We parked the car not far from the Grand Junction Arms in Southall, put the canoe onto the water and paddled towards Brentford. October 31st Halloween and Richard and I find ourselves back on the Grand Union Canal.
It’s promising to be another lovely day as a pleasant but uneventful start to our journey brings us to the Norwood Top Lock, which is manned by a couple of likeable and chatty lock keepers, volunteers of course. After a quick chat we haul the canoe round the Lock and under the bridge and realise the water on the other side is so low that we are never going to be able to get back into the canoe at this point. We manage to lower the canoe and all our stuff onto the water by using the ropes and I start to pull the canoe towards Hanwell Lock, which we can see just up ahead. Getting the canoe back out and carrying it to the other side of this, our second Lock we lower it back onto the water and Richard and I are back in the paddling business. It truly is a lovely place to paddle. All the usual wildlife juxtaposed with the peace and quiet not usually associated with west London. We pass under, over and through the Three Bridges where a road crosses the canal simultaneously as the canal crosses a railway. It’s been said that this was Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s last engineering project and it is very impressive.
We reach our third Lock, the first of six tightly packed Locks which make up a dozen Locks that carry the canal down into the valley of the Brent. These were known to the working boatmen as the ‘Thick of Hanwell.’ I manage to slip into the Lock beside a canal boat as Richard gets out and helps open the gates and we’re off again. Coming out the other side and it is pretty congested with boats at this point and we decide to get the canoe out of the water at the next Lock and carry it along the tow path past the next five Locks. The canal is overlooked on this stretch by a long beautiful Victorian brick wall, behind which was once a mental asylum and Richard and I stop and read every plaque and sign post for an excuse because the canoe is getting heavier and heavier.
We carry the canoe on past the Locks and wish we had brought the wheels with us. As we reach the end of the sixth Lock the canoe weighs a tonne and we begin to realise that we have to do this again on the journey back, which of course will be up hill. Back on the water and we paddle on towards Osterley Lock where we see a plaque that recalls along here a pile driving competition was won in 1959. It feels very rural with reeds, balsam, alder and willows, even though we pass under the M4 and the Piccadilly tube line.
At Clitheroe’s Lock we’re back out and then back onto the water again paddling between tall offices such as the shiny new Glaxo building. A massive empty warehouse greets us as we glide into Brentford Docks where we are surrounded by the very smart apartment blocks known as ‘Herons View.’ We spend some time here having a snack and a drink, Richard taking a couple of pictures and me thinking about hauling the canoe back past those six Locks.
This is really a great part of the Grand Union to paddle. A thirteen mile round trip with Eleven Locks, (we didn’t go past the Twelfth Lock as this was where we sat having our snack.) You can see the past and the present completely mixed together, but working well with one another. The Three Bridges and the M4, the Glaxo building and the old warehouse.
Urbanisation with that rural feeling. I would certainly recommend this trip if you haven’t yet paddled it, but please, don’t forget those canoe wheels!