I turned up outside Angel tube station and found Neil the guide waiting in his hi-viz. Soon, others started showing up, and we ended up with a group of about 10. I have to say, much to my surprise, I was by far the youngest person in the group (At 33, I am not even that young!)
It suffices to say that I was extremely impressed by Neil's knowledge and also his delivery, and I would absolutely recommend this walk to anyone who has the slightest bit of interest in canals and the history of London. Neil is running this walk on a trial-basis at the moment, and there is one remaining date in October this year. Refer the Canal River Trust webpage for date and details.
Here are ten interesting things I learnt about the Regent's Canal from the 2-hour walk:
1) Boris Johnson
Apparently he lives in one of those Georgian terrace houses by the eastern entrance of the Islington Canal Tunnel (the Regent's canal runs underground through Angel). The worst-groomed man this side of Hoxton?
2) Tolpuddle Street (and Copenhagen Fields)
Perhaps rather ironically, not far from chez Boris, one would find the site where, in 1834, thousands marched in support of The Tolpuddle Martyrs, who had been sent to Australia for forming a trade union.
3) Caledonian Road
So named because there existed an orphange for Scottish children. I have always wondered.
4) The Plimsoll Line
The area along the canal north of King's Cross station used to house a number of coal yards in the 1800s. One of the owners, Samuel Plimsoll, was also a Member of Parliament. He found out that boats were sinking, and crews were getting killed, due to overloading. As a result, he invented the waterline which can still be found on vessels nowadays.
5) A lonely watertower
A Victorian Gothic water tower can be seen opposite the newly relocated Gas Holder no. 8. It is, of course, a genuine George Gilbert Scott (architect of St Pancras station) monument. It used to be part of St Pancras. It was removed brick by brick, as the station was getting converted to a Eurostar terminal, and reconstructed in its new location. More info and photos here
It now looks yearningly south towards its former home, across the huge industrial wasteland that separates the two.
6) Gas Holder no. 8
Grade II listed gas holder! A park is being created inside it.
7) Mary Tealby
One of the abandoned warehouses along the canal used to be a shelter for dozens of stray dogs, run by a lady called Mary Tealby, who went on to create the famous Battersea Dogs & Cats Home.
8) A crenellated Starbucks
Near Camden Lock, the castle-looking Starbucks used to a Victorian pumphouse. The pumphouse was supposed to power the then newly-invented hydropneumatic lock, which was subsequently replaced by a more traditional lock.
9) The Ice Wharf
Next to it, you will find a Weatherspoon called The Ice Wharf. There used to be an ice well, similar to the one inside the London Canal Museum in King's Cross. Before the invention of refrigeration, this is how people would keep ice. Needless to say, ice was a luxury item back then.
10) Electricity and water
Along the towpath, you would often find yourself treading on concrete slabs with water seeping through to the surface. Underneath your feet are in fact high-voltage electric cables. Canal water is being used to keep them cool!