The Regent’s Canal: All Human Life is Here

I often walk along the towpath of the King’s Cross to Islington Tunnel section of the Regent’s Canal. It takes ten to fifteen minutes and I love the walk for its interest and variety. It was built 1812-20 and that’s the period I’ve always been interested in.

1 Book boat

The second-hand bookshop boat

The first thing I see is the wonderful second-hand bookshop boat – my idea of heaven. There are books piled high everywhere –  this is definitely my kind of place.

2 Lynn Chadwick statue

Seated Pair by Lynn Chadwick

Across the canal, a few steps further on, is the new glass and steel concert and exhibition venue, King’s Place. The statue outside is Seated Pair by Lynn Chadwick, C.B.E., R.A. (1914-2003). I’m sorry I can only see their backs across the water – they have a touching intimacy when seen from the front. They add a touch of class and culture.

 4 Mansard

The Mansard

Narrow boats are moored along much of the canal, sometimes two deep. Families live here; one boat has pots of herbs growing on the roof, another has a child’s bicycle. The photograph shows the Mansard; its owners always keep it looking good.

3a London Wildlife Trust gang

The London Wildlife Trust group

There are a number of environmental organizations interested in the Regent’s Canal. Today, I meet the London Wildlife Trust group returning from work. They tell me that their job is to keep the green banks in order; that is, cut back where necessary, remove litter and so on. Plainly, looking at the wheelbarrow full of shears and other implements, they mean business. Their base is the nearby Camley Street Nature Reserve and I make a mental note to visit.

5 Basin w Canal Museum

The Canal Basin: home of the London Canal Museum

The Canal Basin is a mixture of old and new; concrete and glass buildings sit happily next to old warehouses converted to new uses. The London Canal Museum is here, too. Once owned by 19th century Swiss entrepreneur, Carlo Gatti, who brought ice from Norway and stored it in massive ice wells (still there) for sale to restaurants etc. He was also possibly the first seller of ice cream to the general public.

6 towards Islington

Pause to enjoy the view

It’s good to pause and enjoy the view.

7 Warehouses renewed

Warehouse with a new life

King’s Cross and the surrounding area were badly bombed during the Blitz but some warehouses survive, such as this handsome example, which are now offices. You can see just the balconies from which hooks once lifted goods from the barges into the warehouse. At the base of the building, along the waterline, there is a line of tangled green plants. These are definitely not weeds.

8 Biohaven

The Biohaven Floating Wetland

It is a long wire-net gabion, stretching the entire length of the warehouse and the house next to it. It holds stones to stop it floating away and plants carefully chosen to create a terrestrial habitat above water, and an aquatic habit below water for fish and creatures like frogs and newts. It also helps with erosion control and some of the plants have the ability to clean the water. The aim is to create a wildlife corridor: a breeding ground for birds, fish and insects.

9 swans

Swans: mother and two cygnets

Last time I came, the mother swan was sitting in her old nest near the gabion with her two cygnets. The cygnets still have their baby down and are at the ‘ugly duckling’ stage. The nest is obviously getting very crowded and the swan has that look of a mum with teenagers who are occupying too much space. I sympathize.

10 Fresco in progress

Artist’s Site set up by Islington Council. Note Steve’s step ladder 

Here I meet the artist, Steve Russell. He’d arrived the day before and whitewashed the wall. His painting is called We Only Have Time, and he’s adapted it from a lino cut print he thinks will work in the space. I can just see the faint charcoal lines of the grid for transferring the squared up print to the wall surface.

11 Steve Russell

It’s a hot day. Steve has a drink of water before adding the colour

I think: it’s going to look good. It’s a bold design, which the space needs, and it complements the Chadwick statues further down, adding to the interest for canal towpath walkers. When he’s had a drink of water to cool down, Steve will add the colour: pinky-orange and yellow. I look forward to seeing it finished.

13 Thornhill Bridge and insect homes

Home for insects

Just before Thornhill Bridge, I come across the Thornhill Bridge Nature Reserve, a small overgrown space with two lots of carefully piled up drainpipes containing bits of wood and flower stalks. It’s a des. res. for insects. Next to them, orange rowan berries glow in the sun.

12 ironwork on Thornhill Bridge

Detail of Thornhill Bridge’s ornamental railing

The ornamental railings over the Thornhill Bridge are best seen from the road but I like the design of horses towing a barge along the canal, so here is a glimpse.

14 Ellen and Toby

Ellen and Toby

Everyone is very friendly on the towpath and I often stop for conversations. This is Ellen with her dog, Toby. She is happy for me to photograph her but I suspect that Toby would prefer to nip my ankles. Fortunately, he’s on a lead.

15 Towards Islirngton Tunnel

Islington Tunnel ahead

The dark entrance to Islington Tunnel looms ahead and the towpath is coming to an end. I’ve enjoyed my walk: the second-hand books boat, Lynn Chadwick’s sculpture, the Canal Museum, artist Steve Russell, and all those who are doing their bit to protect and enhance the environment. They all get gold stars from me.

Elizabeth Hawksley


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8 thoughts on “The Regent’s Canal: All Human Life is Here”

  1. This is fascinating. Love the wetlands and the artist’s work. But truth is I wouldn’t have got further than the floating second-hand bookshop! Kudos to you for making it further along the walk.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Elizabeth, which made me laugh. I know exactly what you mean. Once I spot a second-hand bookshop -I’m there like a homing pigeon!

    1. I agree, Rosemary. I do try not to snoop but I can’t help but be interested in what other people have on their bookshelves.

  2. An interesting and fascinating walk with so much to see and do. For me I find it hard to pass by a bookshop of any description, but a second-hand bookshop boat is a rare treat.

    1. Thank you for dropping by, Sylvia. I love the way that this short stretch of canal contains so much variety. And it’s always changing as boats move on and new birds arrive – I’m hoping to spot the heron. I do agree with you that the sight of a second-hand bookshop is a treat nowadays. It’s being able to browse that’s so special; you never know what will turn up. I love that moment when you spot something you’ve wanted for years and POUNCE!

  3. You have caught it all perfectly, Elizabeth. I have always loved the Regent’s Canal. I still have an unfinished book set on it. What I really need is TIME.

    1. I know the problem, Jan. I’m delighted to hear that the Regent’s Canal has another fan – though I’m sure there are many out there. I always enjoy your books, so please finish your Regent’s Canal one!

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