Secret London

March 30, 2012

By Stefan Wermuth

A walk from the Olympic side to ‘Little Venice’ along the Hertford Union canal and the Regents Canal.

I started my journey at the Overground station Hackney Wick. You will not find Hackney Wick in a travel guide under ‘highlights’ or ‘things to do’ but it has his own charm and its own ‘highlights’.

One of the ‘Highlights’ is also my culinary tip. Half-way between the station and the access to the Hertford Union canal is the cafe “The Griddlers”, located next to a car conversion shop. It’s a breakfast point for workers around the Olympic construction side. There is no Goût Mieux plate at the door but it’s authentic and the people are very friendly. The food is honest and cheap. I tried meal number 6 – scrambled eggs, baked beans, sausages and buttered toast. While eating number 6, I enjoyed looking at replicas of Paul Fischer’s ‘Girls bathing” and Jack Vettriano’s ‘Mad Dogs’.

Beginning the walk just next to the Olympic stadium, the Hertford Union canal makes its way past Victoria Park to end at Regent’s Canal. Colorful houseboats and barges line the waterway.

An elderly man swinging a can of beer said ‘’The East End will be a ghost town next year after the Olympics. They’re leaving only poor people. You will see!”

At a lock I met writer David Gee. He has been living for more than 12 years on his boat ‘Promise’ and he invited me to have a look on his floating home. It was narrow but very charming and I thought it was a great way of living in such a busy city as London. Mooring every two weeks in a different spot gives you the feeling of independence and it’s definitely cheaper than buying a flat or a house.

The Regent’s Canal was originally built to link the Grand Junction Canal’s Paddington arm with the Thames. It was named after the Prince Regent, later King George IV. It was opened in 1820 and it became an important artery for cargo such as grain, raw materials for HP sauce, leather waste, last blocks, zinc ashes, and even cheese passing through London.

The canal winds its way past Hoxton with its artists and graffiti art before hiding in a tunnel with no footpath access at Angel. After a short stop at the Chapel Market I went back to the walking path along the canal passing the busy area of Camden Lock, known for its markets and hip dudes.

The last part took me along London Zoo and through the outskirts of Regent’s Park, flanked by beautiful houses with amazing gardens. It was remarkable that this posh area was also liked by homeless people.

Finally I arrived in Little Venice, the point where Regent’s Canal meets the Grand Junction Canal. An island in the center is called Browning’s island, after the poet Robert Browning who lived around the corner. It may not have the glamor of Venice, but it has its own picturesque charm.

I spent a total of four days along the canals, and became a big fan. I came across all the different social classes, different parts of the cosmopolitan city and met very interesting people. It is a hidden place and a different world within London, with lots of characters and stories.

If you ever want to escape from the busy shopping streets, spend some time walking, cycling or just sitting at one of London’s canals. You will not regret it!

(View a slideshow of images here)

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