diamond geezer

 Thursday, May 26, 2005

 Walking the Regent's Canal
 Stage 4: King's Cross
 (1 mile)

And then came the railways. In this case that's the Midland mainline whose modern bridges sprawl across the canal, blotting out the sky as the occasional train thunders overhead. The St Pancras Cruising Club is based here (watersports only), beside a pair of rather splendid looking locks (as seen in the Michael Caine film, Alfie). And then comes the unexpected beauty of Camley Street Natural Park, tantalisingly out of reach on the opposite bank. It's quite surprising to stumble across two acres of wild green space bang in the middle of an industrial wasteland, but this carefully conserved canalside site (once a mucky coal depot) now buzzes with plant and animal life. In the near distance, to the south, slender cranes slowly turn as the Gothic masterpiece of St Pancras station undergoes intense redevelopment. Only one of the famous gasholders still stands as the Channel Tunnel Rail Link wipes the 19th century landscape clean away. Within ten years this rundown end of town should have blossomed into a cosmopolitan quarter for bohemians and businessmen, so they hope. For the time being the old rail warehouses thrive only as huge weekend nightclubs or go-kart arenas, which is probably a lot more fun than their eventual destiny.

The canal may have passed under the tracks from St Pancras, but within a few hundred yards it passes over the tracks from neighbouring Kings Cross. Special stopgates were added close to Maiden Lane Bridge during WW2 to prevent bomb damage inadvertently flooding the railway tunnel below. Battlebridge Basin, which follows, is a spacious sidearm flanked by old warehouses and modern wharf living. Estate agents wax lyrical about the dwellings to the south of the canal ("A selection of fantastic two double bedroom apartments within this sort after gated canal side development"), whereas the flats on the northern side are more likely to be swapped on the social housing register.

Islington Tunnel: By the time we reach the entrance to the Islington Tunnel, waterside living is looking a little less appealing. Mind the bloke with the pitbull, and the three lads sitting fishing with worms in one hand and a spliff in the other. This is the longest canal tunnel in the capital, measuring over half a mile in length. There's no towpath inside the tunnel so the first narrowboats had to be legged through, until the introduction of a pioneering steam tug which chugged repeatedly through the inky blackness until the 1930s. But if you're attempting to follow the canal today you'll have to do what the horses once did and walk up the ramp and through the streets of Islington to the other side. Apparently there are pavement markings in the street for you to follow but I couldn't find them. Maybe I was too busy watching out for the pitbull.

[Camden → Kings Cross walk (pdf)]

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