On a recent London trip, we were a little jaded with the whole British Museum, Piccadilly, Trafalgar Square routine, (and less mobile thanks to a recent MVA). We decided to explore the area near our hotel. This included Regents Park, the Zoo and, most notably – Camden Market including the locks and surrounding canals. Here we discovered a whole “ecosystem” of canal residents, barges, markets and small rural hideaways.
London is laced with a canal system dating back to the early 19th century. The advent of trains, the Tube and cars left this area dirty and rundown, but it has experienced a renaissance in recent years and is fascinating to explore.*
First we walked from our hotel, (right next door to Regent’s Park), to Camden Market, taking a shortcut along the Camden canal. Camden Market itself features a wide range of ethnic food choices plus all the usual market fare, from etchings to T-shirts. It’s a great place to wander, people watch, grab some cultural cuisine and soak in the atmosphere of daily London life. We selected some unique souvenirs for the family back home.
We headed home via the canal and discovered that people live here year round on barges. There are some homeless people; it is rural and scenic; there is a regular bus, or barge, service; you can rent kayaks or boats to explore yourself; it is a favourite exercise/jogging area for locals; there are water birds, including some rarer ones, (there is a population of Egyptian geese, indigenous to Africa).
Camden canal is quiet, allowing one to deflate from the hubbub of the busy London streets.
Overall, it’s a welcome respite from “tourism” London. We felt we had discovered a “real” aspect of the city and in subsequent visits we plan to explore similar areas.
Incidentally, we recommend the Regents Park area for a London stay. It is an easy and interesting 20 – 30 minute walk down to the hubs of Oxford Street, Trafalgar Square, the West End and Soho. But you can also spend a couple of days wandering around locally and The tube, taxis or Uber, will get you anywhere else quickly.
*In the novel “Warlight”, Michael Ondaatje gives a wonderful description of the London waterways in the post war period, whilst Robin Robertson’s novel, “The Long Take” revolves around the life of a modern barge dweller — both great reads!