Every year at about this time, I go for a London wander - taking me somewhere unfamiliar, serendipitous, a purposeless and route-less ramble.
Today I went for a walk which had a purpose. I was given for Christmas a copy of Kamila Shamsie's excellent new novel Home Fire, and in this she makes passing reference to a canal that crosses the North Circular.
A canal going over one of London's busiest roads? I had to check this out. So I went in search of it, walking for three sometimes fairly soulless miles along the Grand Union Canal from Harlesden to Alperton.
Where exactly? I'll show you -.
So let's take it step-by-step - out at Harlesden station, and on to the canal towpath at a vast (and empty) pub appropriately called the Grand Junction.
As you can see, there are a small number of residential moorings, but the greater part of the canal here is lined by anonymous, vast, metal-clad warehouses and industrial buildings. They turn their backs on the canal. It's not an amenity for them, but simply what has made this marginal land and so cheap and available for these impersonal structures. What a pity!
About twenty minutes in, you get there - the canal is divided by the sort of concrete structure you might get at a canal lock, I guess to reduce the volume of water, and as you walk on, you realise you are on a bridge, looking down on the traffic on the A406 or North Circular.
I took some photos, but the fencing along the towpath makes it really difficult to get canal and road in the same shot. So better to post a short video clip -
This is not simply an aqueduct - the canal is navigable by narrow-boat. And there's a story behind this canal-that-goes-over-a-main-road.
In 1939, the IRA staged a sabotage campaign - bombings and the like - on the British mainland, with post offices, railways stations, bridges and canals among the targets. An excellent local history site gives details of how on 2 March 1939, the IRA planted bombs on either end of the aqueduct, but the explosions failed to bring the anticipated huge cascades of water down onto the North Circular. There was some leakage, however, and this part of the canal was drained into the river Brent so that it could be plugged and repaired. There's contemporary Pathe newsreel of the incident here.
Heading on towards Alperton, the canal starts to feel more homely. Housing estates line the waterway not simply industrial premises. There are families of swans, which head towards towpath strollers hoping for titbits of food -
By the time I got to Alperton, I was ready to get out of the cold and return to the familiar climes of north London - but I enjoyed my sojourn along the Grand Union. Thank you for joining me!
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