The Regent’s Canal walk to Limehouse Basin

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  • Limehouse Basin, destination

    Until the beginning of November this year Limehouse Basin was a destination unknown to me.  It was merely a name on a sign post on the Regent’s Canal towpath which I had never passed before.   I associated it with the old, industrial London that has vanished and in my imagination it was a dark, mysterious place.  When I finally arrived there via the towpath from Victoria Park I discovered a rich man’s marina with the opulence of the Canary Wharf Tower dominating the skyline.

    Limehouse Basin

    Limehouse Basin

    Regent’s Canal towpath walk

    I love walking by the canal because the roads are often high above and you’re shielded from the noise and bustle of the metropolis.  And the towpaths still offer a glimpse of old London though that is increasingly disappearing as more and more modern canal-side apartments sprout up.  This month I finally explored a new stretch from Victoria Park to Limehouse Basin.

    Is this the smallest barge ever built?

    Is this the smallest barge ever built?

    The walk passes through Bethnal Green, passed the Mile End Park and Queen Mary College until you reach Limehouse Basin.  It was a glorious sunny Sunday afternoon and up ahead was the beacon of Canary Wharf beckoning me towards it.  The highlight of the walk was watching two working narrowboats pass through Johnson’s Lock near Mile End.  They were exquisitely decorated with traditional designs.  And a glimpse inside at the rear  revealed ornamental plates displayed on a wall and tasselled curtains. These two boats were not holiday cruisers they were using the canal to deliver fuel.

    I reached Limehouse as the sun was starting to sink low in the sky.  But rather than turn around and walk back, I circled around the edge of the basin, heading towards the setting sun.  And suddenly there was the river Thames looking like an ocean in contrast to the narrow waterway.   As I stood and watched the setting sun, I felt as if I was on the edge of the world, with a new land beyond.  When it was really only South London and the silhouette of the Shard.

    Interesting snippets about Limehouse – Did you know?  

    That the area was named after 14th Century limekilns which were used to convert Kent chalk into quicklime for the building industry?  Hidden London offers further interesting reading on that.

    And that in the early 20th century, Limehouse was mythologised in novels as the notorious Chinatown where the evil fictional Fu Manchu had his headquarters?  Academic John Seed’s essay Limehouse Blues explores the truth of that myth.

    And that a track called Limehouse blues has been covered by Django Reinhardt and Nancy Sinatra?  I like the Reinhardt version best. It reminds me of the film The Third Man.

    The photo-gallery – Regent’s Canal towpath, Victoria Park to Limehouse Basin

    All pictures were taken with my much derided mobile phone because I hadn’t been planning on taking pictures that day.  But it holds up really well in bright sunlight.  Do click on any photo to switch to a better view in gallery mode.

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