Walking Londons Canals at Camden Lock

For our next stage of walking the canals of London we leave behind the picturesque Primrose Hill and Regents Park and continue east towards the a part of London that couldn’t be more different, Camden Lock Market.

As we get underway though take a look at the photo below.  Does it look a little strange to you with a wide expanse of water that is blocked off to the right of the Chinese restaurant?  It is rather like the junction at Little Venice only without a second canal.  Well at one time there was another canal….

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As you can see from the maps below, a canal veered south east towards Euston Station but was filled in duding the 20th century as train travel well and truly superseded canal transport.  I only found this out a year or two ago when looking at the modern day map (below right) you can trace a green corridor of gardens and allotments leading right into the heart of this extremely busy corner of London.

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Leaving behind an interesting quirk of canal history we continue through some of the fancy neighbourhoods in this part of the city in total tranquility and only reminded that we are in London by the occasional event such as the passing of a London bus on an overhead bridge.

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As bizarre as it sounds the bridge above is the thing I most wanted to see.  I have travelled by train over this bridge for the last 38 years or so and always looked down at the canal on the left side and wondered what it would be like to go underneath.   Far from the most picturesque part of the walk but an important one for me as two great Victorian transport networks meet.

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Canoeing, kayaking and canal boating are core to our work and they strive to tackle disadvantage, challenge exclusion and support the more vulnerable members of our community through all that we do. Our raft of adventurous recreation, outdoor education and training initiatives improve health and wellbeing, nurture life and social skills and bring people together through active participation – regardless of their ability or personal circumstances.

Their work focuses on children, young people and SEND (special educational needs and disability) groups of all ages, both from our local borough of Camden and more widely across London. We also partner with mainstream and specialist schools, Pupil Referral Units, frontline and voluntary support services to deliver projects that link with the curriculum, help address challenging behaviours or improve people’s longer-term life chances.

Over the past 50 years we have transformed our stretch of the canal from an underutilised resource to a vibrant hub of opportunity and activity. Built in 1977 and designed by famous architects, Seiferts, The Pirate Castle is renowned as being the first defensive castle built in Britain since the sixteenth century. It is also a proud symbol of community dedication and ambition.

Extended and re-modelled in 2008 with Lottery and local government funding and newly-refurbished for 2017, their fully-accessible and characterful venue provides a mixture of community space, meeting rooms, a roof terrace nestled between the ramparts and dedicated changing and ‘wet’ areas for kayaking and canoeing sessions. We also have a wheelchair-friendly bankside for easy access to the canal and our boats, which include a purpose-built, wheelchair accessible canal boat – opening up the waterway for all to enjoy.

From the distant passing trains I’ve always thought the Pirate Castle to look a little strange but on getting close up, it really does look like an actual castle, albeit one made of brick rather than stone.

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We’re now close to the heart of once industrial Camden.  These days the district is most famous for it’s incredible Camden Markets but 200 years ago it was full of industry and trade as the canals brought in goods and materials from all over northern England to London.   In fact the Stables Market was something like a motorway rest or service station for the horses that would have towed the boats so far into London and were now free to rest and be fed-up before taking a boat out to the country.

The photo above gives an idea of how canals then were as cleverly used then as roads or air travel is today.  A private canal goes under a 5 or 6 storey industrial building allowing for then easy movements of both raw materials and finished goods, saving lots of time and money in the process.

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Photo from the Ice Wharf showing the canal going under the old building.

 

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This beautiful old bridge over Regents Canal leads to the old Ice Wharf with a trendy pub now sporting the same name.  Right next to the old tree was a deep brick lines well which was full of ice, sometimes brought in from Norway.

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We’ve come all this way without encountering any locks but these are the ones that give Camden Lock its name.  The locks are only needed for canals when going up or down hills so with London being generally flat and the canal engineers deliberately picking the flattest possible route even then, they are few and far between here but out in the country you can get several all in a line going up a hill.

If you want to see a video of a boat going through a lock then check out my video below which is taken from and old post of a walk a long my own section of the Grand Union canal just on the edge of the countryside.

We finish this section of the walk with one of the intriguing entrances to Camden Market.    If you’re a bit tempted to come and explore Londons canals with me then do take a gander at London Canals Walking Tour.

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About Stephen Liddell

I am a writer and traveller with a penchant for history and getting off the beaten track. With several books to my name including a #1 seller, I also write environmental, travel and history articles for magazines as well as freelance work. Recently I've appeared on BBC Radio and Bloomberg TV and am waiting on the filming of a ghost story on British TV. I run my own private UK tours company (Ye Olde England Tours) with small, private and totally customisable guided tours run by myself!
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