Go straight to Slough (do not pass Go, do not collect £200!)
The Slough arm of the Grand Union Canal is often seen as the poor relation. However, it is a stretch of water and the Slough Canal Group, formed in 1968 did put up at good fight to stop it being filled back in. So therefore it does, at times deserve to be paddled and Wednesday 25th seemed to be the ideal day.
Getting onto the canal at the Cowley Peachey Junction I put my paddle into the water and headed towards Slough. The first mile you pass Packet Boat Marina and cross three aqueducts. The first bridges Frays River, the second, the River Colne and the last is the Colne Brook. Traffic noise starts to pick up as you paddle under the M25 and it’s at this point that you start to ask yourself whether you want to continue forward or not. Homeless men sleeping under the bridges, the canal full of rubbish. The canal bank crumbling into the water, danger signs everywhere. Signs warning you of this and that, bulrushes and buddleia’s pushing you ever closer to the bank. But I was here and forward I paddled with the aroma of freshly baked bread filling the air, which was coming from the Heathrow Bakery. To my surprise the traffic starts to disappear and you have peace and quiet as you reach Richings Park. The park has been allowed to slowly creep down to the canals edge. The tow path here is almost non-existent, a slight muddy, grass bank that nobody ever seems to use. The water starts to clear and there are fish in abundance. Kingfishers, herons and jays are plentiful.
I pass under the Hollow Hill Lane Bridge and in front of me, moored up two abreast are dozens of canal boats snaking their way to Slough. One thing about this arm of the canal is that it is almost straight from start to finish, so you get a feeling you can see all the way to the basin. The boat repair yard is doing great business as I paddle on with Iver golf course slipping by on my right and the railway line following me on my left. I paddle on with the sound of angle grinders, sanders and hammering ringing in my ears.
Getting to the Slough Basin was a bit of a non-event. You end up in what I can only explain as the back of a back of a builder’s yard. To be honest I felt a bit flat as there was not the usual sense of reaching a destination. It just stopped. No docks, no moorings, nothing to give you a hint of its working history which was shipping bricks into London.
After a bite to eat and a drink I headed back. A couple of miles on I came across five teenagers hanging out under one of the bridges. “Is it dat you are aving a good day sir” a young girl called to me. “Sir” wow. “Yes thank you” I replied. A young lad stepped forward, “Can I av a go of dat boat type of thing you are on?” I gave him my politest smile, put my paddle in the water and paddled straight back to Cowley Peachey.
If, like me you feel the urge to paddle the Slough arm, keep in mind that this journey consists of no pubs, no cafes, no restaurants and no toilets. There is a bar at the start/finish point, so you may want to take a snack for when you reach the basin. I would hate to put anyone off, but there really is not a lot to see. Of course there is peace and quiet and wildlife; however, you get this all along the Grand Union. The only difference is that the other stretches of the water are far more interesting.
This is a ten mile return trip with no portages.
Peter McBride (25.11.2015)
Parking/ Get in notes:
I phoned the day before and got permission from the ‘Waters Edge Bar’ which is right on the junction. They were happy to help. Get in was through the bar garden. I’m sure the packet Marina would also let anyone park as long as they phoned before hand.