7 Days of Positive – Day 152: A walk through hidden London

I stayed with one of my dearest uni friends Jane, in her lovely apartment in Primrose Hill.

In the morning I thought I’d go and have a little wander around the lovely London ‘village’ where I used to live, but as I walked along Gloucester Avenue, I came to a halt.

What was I thinking? It would only stir me up and make me feel weird going back to the places where I was so happy twenty years ago, so instead I decided to do something I’d never done before.

I headed down the steps which lead to the Regent’s Canal.

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Built in 1812 this man-made waterway was a crucial connection from the Thames, over at Limehouse Basin in the East End, to the Grand Union Canal, which goes all the way up to Birmingham.

It was a crucial cog in the machine of the Industrial Revolution, creating a transport system much more efficient than horse and carts.

When I lived in Primrose Hill you couldn’t walk along the canal. It was abandoned and way too dangerous, now it’s the most glorious haven right in the centre of London.

If I’d turned west, I’d have ended up in Maida Vale, but I wanted to walk to Kings Cross and one of my favourite eateries, so I headed east, noting a sign that told me it was a one and half mile walk.

this was a bit further along

this was a bit further along

The moment I got down to the towpath I was met with a joyful burst of urban vegetation, early summer sun dappling on the water. Instant tranquility, right in the middle of London. I was enchanted.

I was also a little bit nervous, due to the historic reputation, especially going into the dark under the many bridges, but I soon got over that, admiring the hawthorn, the elderflower trees, heavy with blooms and the beautiful willows, dipping in the breeze.

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The most dangerous things were the cyclists whizzing past on the towpath which is very narrow in places.

On I went, past Camden Lock market, which still seems as vibrant and fun as it was when I first went there as a teenager, admiring all the lovely new and converted buildings lining the canal, envying the apartments with balconies looking over the water.

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Everywhere I looked was the combination of urban grit and fresh nature which I find so captivating, particularly where there was a Victorian wall, 21st century graffiti and rampant weeds. And the odd shopping trolley.

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Getting nearer to Kings Cross, by a huge construction site and an old gas holder, I stopped to chat to a man called Marcus who lives on the canal, with a continuous cruising licence, which means he’s never in one place for more than two weeks, constantly moving around on London’s waterways.

He’s been living that way for 22 years, doing up longboats and selling them on.

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There’s a whole community on the canals, he said. It gets hard in the winter, even with a wood burning stove, but he couldn’t live any other way.

Just past Marcus I came to the glorious St Pancras Lock, with its manicured garden and the weatherboard club house of the St Pancras Basin Cruising Club, then a bit further on to this wonderful barge and a thicket of willows where some young children had been taken on a thrilling exploration.

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I could hear their hoots of delight as they poked about in the muddy undergrowth.

Round one more corner and there were steps covered in astroturf, leading up to the wonderfully developed Granary Square, where Central St Martin’s School of Art is now based in the amazingly redeveloped (unusually, in a good way…) area of King’s Cross, which used to be uniquely grim.

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Granary Square is also the site of two great restaurants.

Grain Store, is a chic but relaxed a relaxed semi-vegetarian (there is some fish, but no beef as it’s too bad for planet) by once Aussie-resident French chef Bruno Loubet and Caravan, my favourite place for brunch in London.

I sat outside in the sun, watching the fountains play – and a little boy playing in them – and ordered jalapeno corn bread with eggs, bacon and avocado. I texted my old buddie from Sydney Morning Herald days, Michael Idato, who was in town, to hop in a cab and join me. He did.

After eating we strolled down towards the Tube station and came across a brand new branch of Granger & Co, the third London venue by my friend Bill Granger.

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I could see him through the window, but he looked super busy – it’s opening on Monday – so I blew him a good luck kiss and walked on.

What a perfect morning.

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13 Comments
  • Kate
    June 13, 2015

    Hi Maggie
    I always love reading your blogs!
    Can I recommend that you read The Vegetarian Myth by Lierre Keith. Beef is not bad for the planet – but wheat, corn and soy are. She explains all this in great, very readable detail. It will change the way you look at food. You can read the first chapter for free on Amazon. You’ll be hooked.

    Cheers
    Kate (currently in Uzbekistan!!)

  • Danya
    June 13, 2015

    This all sounds so lovely. I am heading to London for my first ever visit in a month and everytime I read another story I get more and more excited.

  • Jan
    June 13, 2015

    This is one of my favourite London walks and is one I often take before hopping on the plane back to Sydney – enough exercise to make you feel a bit OK about the 24 hour forced inactivity.

  • Jane
    June 14, 2015

    I’m loving the stories and pictures of your walks, Maggie. And so insightful to realise that walking old familiar ways would only make you sad. In Newcastle NSW (Australia) where I live we have a wonderful working harbour full of great secret places to walk. My favourite is Throsby Creek. Most people think of it as a storm water drain, but before it dribbles into that drain, it is a glorious, wide river that flows from the harbour and is just perfect for a morning walk. Even though it is in the middle of the city, there are parts of it where you could easily think you were walking along a country river. So peaceful and quite. Even the cyclists are considerate and cycle fairly slowly along the ‘tow’ path that runs along one side – with a few bridges to cross over if you want to walk on the side with the grassy path and no cyclists.
    Newcastle also has the most glorious beaches, and I’m lucky enough to live within walking distance, but I would always chose to walk along Throsby Creek over the ocean walk – some mornings it’s like Pitt St (Oxford Circus) down there. There’s a lot to be said for the road less travelled.
    Looking forward to your next stroll.

  • WattleFlatJane
    June 14, 2015

    Heavenly walk!

    It’s great to see that there are still gritty bits of London left. I love the area around Kings Cross: we stayed in a house back on to the canal a few years ago, a stone’s throw from the British Library. Out the front door was all the bustle you would expect; out the back door was peacefulness, bobbing barges and ducks.

  • Bernadette
    June 14, 2015

    Dear Maggie, I spent some time in the Regents Canal area just before I left London 10 days ago. I was lucky enough to be staying in St Johns Wood with friends and what a joy, so many great places to explore easily from that location. I particularly love the blue and gold painted bridge over Regents Canal (I posted on FB, etc); very pretty and a great reminder of how much of London life and trade used to happen via the ancient waterways (some of the houseboats/barges v eclectic/fab.). BX

  • Joannatess
    June 14, 2015

    I met you at mosman library in sydney Maggie and you continue to inspire me..I have even been wearing black shoes with my navy tartan pants!!! This blog has arrived just in time as we are looking for a walk off the beaten track when in London for a day next month..the only other thing I would really like advice about is where to get a good espresso coffee…I am visiting a friend in Dorset and she says ‘forget it’theres not such thing!!!

    • maggie2015
      June 15, 2015

      Hello! Thanks for coming to Mosman, that was such a fun event. Glad you have embraced black shoes with navy! For winter I really love it. The walk is really grimy and industrial in parts (although there is always nature), so I hope that’s your thing – I feel responsible. I think there’s great coffee in London now. Where are you staying? There are quite a few Aussie and Kiwi-run cafes. Centrally there is Short Black in Berwick Street, Kaffeine in Great Titchfield Street and Lantana in Charlotte Place, next to Charlotte Street. There are loads more in Shoreditch. You’ll also get great coffee at Fernandez & Wells – they have at least two branches now, one in Soho and one in South Ken, which I know of. there may be more. If you have to go to a chain I think Café Nero is best. Costa and Starbucks serve undrinkable CACK. Here’s Time Out’s guide… http://www.standard.co.uk/goingout/restaurants/london-coffee-festival-londons-best-independent-coffee-shops-10218570.html Can you tell me what you try and what you think?

  • Joannatess
    June 14, 2015

    Forgot to tick the ‘notify me’

  • Maidy
    June 15, 2015

    Thanks for a delightful post Maggie. I remember kissing a boy on the Regents Canal just near where Dingwalls used to be at Camden. Early eighties, lovely memory.
    Maidy

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    December 15, 2016

    Really trustworthy blog. Please keep updating with great posts like this one. I have booked marked your site and am about to email it to a few friends of mine that I know would enjoy reading..

  • http://www./
    February 9, 2017

    Beautifully written! I’m with you here, Susan. A while back, I twigged to the idea of garden choreography. In a post called “The Dance of Plants” I wrote about the challenge in garden design of managing the continual motion of these dancers across time. Your point about plants’ emotional value – and I use that term to mean something like colour value – makes that challenge more complex but more rewarding.

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