Regent's Canal (connects at Limehouse)

The Regent's Canal and the Thames Connection

(Connects with the River Thames at Limehouse Basin)

The Regent’s Canal is known to most Londoners, whether they are interested in boating on the canals or not, largely because its route traverses some of the truly beautiful green areas of London like Regent’s Park and The London Zoo.

The Regent’s Canal is part of the network of canals which were constructed in the 18th and 19th centuries across the north of London to link the Grand Union Canal Paddington Arm which connects Paddington westwards to Brentford, with the east of London and Limehouse basin and the docks. It was constructed between 1812 and 1820 and for a short time before the building of the railway network it was the industrial transport system of London.


Above: The Regents Canal at Blomfield Terrace Maida Vale - photo courtesy S Worsfold

Above: Junction of Regent's Canal and Paddington Arm - photo by J Briggs
At the beginning of the railway era in the 1840ies a bid was made to drain the Regent’s Canal to turn it into another railway route. Fortunately for us this plan was never carried out, and the canal survived. It is currently owned and managed by British Waterways Board, who grant the licenses for the colourful houseboats and narrowboats that line the towpath, and who have managed to make the canal a haven of peace and beauty in the middle of one of the largest cities in the World.


Above: The Regent's Canal at Little Venice London - Photo courtesy Stephen Worsfold

Above: The Regent's Canal and willow trees on the Island at Brownings Pool - photo courtesy SW

You can walk most of the towpath from Paddington towards Camden through the area known as “Little Venice”. You pass the island near where Robert Browning wrote some of his poetry - Browning's Island. Many famous people now live in the elegant Georgian and Victorian terraced houses adjacent to the Regent’s Canal, including J.K. Rowling, Michael Bond the creator of Paddington Bear, and Earl Spencer.

The canal is traversed by two bridges of note at this point. The first bridge is actually an aqueduct which carries the River Tyburn over the canal. It was designed by John Nash the architect, who wanted to ensure a supply of water for his ornamental lake in Regent's Park

The second bridge is Macclesfield bridge which is more commonly known as "Blow Up Bridge". The first bridge here was destroyed by a massive explosion in 1874, which killed three men and a poor horse. The barge was carrying an inflammable and volatile cargo of loose gunpowder in sacks and barrels of petroleum.


Above: Macclesfield Bridge - colloquially known as "Blow up Bridge" on the Regent's Canal - photo courtesy SW

 Above: A narrowboat traversing the Regent's Canal - photo courtesy SW

Just past Macclesfield Bridge you pass through London Zoo (more properly known as The Zoological Gardens London), and it is a delightful incongruity to be on a boat sailing past the great Aviary holding many species of tropical birds (designed by the Earl of Snowdon) and to hear the calls of such animals as gorillas and cheetahs in the depths of London!

You can also take pleasure trips along this stretch of the canal from Little Venice to Camden Lock passing London Zoo. Try for further details.

Above: The Regents Canal at Camden Lock - the towpath and cruise boat Water Ousel - photo by J Briggs

Above: The Inland Waterways narrowboats rally -  photo courtesy S Worsfold

Camden Lock is a delight - the whole area around the locks has developed into a huge tourist attraction with the market, food stalls, ethnic clothes and jewellery, and thousands of restaurants of all kinds. People flock to the canalside here especially at weekends.

Look out for such annual events as the Inland Waterways narrowboat rally called Canalway Cavalcade, which happens every May Bank Holiday, when the canal is filled with narrowboats that have made the journey here from all over the canal network in England.

You should continue a walk eastwards along the towpath beyond Camden Lock and the mile- long tunnel in Islington, towards Hackney and Stratford, where the site of the 2012 Olympics is located. Part of the route is beautiful, especially where the canal bounds Victoria Park near Mile End.

In the main, the towpath is well preserved and in a good state of repair, and enough narrowboats manage to make the trip along the canal at this point to ensure that the area maintains an air of leisure use.

Above: Canal boats on the Regent's Canal in Little Venice- photo courtesy SW

Above: Cyclist and son on towpath - Regents Canal by Victoria Park - photo courtesy SW

This is the East End of London, which is becoming more and more “gentrified” and glamorous – lots of flats and studios are springing up alongside the canal with views, and investment money is pouring into the whole area, in advance of the 2012 Olympics. The local residents here are beginning to appreciate the canal as a valuable ecological asset, instead of somewhere to dump a supermarket trolley and decorate the walls with graffiti, and this situation can only improve even more in the future.

At Mile End the Regent’s Canal is joined by the Hertford Union Canal which links it with the River Lea and the Lea and Stort Canal. The Hertford Union passes through Victoria Park and is very peaceful and pretty. The Regent’s Canal itself continues south through some fairly industrial scenery until it reaches Limehouse Basin. There are safe moorings here.

Above: Regents Canal near Mile End - photo courtesy S Worsfold

Above: Limehouse Marina  and Basin - Photo by J Briggs

Boats can enter the Basin from the River Thames at this point through the great locks. This area was subjected to bomb damage during the War and has been regenerated only recently, thanks to the partnership between British Waterways Board and the London Docklands Development Programme. Yet again, a massive programme of rebuilding in the area is underway, and the old warehouses are being converted to upmarket studio flats and apartments. Transport in this area is better than it ever has been, thanks to the Docklands Light Railway, and what began in the 19th century as an industrial highway is now becoming a charming residential and environmental amenity.

The Limehouse Basin is a haven of peace and beauty in the heart of the East End of London, and British Waterways Board have done a magnificent job in regenerating this section of the canal network for leisure use. Facilities for boaters mooring here temporarily are great - moorings are free for 24 hours and there is fresh water, rubbish disposal and pump out facilities. 

The Basin is full of wildlife and of ecological and ornithological interest for the enthusiasts. 


Above: Limehouse Basin and Marina - photo courtesy J Briggs

Above: Limehouse - the lock gates from the Marina out to the River Thames - photo courtesy J Briggs

I recommend the Regent’s Canal and the Limehouse Basin to anyone who is interested both in industrial architecture, and in remarkable scenery and natural beauty. 

Researched photographed and written by Jeannette Briggs

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