Text and photographs copyright of Jim Shead.
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ROUND LONDON BY MOTOR BOAT 100 MILES CIRCULAR TOUR. From Chertsey, via the River Thames and the Regent's, Paddington, Grand Junction and Slough Canals.
THE "Man in the Street " may find it difficult to realize that proceeding a short distance down the River Thames from the Tower of London one can enter a canal at the Regent's Dock, Limehouse, and thence traverse nearly every waterway in England. But such is the case; for example, one can travel thence to Warwickshire, or even to far Yorkshire.
The Regent's Canal has so many points of interest that I make no apology for recounting the experience outlined in my sub-heading. Naturally, we made use of our petrol motor boat for the journey, which worked out, in total length, at nearly 100 miles, our starting place being Chertsey in Surrey. Our crew, it should be mentioned, consisted of a party of three "A.B.'s," with our handy man, likewise the motor engineer. Our first stopping place was Surbiton (Surrey), and then we proceeded down river to below London Bridge. This run was very interesting after our various up-river and inland experiences. The navigation on the reaches below, say, Richmond Lock, demands experience and care, on account of the number of bridges to be negotiated and the strong currents for which allowances have to be made.
Below Richmond Lock, which we reached about low water, we touched bottom in mid-stream near Isleworth, and I mention this just to show that caution must be observed. However, no harm was done. We eventually entered the Regent's Canal barge lock, and wended our way across the dock amidst the steamers and barges, and arrived at the first lock on the canal itself.
There are 13 locks in all on this canal, which measures 8½ miles in length, and takes one through the very heart of London, passing such places as Stepney, Hackney, Islington, St. Pancras, and Paddington, the last-named being the terminus of the Regent's Canal. About two miles from the starting point is the Hertford Union Canal (or Duckett's), about 1¼ miles in length, which, by the way, is the junction to the River Lea, thereby making a through line of route to Hertford and Bishops Stortford (Herts). The passer-by gets an insight to the value of such a canal, and one notices continuous wharves for miles, including the loading and discharging depots for all the large railway companies.
Special mention should be made of the tunnels, of which there are two. The first one is at the City Road, and is about three-quarters of a mile long, the traffic through it being worked by a specially-constructed steam barge travelling every two hours, but we took advantage of our own motive power, and got through in about 20 minutes. The second one, near the Edgware Road, is shorter, about a quarter of a mile long, and this we also motored through. in this case, on account of the barges ahead working their way through, we took about half-an-hour for this short journey. The barges are chiefly towed by horses, but at the latter tunnel these are unhitched and the mode of propulsion is, as a rule, by a process known as "legging." This means that the men propel the craft by working their legs along the sides of the tunnel.
For nearly the whole of the way along the banks of the canal there are wharves and public works, and the only green spots of interest one meets are when passing the borders of Victoria Park, Regent's Park, and Primrose Hill Park. After passing through the second tunnel, already referred to, we reached Paddington Basin, where we moored for the night, thereby completing the journey for this canal. The time occupied was just five hours, a very creditable achievement, taking into account the work to be performed and the stoppages with craft which have to be endured. Some letters have appeared in the Press about the condition of this canal. I was, therefore, surprised to learn that such fish as roach are actually to be caught, and that the canal water itself, on analysis, gave good results. Many of the lock-keepers have had long terms of service, and I understand they speak well of their health.
The Grand Junction Canal Co. from this point (Paddington Junction) hold sway, and our further progress was through the Paddington Canal, or Arm, to Bull's Bridge, where it joins the main Grand Junction Canal, which has a length of 13½ miles. This part of the way calls for no particular comment further than that it is a well-maintained waterway, with ample water, as the heavy traffic demands. The places we passed were Kensal Green, Twyford (Park Royal, where the Royal Agricultural shows were held), and close to Wembley Park and Southall.
After going 3¾ miles to Cowley Peachey Junction on the Grand Junction Main Canal we entered the Slough Canal, which is five miles long, and we after wards duly reached our destination, the day's run being 22½ miles. On these parts of the journey one chiefly encounters brickfields, the industry of brick-making being apparently the principal source of traffic. The Slough Canal terminates about half a mile or so from the Great Western Railway Station at what is called the basin, or some three or four miles from Windsor. Our arrival here occasioned considerable curiosity, for a motor boat, or any other such pleasure craft for the matter of that, had never been seen before in these parts, so far as could be ascertained.
After staying the night at the Royal Hotel, Slough, we turned " homeward bound," retracing our course to Cowley Peachey and Bull's Bridge, where we broke " new ground," and, coming down past Hanwell and the River Brent, we passed through a stretch of interesting scenery. One of the main features of interest on this tour was the total absence of locks for 35 miles on one part of the journey; in fact, I should think there are very few instances where so long an uninterrupted run can be obtained. At Norwood our first experience of locks on the Grand Junction began, there being no fewer than 12 in four miles. Having duly negotiated these, all the crew working, we got into the main stream at Brentford and Thames Locks, and made our way up river to Richmond (Surrey), where we put up the launch, and next day completed our tour at Chertsey, adding a further experience in our voyagings of "Round the Canals." It should be mentioned that the canals we travelled through are the properties of the Regent's Canal and Dock Co., and the Grand Junction Canal Co., who also control the Paddington and Slough branches. The trip was an enjoyable one, and, considering the nature of the route, it was of quite an educational and interesting character. The actual distances covered (with locks) are tabulated as follow :-