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!
Thank you! Reading the same book and found this explanation!
Hah. Me too. Many thanks
And me! :)
Just got to that passage and did a google search and found your story. I will be visiting London from Boston in September and might take a side trip to the canal. It looks interesting.
I’m reading exactly the same book and the same exact thought came into my mind, a canal over the N Cirrcular?! So I did the modern thing and googled and came across your excellent blog post. Thank you.
Great thanks for finding this link cation.
Read book.Re- reading Eamonn chapter and " a kayak and ducks above stationary traffic" ??? No way from an Australian perspective ! To google and 'well I never, what strange land, Our bridges all carry cars and trucks ( big ones) over rivers and creeks ,some with water , others quite dry , but never waterways over traffic !
Exactly the same as other comments - reading the book just now and googled 'canal above the North Circular' and your blog came up. Great, thank you! In Australia but 15 years ago lived in Harlesden and caught the train from the station every day never knowing the canal path went over the N. Circular. Amazing!
I was also going through the same book and found it weird to have a canal overhead. U thought let's check whether it's imaginary or real snd found ur blog fully clearing all the ambiguities. Thanx for this detailed trip of yours over north circular
Yet another reader intrigued by the reference... and amazed, as we lived near the canal for five years and had no idea!
Loved Home Fire and fascinated in this bit of canal trivia. There is a canal in Moissac, France that crosses over a river. Walked that route and will get to this (from Australia) one day! Inspired to read of your other walks now.
Like others, Mr Google has led me to your enjoyable and informative blog! However, for a different reason, as I am preparing proposals for more free OPDC walks. Please feel welcome to join the next one: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/free-walking-tour-the-changing-face-of-lower-place-tickets-52611176445. Just make sure you register via this link. I'll definitely get back to your blog!
Also reading Home Fire from my house in far away Atlanta in the US. Thanks for this post! Helped me understand.
I just walked along the north circular, under that bridge two months ago, while going to buy a car. I saw it was canal over road. Wow. That’s cool. ( even better from above! ).
Ditto here - reading "Home Fires" and found your blog post, thanks! It seems to me there's a huge opportunity for London to do with this canal what NYC did with the abandoned, elevated railroad tracks to create the High Line. The canal is such a hidden gem!
How fascinating! Sitting here in Cape Town reading Home Fire (like so many above) and now I've got a new spot to look for when next I visit family in the UK. Thank you!
Also Googling after reading page 57 of Home Fire! Thank you for the explanation. :)
And here in Canada I too read, in Home Fires, about the kayak gliding along above the North Circular Road, and had to find out more. Thanks so much for your blog - I had no idea!
Reading Home Fires and clearly doing what so many others have done in looking up the canal above the road. Love these worldwide connections that are formed albeit briefly by doing this.
Listening to Home Fires audiobook I was surprised to hear about the aquaduct over the North Circular Road. As a native of NW10 and worked in Alperton I was aware of the canal but not the Aquaduct. A little known treasure.
One more Home Fire reader, warmed by this company and grateful for your post
Brilliant! I recognized the road bridge from the Pathe News film, but had never imagined that a canal ran over it. I live in Yorkshire now, so unlikely ever to walk your route, but many thanks for sharing it, and your lovely pictures, with us ...
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