London Drum

A Walk Along Regent’s Canal From Little Venice To Camden

Distance: Approx 2½ miles Time required: 50 to 75 mins (based on a leisurely 20-30 mins per mile, but you should add on more time if you want to stop at any of the places) Starting point: Warwick Avenue station End point: Camden Lock What you will see: Little Venice, Regent’s Canal, Regent’s Park, London Zoo

Craig’s review… I’m going for a look down Regent’s Canal today. But not by boat, on foot, because boats are dangerous. Boats sink, and I can’t swim. So I am playing it safe today and walking the 2½ mile stretch between Little Venice and Camden Lock on foot.

I recommend starting off with a tube to Warwick Avenue. If you come out of the station and head south for two minutes you can take a left into Blomfield Road (by the bridge), which is where I am standing right now.

It’s quite pretty down here – it’s called Little Venice because it’s home to a few houseboats and a canal. It’s about as Italian as Paris if truth be told, but it’s still a very pleasant place for a walk.

This is where all the 120-year-old retirees mix with the easy-going dudes sitting in their flip-flops on their houseboats. I’m not sure that you can really call them boats anymore though because they have never sailed anywhere in their life – they are all rigged up with pipes and wires and garden trellis gates. They’ve got pine plank patios and terracotta flowerpots. Some of them have got chimneys coming out the top. Everyone seems to have a pushbike with a bell on it. People leave out saucers of milk for the squirrels. Instead of guard dogs they’ve got garden gnomes and pottery frogs. Half of the trees have got wind chimes on the branches and there’s a carpet of artificial grass along the towpath to hide the ugly concrete. There is no way that I could live down here myself because it’s just too damn happy.

There’s a nice little cafe overhanging the bridge at the far end if you need a rest (but you’ve only been walking for five minutes – what’s wrong with you? You’re even less fit than me!) [see 1 on the map] After that carry on over the road and walk up Aberdeen Place.

The canal goes underground for a short distance here, so just carry on walking until you come to a little alleyway at the far end. Keep an eye out for Guy Gibson’s house with the blue plaque on the front – he’s the guy who led the famous Dambusters raid in World War II.

Head through the alley next to the ‘Danger of death’ sign (seriously! it’s by an electricity substation), and you’ll come across the canal again. You might be able to head down the stairs and along the towpath but sometimes they chain it up and you’ll have to walk along the top instead.

This is without a shadow of a doubt one of the ugliest and scariest parts of the waterway and if walk along here at nighttime then you are totally nuts. One look at that towpath and you will instantly know what I mean [see 2 on the map].

I write these reviews on my mobile phone but I daren’t pause for a single second down here (too scared of getting mugged). I just motored on through at the speed of light until I found a quiet seat at the other end, because you never know who you are going to meet down there in the river dungeons. I am guessing that this is where the hoodlums live. Murderers and muggers, and rats the size of farmyard pigs. If you want to hire a hit man then this is probably a good place to start looking. And Lord knows what is lurking in the stinking water – torsos and bones and rotting flesh (I might be exaggerating slightly). If you die down here then it’s not my fault. I am not to blame, so you cannot sue me because I have given you plenty of warning.

You are probably wondering why on earth I have taken you on this walk. Well, bear with me… because it gets much better.

If you are still on the towpath then it’s easy: just carry on running under the bridge; otherwise you will have to cross over the road and find the pathway down to the other side. Now we come to a few more houseboats. There are no flowers or pottery frogs this time though – just council flats and concrete and more electricity substations. They don’t call this bit Little Venice – they don’t bother to keep up that pretence anymore. It’s just a dirty canal with a few houseboats in it.

After that comes a couple more scary bridges (even scarier than the last ones) where you can hear the traffic rumbling above your head and meet a few tramps [see 3 on the map]. These are the saddest tramps in London and don’t even bother to ask you for money, because they have given up. They are just waiting for the end to come. If they still had a bit of life left in them then they would have chosen somewhere prettier to park their sleeping bag.

As you walk along you’ll be kicking cardboard bed sheets and discarded cartons and cans and manky plastic bottles filled with stale brown water. Pigeons will be cooing in the rusty iron girders above your head.

This is the London that no guidebook ever tells you about. You never see guided walks coming down here. They don’t put this place on the tourist trail. It’s just me and you and a few tired old homeless geezers. Remember to take a few photos so you can impress your friends back home.

Paradoxically, if you take the stairs up to the roadway level at this point then you will discover that it’s actually quite nice up there, because it’s on the cusp of Regent’s Park and Lord’s Cricket Ground – it’s like two worlds separated by a single pavement. Upstairs you’ve got the million pound flats and posh car showrooms of St. John’s Wood, and down here you’ve got somewhere that hasn’t seen sunshine since 1908.

If you do happen to go upstairs then remember to come back down afterwards, because it’s important that you stay along the towpath, because after the last bridge comes… safety!

The canal butts up against the northern edge of Regent’s Park at this point, so you leave behind the greys and browns and concrete colours of the towpath and hit the greens and creams and sunshine yellows of the park. It’s like they’ve dug the canal out of the hillside, and you’re walking along a little valley with the trees and houses above your head. The riverbanks around here are home to some of the most expensive mansions in London and you can peer up into their manicured lawns and admire their ornamental gardens [see 4 on the map]. Obviously the towpath is still covered in graffiti though (this is London after all), and the grass verges are littered with cigarette butts and a mess of prickly nettles, but don’t let that put you off – it’s definitely a pleasant place for a stroll. And it gets better… because after fifteen minutes you will find yourself staring up at London Zoo!

It might sound a little bit difficult to believe, but the canal passes straight through the top edge of the zoo (actually inside it), and the banks on either side will have cages on them [see 5 on the map]. They are very high up though (two or three metres above your head) so it’s not the most fantastic view in the world, but you can definitely see a few animals.

The first cage after the bridge is home to the warthogs. These are easy to see from the towpath but you can get a slightly better view if you go up onto the bridge (and that’s the only place you can see the zebra-like okapis from). Further along the towpath are the African Hunting Dogs that are very hard to see because the grass is incredibly long. But on the other side of the bank is the real beauty: the huge Snowdon Aviary.

You can’t miss this gigantic thing because it’s like a huge wire mesh birdcage that towers above your head. You should be able to see plenty of birds inside here because it’s only ten feet from the towpath. There are a couple more cages and buildings after that, but you wont be able to see any more animals unfortunately… but hey, it was a nice little diversion while it lasted.

You’ve probably been walking for about ten hours now (if you walk at the same pace as me) but stick with it, because you are nearly at the end. When you come to the bend of the canal you will see a very nice Chinese restaurant. It’s a three-story boat with bright red paintwork and a pagoda-style sloping roof, and it’s just sitting there in the water. It’s a shame that it’s not a pub because who wants a plate of noodles at the end of a three-mile walk?

I tried eating with chopsticks once and I had to give up after ten minutes – it’s impossible! It’s like a fork with no prongs. It’s like a brush with no bristles. I think I managed to pick up about three grains of rice. I’m glad I’m not Chinese because I’d probably starve to death.

Keep walking along the towpath and things will start to pretty up considerably as you get closer to Camden. This is my favourite stretch of the canal and it’s got some nice boats and houses to look at. You might even see a few people punting on the river.

You’ll hit some more dark bridges eventually but these ones have got a totally different feel to them – these ones seem like an attraction and if you keep your peepers peeled you can spot some bizarre pieces of artwork dotted amongst the brickwork. Next up comes a pirate castle (no pirate boats though – just canoes), a canal lock, and the craziness that is Camden… but that’s a whole other story for another day.

Your comments and questions

Jo Beck Hello I'm visiting London and I was told that the Regent's Canal was accessed by Saint Pancras station or Kings Cross but according to your website the closest station is Marylebone. Please advise as I want to walk on a section of the Regent's Canal and see the locks. I am going to be staying at the Imperial College near Hyde Park. Thanks so much! Jo Beck

Craig Hi. It's a very long canal (nearly 9 miles long) so there are actually lots of closest stations - it depends which bit of it you want to see. The prettiest stretch is from Little Venice to Camden which passes a lot of houseboats and the top end of Regent's Park and London Zoo. You'll see a lock when you reach Camden. If you start at Little Venice then the closest underground station is Warwick Avenue. The closest mainline station is Marylebone

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