A Walk on the Canal Before Covid

I love living in this part of North London. Some sunny days, I go down the Cally Road, turn into All Saints Street whose steps take me to the Regent’s Canal. It’s a quiet part of the canal, not many people stroll through it. A bicycle or two, a young couple with a baby, a mother telling her kids to be careful as they run.

Mandarin ducks, cormorants, geese, marsh hens and coots glide on the still waters. Sometimes I take pictures of the elegant swans surrounded by their cygnets.

Most of the moored house-boats have gardens on their roofs, and at times, the owners sit there having a drink, playing music. Singing its song, water laps gently against the sides of their homes.

I walk on, and come across a small, red tent and a sad-looking man sitting on the cold ground beside it. He doesn’t look dishevelled as so many of the homeless do: he could be a new-poor, a man who just wasn’t able to pay his rent. There are ever-more homeless people on the streets.

Blessed are the humane, generous social-workers who take care of them. They are angels with hearts brimming with love as they pick them up from uninviting pavements and take them to somewhere more sheltered. And there take care of them. Blessed are the care-givers.

At the end of the towpath, I get off the canal, climb up a few steps which take me to York Way to King’s Place, the landmark modern building that homes the Guardian. I buy a flat white and a smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel at the bar, and take them out, to sit on a sun-chair which faces the canal. I read a book or simply revel in the warmth of the sun and enjoy the birds and slowly moving boats on the undulating water.

I return to the canal to make my way to Word on the Water, the one-hundred-year-old Dutch barge.

The book-shop stocks a vast collection of new and used books that fill every nook and cranny both in the cosy inside where one can sit on a timeworn, maroon leather armchair while reading, or browse the outside shelves piled with inexpensive, second-hand books. Whether one is looking for poetry or literature here is a rare place that caters to one’s needs. “I mean,” I tell friends when I enthuse about one of my favourite spots in London, “When else are you going to have the chance to read Hemingway on a nineteen-twenties’ barge?”

I’ll chat to the charming Irishman who is one of the owners, then sit on the low wall facing the water and listen to the jazz piped from the bookshop. Maybe I buy a second-hand paperback before I’m ready to move on to walk up to Granary Square.

Little children and happy dogs run and splash in the hundreds of red and blue jets that surge up from the choreographed fountains. I smile at the of the kids’ antics as they run through the water (some of the small ones are naked.) They are watched by their mothers, grannies and even some dads who sit on the near-by stone benches and speak amongst each other.

There is no shortage of restaurants and cafes with terraces facing the square. One can have tea on the upstairs terrace at Yum cha and enjoy, from above, the goings-on in the square, or have a meal at Caravan, The Lighterman, or the Granary Square Brasserie. Just around the corner, in Stable Street, is the Indian restaurant, Dishoom, where there is always a long queue outside waiting for a table.

But these are expensive eateries and I don’t dwell, and make my way from Stable Street to Coal Drops Yard which has recently undergone a massive renovation of its perfectly preserved Victorian-era industrial buildings where the coal that used to power London was kept after being transported through the city’s canal system. It is the largest and most recent redevelopments in London spanning sixty-seven-acres in the King’s Cross area.  It’s a project to revive these unused buildings as a new public area.

Unhurriedly, I saunter across the top zone which shoulders the canal on my left, and is framed by flowerbeds. Way down, beneath me, on my right, is a large, sheltered double-height space on whose cobbled stones fancy shops, bars and boutiques have been set up. I wonder where the money is coming from to finance all this. It’s visually pleasing, but I don’t care for this space which is clearly assembled with the view to cater to the well-to-do. I have no desire to take the steps that lead down to it, and instead take Camley Street, on my left, to go to the Camley Street Natural Park.

This charmed two-acre urban nature reserve is home to birds, butterflies, bats and a wide variety of plant life. Little lizards shake their green tails as they scamper up trees. The park is a cathedral of trees. It would be hard not to find peace in its wetlands, woodland and meadows in the centre of one of the most densely populated parts of London. I drink a cup of tea at the wood-shack café run by a young Indian woman, and then, although my legs are tired and my feet hurt by now, I walk further down the narrow path to the small pond where I sit on the wooden bench and chill out.

H​a​nja Kochansky