Saturday 5th January 2013
9 miles, 33 coconuts, 3 dead foxes, 1 dead squirrel, and approx 5,000,000,000 tonnes of rubbish
Toilets: Cafes in Paddington; Sainsbury’s, Ladbroke Grove/Kensal Green; Grand Junction Arms pub, Harlesden (opens at midday); Pleasure Boat pub, Alperton; Black Horse pub, Greenford; Platforms at Greenford Station (locked when we were there).
Our next long-distance path to follow is the Grand Union Canal, which stretches from London to Birmingham. Although it officially starts at Brentford, we decided to start with the Paddington Arm which runs for 13.5 miles from Little Venice to Bulls Bridge, near Hayes. On this dull January day, our original plan was to make it all the way to Bulls Bridge. However, we didn’t start early enough, so we had to end our walk at Greenford otherwise we’d have been finishing it in the dark.
Our walk started at the Paddington Basin, home to some shiny new office blocks and cafes, along with various sculptures. There were lots of canal boats with interesting names.
After a short while we reached Little Venice, where the route officially began. Most of the boats we saw were canal boats, but this one had its very own sails. I wonder if it’s ever sailed further afield.
Near Westbourne Green we passed St Mary Magdalene Church.
Further along the route, we saw this artwork that had been made by local school children. It’s entirely created out of rubbish.
The canal passed under Ladbroke Grove, and the walk changed a bit in character as we went over an old-fashioned brick bridge over a tiny canal basin. There was then a huge branch of Sainsbury’s, who have taken advantage of the canalside location with their “stop and shop” moorings. It has a cafe and toilets. Across the water was Kensal Green Cemetery, which we could just about see through the trees.
A bit further on we passed this beautifully decorated boat, delightfully named Dilligaf. Yes, that means something – look it up.
The canal then approached Harlesden, and the surroundings became much more industrial. We passed lots of factories producing smells, some horrible and some nice. The water around these parts was absolutely full of rubbish, and was generally really grim. I wouldn’t want to be in charge of dredging it, as I don’t want to think about what I might find.
Interestingly, though, we kept seeing coconuts, and I’m still not entirely sure why. At first I thought one of the factories was making something containing coconut, and that some of the shells had made their way into the canal. However, we soon realised that these were whole coconuts. Some of them were in plastic bags. Most of them were around Harlesden, Park Royal and Alperton, but there were also a few later on approaching Greenford. Our coconut count for the day was thirty-three. That’s totally normal, that is, seeing coconuts floating around in a canal. I don’t know why anyone would think it was weird…
Just before Harlesden we passed the McVitie’s biscuit factory, where you can often smell biscuits being baked. It’s such a nice smell, I’m sure all the local shops must do a roaring trade in them. We had planned to have a brief stop at the Grand Junction Arms, but we were a bit early and hadn’t realised that it didn’t open until midday, so on we continued. There was yet more smelliness and general dirt, and huge amounts of rubbish. And coconuts, of course. This section really wasn’t the most pleasant part of our day. We also saw a total of three dead foxes and one dead squirrel floating on the water, spread out along the length of the route. It was saved by the impressive viaduct over the North Circular Road.
Upon reaching Alperton we had a drink and toilet stop at the Pleasure Boat pub on Ealing Road. It definitely isn’t the most exciting pub in the world, but hey, they have toilets, fruit juice and Guinness. No real ale, though. There was a TV showing football, and at approximately 1pm on a Saturday there were about five people in there, including us. Not a destination pub, but a useful stop if needed.
Shortly after Ealing Road, and upon passing yet another branch of a well-known supermarket which had taken full advantage of its canalside location, the walk became much nicer and quieter. Still a few coconuts, but hardly any rubbish compared to earlier on.
From the towpath we looked up towards Sudbury Golf Course and then Horsenden Hill, which I’ve already walked up as part of the Capital Ring. More peaceful walking continued until we reached the Black Horse pub in Greenford, where we had lunch. It has a conservatory area with large windows looking out onto the canal, and the food is excellent. They do show live sports, but that’s in a separate room downstairs so we didn’t even notice it. All in all, highly recommended. We arrived around 2pm and were there for at least an hour. There wasn’t enough time to make it to Bulls Bridge before nightfall, so that’s where our walk ended for the day. It was then under ten minutes’ walk to Greenford Station.
We’ll be continuing the walk at some point, and I hope there aren’t as many smelly bits. I know it’s a lot nicer in the rural parts further up the route, but there are a couple more sections to do in London first.