Thursday morning 8th May, it was pouring down. Dark and heavy clouds dropping rain, and lots of it. Not only that, it was blowing, not quite a gale but strong enough. So there was really only one thing to do. I grabbed my phone and called Richard. Within an hour and a half we had picked up a double canoe from the club and we were lowering it onto the water on the Paddington arm of the Grand Union Canal. We had decided to drive to Horsenden Hill Visitors Centre in Perivale and paddle up towards Little Venice.
In wind, rain and water proofs we put our paddles into the water and headed in the direction of Paddington. Passing between Sudbury golf course on our left and a continuous row of fenced in back gardens on our right we paddled the peace and quiet of the Grand Union. However, things soon started to change as we approached Alperton. Green and quiet slowly started to change into concrete and disturbance. A large number of industrial buildings lined our route. The overpowering aroma of freshly baked bread and other food being cooked en-masse started to overpower our nostrils as the noise from car body workshops filled our ears. Then from out of nowhere an elderly man stuck his head out of the top floor window of his very old and neglected house and gave Richard and I a Ten minute lesson on the history of the surrounding area. Excellent. It was not until we paddled off into Park Royal and looked behind us that we realised the man and his house had somehow been left behind. They had become enclosed by distribution centres, breakers yards, construction sites, bonfires and rubbish.
Entering Park Royal the water started to become congested with rubbish and the bridges covered in graffiti, but with the rubbish and the pollution came excitement, what on earth were we going to come across next? Paddling amongst beer cans, empty milk cartons and old crisp packets we continued forward. The wind had started to give way but the rain still fell. We were not the only people using the water. A barge delivering fuel became a companion, leap frogging us every now and then. Apart from that, only one other barge was seen moving.
Paddling over the aqueduct that bridges the busy A406 we found ourselves back in relatively clean water again and the trees became greener. Leaving Wormwood Scrubs and Kensington Gas works behind us we paddled alongside the famous conservation area of Kensal Green Cemetery and its grade two listed Dissenter chapel. Here on this beautiful stretch of the canal we stopped for a bite to eat and a quick drink.
We then paddled parallel with the Harrow road, past an impressive section of the Westway and on into tower blocks, housing estates, offices and businesses, that were built right up to the waters’ edge. This was the London Richard and I had come to see. A London you would not ordinarily see. A hidden London. It felt like we were sneaking into London through one of its many back doors. No congestion charge, no Oyster card or tube, just under our own steam and a club canoe.
Under the little Westbourne Terrace Road Bridge with Blomfield road on one side and the impressive Warwick crescent on the other and Rembrandt gardens in front of us we decided to go no further. We got ourselves off the water and bought a nice mug of coffee from the floating Waterside Café in this lovely triangle and looked over at Little Venice and all its canal boats. Inquisitive people again wanted to know about our journey and we were only too happy to talk about it. After a short rest Richard and I put the canoe back onto the water and started our paddle back to Perivale, which turned out to be just as interesting as our journey downstream.
Pete and Richard