The Clash Of The Old (And The Not So Old As You Think)

There’s a glorious quirky little pocket of West London known as Little Venice, tucked away at the Paddington Basin where the Grand Union meets the Regent’s Canal – an 8-mile-long working waterway built in the early 1800’s, linking the Grand Junction Canal’s Paddington Arm with the Thames at Limehouse. It’s thought that Lord Byron first teased this name, likening the canals of Venice to the area, but then again, the poet Robert Browning who lived there for more than 25 years, is also said to have coined it, so who knows. 

Colourfully romantic narrowboats jostle for space, each one individually decked out in traditional paint work and decoration. Some look to be permanently moored and established, whilst others look to be more transient, nomadically wandering the canals of London and beyond into the Midlands. I see that a few of them are for sale, with 1-bedroom houseboats going for £130,000, though I suspect that the mooring licence might be the sticking point, especially for the picturesque tranquillity of Little Venice. 

Leaving Little Venice and heading towards Regent’s Park, the dark Maida Hill Tunnel runs 249 metres dead straight under the streets of Maida Vale, emerging at Lisson Grove to the public tow-path which hugs the canal eastwards, passing rows of impossibly cute narrowboats huddled together along the arc of the canal, each with their own little patch of garden seating, even a gazebo or two. 

There’s a real sense of clash here, leaving the picturesque streets of Little Venice and Maida Vale you enter the rarified air of Regency Splendour. Or so it seemed. When we were there yesterday, we marvelled at the grand mansions lined up in a row facing the canal. These white stuccoed splendorous piles with vivid green manicured gardens appeared to proclaim another time. Turns out they’re not quite as they seem. In 1987, the Crown Commissioners tendered for new ‘Classical Villas’ to be built alongside the canal to enhance the Regent’s Park setting. These five villas were built in a row from 1987, with the last completed in 2008 – Villas Ionic, Veneto, Gothick, Corinthian and Tuscan. Inspired by celebrated Regency architect John Nash who, back in the day, had originally envisaged 56 classical mansions here, they are now some of the most expensive houses in the country. 

But, finding myself standing on the other side of the canal, looking at these gargantuan excessive piles, what struck me more than anything were the mirror-perfect rippling reflections in the canal, an echo perhaps of a long-lost gilded age. 

There’s another clash just along the silent tow-path, a few steps after the last of the mansions. From untold wealth to the graffiti-strewn industrial underworld, where iron-bridges with thunderous constant traffic hide the rough-sleepers shivering beneath the arches. And if that wasn’t enough of a clash, you enter the outskirts of London Zoo, with its African Hunting Dogs pacing the perimeter fence; monkeys leaping in their aerial enclosure and signs pointing for African Lions and Avian wonders.

At this point we left the silent canal, plunged into the park and back into the crush of pre-Christmas London.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Bevan Lee says:

    Another fascinating blog, taking one where one would never have gone by photo but for said post. Towed along the tow path with you lads. Fabulous. Enjoy the rest of your Christmas travels. 😘🤗

    Like

  2. ThingsHelenLoves says:

    I love that London has so many faces, all waiting to be explored. I have a lot of love for canals and the old style boats, my (not so) guilty pleasure is binge watching Great Canal Journeys, I think they floated down this stretch.

    Like

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