On a lovely sunny afternoon in September, we travelled to the Packet Boat Marina at Cowley (W. London) and picked up ‘Little Egret’ our narrowboat holiday home for the next 3 nights. Having parked our car, we were met at the marina by Louise who was absolutely lovely – so friendly and helpful. After our boat handover and show-through we were given a contact number just in case of any questions, problems, etc. then, waving goodbye to Louise, we turned right and headed towards London along the Grand Union Canal.
Passing under a lovely iron footbridge, painted in black and white, we felt very happy; admiring the bridges, mileposts and local buildings as we puttered along. A grassy towpath ran alongside the canal and there were plenty of dog walkers and cyclists taking advantage of it, some of them giving us a friendly smile or a wave as we drifted by. Much of the canal was very peaceful, lined by lush greenery and trees – definitely less built-up than we’d expected.
About an hour into our journey we came to a white curved stone bridge to our left, with a signpost saying ‘Paddington’. We had arrived at Bulls Bridge Junction, which would lead us to Little Venice, Regent’s Park and Camden. Turning under the bridge was actually quite exciting because we knew we were heading for a completely different experience in comparison to our previous boating holidays through the UK countryside.
Soon we were cruising under a railway bridge, close to Southall Gas Works, then past the Uxbridge Road visitor’s moorings which were overlooked by a row of terraced cottages. There were still some lovely green areas of the canal as we passed through on our way to Willowtree Marina, where we would be mooring for the evening. You can moor in the marina for £25 per stay or moor up opposite the marina on the towpath for free; so we found a nice spot along the towpath, tapped in our mooring-pins with the mallet provided on the boat and tied up for the first evening. The cruise from our starting point to here had taken just 1 hour and 40 minutes. Walking over the nearby footbridge, we made our way to the Lock & Quay Restaurant and Bar, situated on the marina, where we enjoyed a very acceptable dinner and a few beers before returning to our boat to put our feet up.
Setting off at 10am the next morning (Saturday) after a light breakfast, there was a short rain shower before it brightened up again; thankfully we remembered to bring our trusty golfing umbrella, so it wasn’t any bother. Office and apartment blocks began to appear more regularly alongside us and numerous road bridges arched overhead between the pockets of grassy woodland. The heavy traffic on Western Avenue Bridge rumbled overhead as we passed beneath it and then, as we approached Lyons Bridge, we spotted the Wembley Stadium Arch which was a really wonderful surprise.
There was a waterpoint and canalside pub at Greenford, but we’d decided to stop elsewhere so we carried on. We noticed that lots of people were living on their boats near Ballot Box Bridge, their washing lines hanging alongside the canal, sheets billowing in the breeze. At Alperton there were free moorings next to a large ‘well-known’ supermarket, so we stopped for a few provisions before continuing towards Ealing Road Bridge where high-rise blocks of flats began to dominate the skyline. We crossed a short aqueduct over the River Brent, then an even longer aqueduct over the massive North Circular Road with its queues of traffic and numerous lanes – people who were totally oblivious to the relaxed pace that we were moving at just above them as we happily drifted along. Stopping near Acton Lane Bridge at the visitor’s moorings, we ordered some lunch and a pint at the Grand Junction Arms before hopping back on and continuing towards Little Venice.
Again we cruised down a corridor of greenery, criss-crossed here and there by footbridges, road bridges and rail bridges – less industrial and crowded than we’d presumed. However, as we got closer to Central London the Graffiti started to get more frequent and the green spaces less picturesque, especially when we passed through Kensall Green. We were definitely approaching the city centre now. Red double-decker buses rumbled across on ironwork bridges next to canalside taverns and there were waterside restaurants with numerous canal ‘spectators’. At Little Venice visitor’s moorings we stopped to admire the painted boats with floral roof displays, floating art galleries and grand mansions surrounding the triangular pool; treating ourselves to coffee at one of the charming waterside cafés there.
Next we went through Maida Hill Tunnel (249m long) and made our way towards Regent’s Park, passing under Marylebone Station Bridge just as a train rattled overhead. Regent’s park was lovely to encounter; there were people taking a leisurely stroll through the park with their families, under the high-arched stone bridges – Avenue Road Bridge and Macclesfield Bridge – and the ornate ironwork of Primrose Hill Bridge. We cruised past the painted railings, high nets and ‘inner footbridges’ of London Zoo; then crossed Cumberland Basin, which is home to an elaborate floating Chinese restaurant, on our way to Camden Town.
Near Dingwall’s Wharf we came to the first of three locks leading into Camden. This area was bustling with people – markets, pubs, converted warehouses, ironwork bridges and friends sitting in the sun with their legs dangled over the canalside wall chatting together. We puttered past them enjoying the atmosphere.
Just before St. Pancras Lock there is a place to turn around, which we did before retracing our steps and mooring up for the evening just after Gray’s Inn Bridge and walking into Camden from there. There are numerous places to eat out in Camden including some unique stalls. We visited the Street Food Market at West Yard which has lots of food vendors, where we enjoyed a variety of specialities including Korean, Turkish, Argentinian and Hawaiian delicacies – probably the highlight of our trip actually; really fabulous.
On Sunday morning we began our trip back to the Packet Boat Marina. It truly seemed like an age since we had left there and even though we’ve cruised along many canals before, I must admit that this really is one of the most memorable. We were pleasantly surprised by the scenery, the ease or mooring and the variety of experiences available to us. Next time we’ll probably come for longer; maybe we’ll moor up and take the tube further into London, go to the theatre, visit more attractions, who knows.
Packet Boat –Willow Tree Marina 1 hour 40 mins
Willow Tree Marina – Acton Lane Bridge (9) 2 hours 10 mins
Acton Lane Bridge – Little Venice Moorings 1 hour 5 mins
Little Venice Moorings – St Pancras Lock 2 hours
St Pancras Lock – Gray’s Inn Bridge, Camden 25 mins
Gray’s Inn Bridge – Packet Boat Marina 6 hours 20 mins
Idea: Extend your trip by taking a 4 night mid-week break instead of a weekend to allow an extra day.
Info: There is a bar and restaurant (The Watersedge) at Packet Boat Marina for food on your last evening.