When one thinks of European Canals the thoughts usually are focused on the Netherlands or Venice, Italy. Prior to moving to London I had rarely associated the concept of Canals with the United Kingdom. However since moving I have received a lesson in the rich history of canals in the United Kingdom; and most recently participated in a tour of Regent’s Canal, in North London.
The Regent’s Canal first opened in 1816 and has had a rich history since then. We toured the area between Camden Town and Paddington; where laden canal barges used to transport their goods around London and towards the north of the United Kingdom.
We passed through the Hamstead Lock in Camden Town before heading west along the Canal towards Little Venice and Paddington. The Canal Lock allows for changes in a canal’s height along it’s man made route. The functionality of the Lock is truly amazing; releasing water to lower the water level in the Lock, or letting in water from the higher side to raise the water level in the Lock. All of this is controlled by manual gates that are managed from the shore or the Lock, but not from within the canal boat.
Heading westward we passed several canal boats, and the very interesting Exchange, where Canal Boats would enter the small space beneath the large brick building and unload their cargo directly onto trains. We passed the floating Chinese restaurant, in it’s bright red and oriental inspired canal boat. As we headed westward we caught the edge of the London Zoo in Regent’s Park; with a clear view into the Zoo’s aviary, as well as some of the boar cages along the banks of the Canal.
The trip was an experience in history as we made our way down the Canal. We learned how horses used to drag the oldest Canal boats, and we were given insight into how the boats made it through the tight canal tunnels; with men running their feet along the wall and pushing the boat along. Overall it was a truly unique experience and one that was eye opening. London’s Canals are historic, relaxing and a beautiful display of turn of the century engineering.