diamond geezer

 Tuesday, December 22, 2009

 Walking the Regent's Canal
 Limehouse Basin to Islington
 (4 miles)

I went for a lovely stroll along the Regent's Canal at the weekend. Not the canal itself, you understand, because it wasn't quite cold enough to freeze over. But there was plenty of ice about, and a biting wind and the purest blue skies, which made for a more than pleasant walk. Or slide, in some places.

Limehouse to Islington, 4 miles in total, and some of it remarkably quiet on a Sunday morning. The Limehouse end, in particular, was far busier with flapping wildfowl than with human beings. The occasional jogger, the odd dog, a few hardy cyclists, nothing more. I was particularly impressed that the joggers didn't seem to be put off by the inclement weather, especially those wearing not-very-thermal trackies and lycra. The towpath was treacherous with black ice, and occasionally one skidded awkwardly before regaining composure and jogging on. I had enough trouble walking, and on more than one occasion thought I was about to tumble into the icy channel where nobody would have spotted me until permanent hypothermia had set in.

Meath BridgeThe number of modern flats that have grown up along the Regent's Canal in recent years is quite astonishing. Where once were backyards and warehouses, now sleek residential cuboids stack relentlessly along the non-towpath side of the canal. Tenants pay more for a waterside location, I'm sure, but the ribbon of blue is being increasingly overshadowed by characterless piles. One of the newest is opposite Mile End Park, at what used to be Suttons Wharf. Once a bargeworthy haven, it's now a gently curving sky-village with tasteful greenspace views. A couple of months ago a new footbridge was opened to help residents escape to the wider world, although it isn't terribly convenient for many other through journeys. [another photo]

Footfall increased past Victoria Park, with well-wrapped souls in furry hats out for a pre-lunch constitutional. I could tell it was cold because the giant gasholders near Broadway Market were nigh empty. [photo, for those who like Victorian metal against an azure sky] The towpath through Hackney is quite narrow, especially when half of it's treacherously icy, so overtaking folk wasn't always easy. Several impatient cyclists ting-tinged their way along from one low-arched bridge to the next, their breath streaming upwards in clouds of angry steam.

i am hereIn Haggerston, just before the new East London line railway bridge, an intriguing artwork beamed forth in the low winter sun. Samuel House is part of an about-to-be-demolished council estate, and several of its apartments are already empty and boarded up. To brighten the building, and to make a powerful visual statement, the boarded-up windows have been covered over by giant portraits of former residents. They stare down over the canal, a reminder of disappearing community, and creating an arresting artwork entitled i am here. Modern flatlets will be built in place of the old, eventually, forming a nucleus of greater density housing (but alas no finer view). [close-up photo]

After a bone-chilling hour and a quarter I reached City Road Basin, a long side-arm of water just before the mouth of the Islington Tunnel. By detouring through the backstreets I was able to reach the other end of the basin where a new public open space has been created. I'd arrived expecting Christmas-themed celebrations for the official opening, and that's what I sort of found. A huddle of stalls had been erected to create a very-Islington foodie market, all chorizo and cupcakes, around a hastily erected Christmas tree. I might have paused for a bratwurst, had the bloke behind the brazier not been too engrossed on his mobile to engage with customers. And I might have visited Santa and his elves on a barge in the basin too, if only the place had opened 40 years earlier and I'd still been target audience. It was all a bit bleak and concrete for my liking, but I suspect the basin may look more enticing come the spring. [arty photo] [nice idea for a walk, this, if you have a half-day to fill over Christmas] [walk a bit further and you might even see the new Banksys]

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