A high speed train screams over the bridge above our heads as it races west down Brunel’s Great Western railway to Bristol. Any passengers sitting in their warm, dry carriage, peering from the rain streaked windows would have observed our small group of kayaks paddling steadily along the canal in a light drizzle and must have wondered at our sanity! A jumbo jet making its final approach to Heathrow gives a roar as the captain adjusts for the gusty southerly breeze trying to blow him off course. Behind him are at least another 4 jets disappearing into the grey skies above, queueing up to land. We are 5 intrepid kayakers and 2 marathon canoeists paddling serenely along the Grand Union canal deep in the suburbs of west London near the airport. We launched at the Grand Junction Arms pub near the turnoff for the Paddington arm with a signpost ‘Paddington 13 miles’. Another post has ‘Braunston, 88 miles’ which gives an idea of where you would end up if you kept on paddling North.
The canal gives a fascinating glimpse into the underbelly of life in this part of London. Lots of railway shunting yards behind high steel fences, flash new apartment blocks ranged along the canalside, old factories and warehouses, transport depots, convivial looking pubs, office blocks, old and new and then stretches where you could be on the Wey navigation with magnificent trees providing a canopy over the water and colourful long boats tied up, smoke puffing from their chimneys.
Houram leads the way wearing his bobbly wool hat, followed close behind by Jenny in her matching blue spray deck and blue PFD, Dave T in his very manly pale blue club top with me keeping company with Dave Q at the rear of our flotilla. We shuffle back and forward to chat to each other and talk about the AGM and the meaning of life!
The canal is brilliant for kayaking as there are few other boats on the move so no wash to tip you in and on this stretch, 5 miles to our first lock so you can really get into the paddling rhythm without any portage interruptions. We pass the branch to the Slough Arm, a dead end which leads into Slough town and decide to explore that another time. We take one hour to get to Cowley lock where at the easy portage we notice a bistro and also the ‘Malt Shovel’ pub, either would be good choices for lunch, I make a mental note for later!
There is a nice (at the moment that is) breeze pushing us along as we now head north towards Uxbridge and our turning point at Uxbridge lock. It is less built up here with rows of houses backing onto the canal as well as a few factories and depots and then modern office blocks as you go through Uxbridge. We turn about and are now heading into wind back towards Cowley lock. We meet up with Ivy and Bernard at last who by now have done about 10 miles from their home. They head on up to the lock and we go on to the bistro for our lunch of paninis, teas (* 2 for Jenny) and coffees which are very welcome on such a cool windy day. They get back to the bistro soon and we catch up on their news drinking more cappuccinos!
Re-fuelled and watered we get back on the water for the 5 miles return into wind to our get-out near Bulls Bridge. We try to keep in the flat water beside the narrow boats on the south and west side of the canal which is a bit more sheltered. The rain is holding off but the odd spits and spots come and go in the gusts. Eventually we turn east again and the wind is on our beam so not too much bother. We keep together as quite a tight group, riding on the stern wash of the kayaks ahead. Soon we pass the Paddington arm again and the massive Tescos back to our get-out at the pub. 13 miles paddled in all through a fascinating part of London.