Author and illustrator Alice Stevenson reveals hidden perspectives on one of London's most iconic walks, from Mare Street to Lisson Grove, via Regent's Canal
From Mare Street to Lisson Grove via Regent's Canal
There is an energetic wind whipping our hair as we walk along Regent's Canal. This part between Mare Street and Angel is so familiar to me, the fishworks and the balconies and the barges. We diverge into Angel for lunch and then trace the canal's underground route, walking through shopping streets and the peaceful maze of an estate, knowing it's flowing beneath our feet – under layers of concrete, but still there pulling us onwards, until we rejoin its banks.
The canal cuts through different neighbourhoods, whose distinctive characteristics appear and evolve on either side of it, but it's really a world within itself. Its own locality, albeit with extreme dimensions of length and width. Pedestrians and cyclists are its transitory inhabitants, and moorings the settlements.
At Camden Lock we are almost part of the market, the peace suddenly disturbed by shouting and the smell of food. A single wooden railing divides this nomadic canal realm from the tourists and the chaos. After the canal was originally opened, the first part in 1816 and the rest in 1820, numerous attempts were made to construct a railway line along the same way, but none of these plans came to fruition, leaving it a peacefully flowing artery cutting right through the city.
Around King's Cross, a backdrop of large modern office buildings is soon followed by strange wooden triangular structures that look like miniature Californian eco houses. We speculate inconclusively as to their purpose. I feel a sense of being deeply in the middle of somewhere, almost as if we are travelling downwards and not along, that this path is taking us deep into the earth.
Moving towards Primrose Hill, we see the backs of Victorian houses, with happily ramshackle back gardens, complete with model farm animals, adding a sense of upmarket, bohemian jollity to the atmosphere, and the canal temporarily loses some of its austerity.
As we move further west, the landscape becomes leafier and it's nearly deserted in the late afternoon light. Trees line the canal, and it's much quieter here. We're not sure where we are. I feel a strong sense of nostalgia for the quieter parts of Berlin's canals, where I walked last July with my friend Ruth for hours in the hazy sunshine.
We pass the large Georgian-era embassies that loom over us in a stately fashion. Soon after the canal opens out, backwards towards the old Cumberland Arm of Regent's Canal, which was filled in with rubble from bombed buildings following the Second World War. The red floating Feng Shang Princess bobs gently on our left in its remaining stub, and the whole atmosphere is altered by there suddenly being a choice as to which way to turn.
It's starting to get dark as we reach the cages of London Zoo, the most striking of the Regent's Canal landmarks. We are both tiring. As we leave I notice a decorative ironwork gate by the Lisson Grove exit, featuring a cheerful carp, a glass and a bottle of wine, a goose, a cat, a spanner. Highly symbolic and completely nonsensical. Still a permanent home to hundreds of barge dwellers, the canal has its own logic and sense of time and space.