Inner London Canoe Safari - 18th September 2016

posted 3 Oct 2016, 04:42 by Sailing Secretary   [ updated 3 Oct 2016, 04:51 ]

Back at the beginning of the season, when we were planning our programme of  ‘adventures’, there was a lot of enthusiasm for trying some different waters and a trip into London was included on the programme. As I had never paddled the canals of inner London this required considerable planning and two enjoyable recce trips. Finding a suitable starting point where we could safely park a large trailer and several cars, was just the first challenge. Discovery of a 300 metre tunnel on our route resulted in a fairly lengthy correspondence with the helpful but thorough Canal and River Trust, and we duly received authority to pass through the tunnel.

Although there were 16 expressions of initial interest, family commitments, work, injury and the recognition that 13 miles was perhaps a little far for novices, reduced our numbers to a ‘hardcore’ quartet.

The said hardcore, Lee, Barbara, Steve and Kathy, loaded the four kayaks and set off for Park Royal. Our driver Steve skilfully  negotiated the Hanger Lane Gyratory System with the trailer and within minutes we had parked up by the canal. The level of litter was disappointing, but the wild life seemed at home, with plenty of moorhens, coots (sadly missing form the Kingston reach of the Thames this year) and herons. The first few miles of canal were pretty industrial and urban and none too clean, although efforts had been made to maintain the canal, riverbank and towpath. The towpath in particular was well used by walkers and cyclists, no doubt a welcome green corridor towards the city. We were struck by the number of houseboats and even saw tents by Kensal Rise Cemetery.

Coming into Ladbrook Grove, the standard of Houseboats and canal side housing improved and we passed an impressive display of sculptures of famous and infamous people from history. Steve managed to speak to the sculptor himself Gerry Dawson a nonagenarian, who explained the sculptures were a 30 year project of his.

In sight of Little Venice, the canal was blocked by a large electric barge taking on water at the Canal and River Trust's depot. This seemed an opportune point to take the kayaks out of the canal (locking them securely) and find a spot for lunch. Taking our paddles along we explored little Venice and the Paddington Basin discovering an ideal spot for lunch (hand cleaning hygiene scrupulously adhered to).

On return to the kayaks we made contact with one of the Trip Boat skippers and sought his agreement to our following him through the tunnel, this was somewhat grudgingly given! The canal is pretty narrow at this point and one could understand that leisure Kayakers might be an unwelcome  complication for a commercial trip boat. That being so, we switched on our lights and followed the trippers into the dark Maida Hill Tunnel. This was quite some experience, torches and headlights enabled anyone to see us, but did little to illuminate the water around and I felt the need to paddle very steadily and keep to the centre of the tunnel, I really did not want to capsize here! 

Emerging into the sunlight at the end of the tunnel, we paddled under rail and road bridges through deep cuttings and then, in an instant found ourselves, by complete contrast in Regents Park, beside marble mansions and lush green trees.

 Perhaps the most exciting bit was yet to come, as soon we were paddling between the enclosures of London Zoo! To one side an aviary and to the other warthogs and hyenas! The large Chinese Junk at the entrance to the Camden Lock reach was almost an anti-climax.

Returning to Little Venice, we had to wait with other traffic for the tunnel to be clear, as all of a sudden the narrow canal became almost crowded with trippers and houseboats on the move.

 The return journey was a bit of a slog in parts as the wind always seemed to be against us and no doubt we were tiring after a full day's paddling. Inn conclusion, a VERY interesting trip, but although far from fastidious, I did find the litter/rats/dead pigeons a bit off putting!