This nautical jaunt through West London started at the Paddinton Basin, the point at which the Grand union and Regents Canal meet, with the view to traverse three quarters of a mile of underground waterways that form part of the Regents canal. Comprising three tunnels, the shortest of these can be described as no more than a couple of glorified bridges, with the one that precedes it being the Maida hill tunnel. At 251 metres it cuts under the Edgware road, and through the sought-after, aptly-named Little Venice, a picturesque suburb dominated by its canals.
Watched over by the aggrieved faces of fee-paying tourists on an open-top canal boat tour on the opposite side of the basin, we launched our trusty vessels under the pitter patter of rain, thinking that reaching the tunnel couldn't come soon enough.
The brick construction underneath is sooted from the passing of canal traffic for over 100 years. Despite a small pinhole of light at each end, once inside the darkness overwhelms any effort to orientate without going off course. Head Torches on, it was then a rush to reach the end before any oncoming canal boats demonstrate the near zero-clearance width, and engulf us completely.
Once out the other side, the canal widens and the surroundings change. What was just pleasant canal shaded by London Plane trees, it is now a grittier, industrial waterway, where we are charged with avoiding navigational obstacles of all manner. It seems the Regents canal is a watery rubbish bin for most of West London.
Being photographed by tourists, and waved at by middle-aged woman, it would appear urban kayaking works wonders for oneâ€™s credibility. The scenery changed once again as we reached the start of the Regents Park stretch, which also passes through ZSL London. No longer does it feel industrial here, but the canal is lined with fenced-off,no doubt half empty private residences that one can only imagine the value of.
Reaching another basin, the canal takes a turn towards Camden. The river traffic increases, because owning a narrow boat must be the new in thing for a hipster crowd. Before we make it to the penultimate Islington tunnel, we are enticed by a darkened entrance that leads underneath the riverside buildings of Camden Market. The Sunshine has brought with it the day trippers, but we cheekily float underneath the bridge into what must be the start of the coveted â€˜Catacombsâ€™, although this title is somewhat misleading at best.
It was presumably some kind of docking bay for narrow boats carrying freight bound for the Market. It is lined with entrances on both sides for the transit of goods to be taken to the surface. Perusing the vaulted archways, evidence would suggest it is more of a crackhouse than a catacombs.
We exchange pleasantries with some touring kayakers on our way out who have paid their brief way in. Running out of light for Islington, we head back into the wind for a long paddle back to paddington, hoping to return further upstream on another day.
Shouts to Urban Junky & Darryl