I recently read Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie, close (ish) to the beginning of the story, one of the characters walks from his posh flat in central London to an area near Wembley and he walks along the Grand Union Canal. In one bit of his journey, he walks along an aqueduct over the North Circular and as soon as I read that bit I was like “There’s an aqueduct over the North Circular????”, so I had to go and check it out.
I found it on a map (I have a new, inevitable, why didn’t I get hooked into them earlier considering how long I’ve been walking, obsession with Ordnance Survey maps) and figured out a route that would take the aqueduct in. Now, although the character in the book walked from Central London – out, I decided to do it the other way round. I still have fond memories of GCSE Geography, studying (I think they were called) transects, where you started at the edge of somewhere and walked in, seeing how land and buildings changed. Anyway, looking at the map, it looked like the nearest tube that was both near the aqueduct and close to the canal (to minimise walking through streets time) was Alperton, so I started out there and walked inwards.
Now, unfortunately, most of the canal isn’t actually that pretty, particularly at the moment where vast chunks were covered in a thick green sludge of algae, quite a few parts smelled distinctly of sewage and there was quite a big litter problem in parts. You also, despite warning signs telling cyclists to slow down and be careful of pedestrians, really have to be careful of cyclists. The canal path is mostly narrow and in some parts very narrow with not that much visibility on bends, you really have to keep an ear out and squeeze yourself out of the way when cyclists hurtle past. Quite a few cyclists did at least ring their bell but quite a few didn’t. Anyway, the aqueduct-
It’s quite difficult to photograph an aqueduct and a road at the same time, when actually on the aqueduct, this was the best angle I could find, you can just about make out the green sludge. Anyway, it was weird being on a bridge, next to a canal with an extremely busy road underneath. I’ve never thought, when going in a car on the North Circular that I was going under canal, as it doesn’t look like a traditional brick aqueduct. Anyway, when talking about it with my dad later, it turns out that was not the first time I’d been over that aqueduct. When I was a kid, my family was very into canal and river boat holidays, my dad had a boat, anyway when I was telling him about this aqueduct over the North Circular, he was like “oh I didn’t know there was an aqueduct over the North Circular” but he looked it up in his log books (which he’s still kept) and yes, we’d been over that aqueduct before. I was less than 6 months old, apparently, according to the log book, we’d set out at 6.10am (which was unusually early, my dad reckons I must have woken him and my mum up and they thought they might as well get going) from about the Uxbridge area and travelled from there to Paddington and back again in a day, so we’d have gone over the aqueduct twice. Not that I would have remembered it and neither did my dad but then, other than for the fact it’s over the North Circular and it has an interesting, almost tragic history, it’s not that much of an interesting thing.
Anyway, as for the rest of the walk, my latent geography / old abandoned buildings nerd was satisfied.
But it didn’t exactly feel like a path you could dawdle along, so my pace was faster than normal and by the end, I was absolutely knackered (the walk came in at 11km) but I’m getting ahead of myself. I did like it when you could see the switch between old brownfield sites and central London, the canal just seemed so different.
The end, Paddington, was particularly posh and very different from the rough seedy area my dad probably made a rapid turnaround in 43 years previously. There was even a floating park in the basin!
So, I satisfied my curiosity about the aqueduct and got some exercise in (I’m trying to do at least one 10km+ walk a week and there’s only so many times you can walk around Richmond Park) but I don’t think I will be rushing back to that route again.