aqueduct from the top.
Even after that, the canal and towpath remain a haven of peace away from the frantic hustle that surrounds them.
It’s not the first time that we’ve been surprised by how far this green winding snake worms its way into the grey solidity of a city; Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds and Liverpool are all the same. There is, however, always a point where concrete and bricks encroach right up to the water’s edge. In London that happens just after Kensal Green Cemetery.
From there it is about a mile to Little Venice, the whole length of which has ever smaller houses and ever taller office blocks looking down on it and, where it's possible to moor, a seemingly endless line of boats two abreast.
Trying to find somewhere to stop can be a very stressful experience but luckily we’d managed to secure one of the two bookable moorings alongside Rembrandt Gardens at Little Venice.
Long before we had our own boat we came to the IWA Canal Cavalcade at Little Venice and were enthralled by the melé of colourful boats and friendly people. By then we’d pretty much decided that this was what we were going to do eventually, and no doubt we imagined ourselves boating under the bridge, past the gauging stop and turning into the basin… but to be actually bringing our own boat into this famous iconic waterways junction with flowers on the roof and hundreds of people taking photos was about the most exciting thing we’ve ever done.
It looks really empty when the Cavalcade isn't on!
The mooring at Rembrandt Gardens is fabulous. It has only been available for booking for a year or so and is, as far as we’re concerned, a tremendous success. We had it for a week and made sure we filled up every day.
The afternoon we arrived we went for a short walk to Clifton Nurseries; a little oasis of floral loveliness surrounded by suburbia. After a lengthy discussion we returned to Legend with purple petunias, unidentified yellow things and Berlotti beans, all of which Ann-Marie planted up while Dave gave the wooden troughs a fresh coat of paint.
The next day was a day in the Park(s). We walked down to Kensington Gardens, passing Paddington Basin where we noticed that all the visitor moorings were taken...
...but, encouragingly, none of the boats looked to have been there for ages. Just inside Lancaster Gate we found the Italian Gardens that Prince Albert had made for Victoria when they were first married.
What a wonderful romantic gesture. Mind you he never got his hands dirty. Dave once planted some snowdrops in a heart shape for Ann-Marie. You decide.
From there we wandered past Peter Pan...
...past the parakeets, into Hyde Park to see Isis...
...and the lovely Princess Diana Memorial Fountain. Walking through the gate we were impressed with how very low key and timeless it was and how respectful all the visitors were.
Very calm and tranquil.
Our meander next took us back into Kensington Gardens and down to the Albert Memorial which neither of us, on previous visits to London, can remember seeing before. How we managed to miss something so spectacular is a puzzle, however the relatively recent restoration may have something to do with it.
It is quite stunning. Even the railings are an over-indulgent configuration of wrought iron and gold paint and make the barriers surrounding Buckingham palace look like a garden fence.
From the memorial we went along the aptly named and beautifully planted Flower Walk to Palace Gate where we exited onto Kensington High Street. After a quick diversion into M&S for some free tasting we turned into Holland Park. We’d never been into this park before so we didn’t know what to expect. It was quite beautiful.
If you’ve not been there we won’t give it all away, all we’ll say is go and see it, you won’t be disappointed.
Back on Kensington high Street we filled a salad box in the Wholefood Market, got a coffee from Waitrose, and then walked up Palace Avenue, past all the embassies for our lunch date with Wills and Kate.
Sadly they didn’t show up.
After lunch we went back across the gardens to Hyde Park and over to Speakers Corner.
There was no-one speaking so Oxford Street and Baker Street took us to Regents Park. We were about four weeks too early for the rose gardens in the inner circle; when Bob and Mandy get here with Matilda Blue they will be stunning.
The roses weren't out but this wisteria was perfect.
From there it was a short walk back to the boat along the towpath, with just a short diversion to bypass the Maida Tunnel.
Frankie and Harry came to see us the next day, so we nipped out to Marylebone Farmer’s Market in the morning. We shouldn’t have taken so long with the fruit tasting; when we got back they were already sitting in the boat drinking tea! In the afternoon we had a little boat trip through Regents Park and the zoo to Cumberland Basin where we turned round.
In the evening Coops dropped in for a flying visit on his way home from an “assignation” in the city.
After our Park Day, we decided to theme the rest of our London visit. Market Day was next. A bit more research would have helped, mainly in the timing department. Petticoat Lane on a Monday isn’t a patch on what it can be and Leather Lane, despite providing us with a yummy lunch, was starting to close when we got there at quarter to two. However Leadenhall was lovely...
..and Camden was all it should be, much more our kind of place and Ann-Marie got a new ring.
On the trek between markets we passed a few other places of interest.
The next day we had a bit of a rest. Dave finished the pole bunk that he’s been working on; this is our temporary kid’s hammock/stretcher affair that will go crosswise over the end of the bed.
While that was going on Ann-Marie planted up the tomatoes that we got from Marylebone.
In the afternoon Anne came to stop for the night. After tea we all hopped on the tube and went to see The Taming of the Shrew at Shakespeare’s Globe.
Oh Wow, Oh Wow! What a fantastic performance!
When we came out it was dark and a lit-up London was spread out before us.
In the morning we said goodbye to Anne and then, as a couple of spaces were available in Paddington Basin, we chugged our way under the bridge and moored up alongside Nb Lorien just outside the station entrance.
Our Little Venice mooring didn’t expire for another two days but, as we wanted to stop until the Sunday, we thought it would be a good idea to move when the opportunity arose.
So here we are, right in the middle of London. We were a bit apprehensive on the way down here, rumours abound about how difficult it is to find somewhere to moor, but we’ve managed to find somewhere without too much trouble. We’ve had some good luck, but we’ve also done good deal of planning. If we’d just rocked up and hoped for the best, it would certainly have been a different story.