diamond geezer

 Tuesday, May 24, 2005

 Walking the Regent's Canal
 Stage 2: Regent's Park
 (1 mile)

Regent's Park: This whole area used to be Henry VIII's hunting chase, a protected patch of lush woodland to the north of the capital. In the early 19th century John Nash transformed it into the vast circular park we know today, complete with central lake, grand villas and a holiday home for the Prince Regent. His plan was to build the Regent's Canal straight through the middle of the park, because there's nothing like a good water feature to boost house prices. Unfortunately snobby locals thought otherwise, fearing that the navvies would be uncouth and foul-mouthed. Nash therefore altered his plans and diverted the canal across the top of the park instead, and also hid it in a cutting where it couldn't be seen just to be on the safe side.

One consequence of this is that you can't actually see Regent's Park from the Regent's Canal, despite it being immediately nextdoor. Entering the park eastwards the view is dominated instead by these classical white villas. They're not Georgian originals but much more recent additions, built to Nash's original designs, and they're clearly owned by people who are very very rich indeed. On the opposite side of the canal are the private gardens of Nuffield Lodge (formerly Grove House), fenced and barred for the exclusive use of the residents as if somehow the nearby public park weren't good enough for them.

The next bridge may look like just an ordinary footbridge but it's also a covered aqueduct, transporting the waters of the ancient River Tyburn across the canal. Honest. That's followed by Macclesfield Bridge, also known as 'Blow-up Bridge' in memory of London's largest pre-war explosion. In 1874 a barge containing a cargo of sugar, petroleum and five tons of gunpowder caught fire beneath this particular bridge. The resulting explosion killed the crew, destroyed the bridge and a nearby house, and shattered windows up to a mile away. A nearby plane tree still bears the scars of the blast damage, apparently, although I found it impossible to spot amongst the wooded slopes dripping with wisteria and cow parsley.

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