The exhilarating 8-km (5-mi) walk from the shabby chic of Portobello Market to the anarchic hippiedom of Camden Lock by the back way along London’s canal paths reveals multifarious aspects of this schizoid metropolis – a city that is all things to all people, where wealth and squalor intermingle in a ferment of styles, cultures and creeds.
After a bit of dawdling among the picturesque antique shops, clobber stalls and costermongers’ barrows of Portobello, stroll northwards through Golborne Road flea market, where old London scrap dealers, Portuguese pastry shops and Moroccan food stalls vie for trade, and head towards the Grand Union Canal.
Trellick Tower looms menacingly ahead – a 31-storey awardwinning, ferro-concrete monolith, an undisguised homage to 1970s urban nihilism. In a triumph of London spirit over adversity, at its foot are lovingly tended community gardens. Escape onto the canal towpath, a haven of rural calm after the bedlam of the market – the occasional narrow boat chugging past, swans drifting serenely in pairs, a lone resident heron in graceful flight. Walk eastwards and, suddenly, the abandoned concrete cityscape morphs into another world – the graceful Victorian villas, brightly painted narrow boats and weeping-willow trees of Little Venice.
Where the Grand Union ends, at the shiny steel wharves and gleaming commercial buildings of Paddington Basin – icons of postmodern anomie, the Regent’s Canal begins. Pick your way across the grimy Edgware Road into dank canal tunnels, under railway bridges, past the ramshackle moorings of motley canal-dwellers to emerge into fairyland: gleaming white stucco Regency palaces, rolling lawns and curtains of greenery trailing into the water. Follow the path to skirt Primrose Hill; cut through London Zoo, and along the backs of elegant early-Victorian terraces. Finally, dive into the sub-culture of Camden Lock – the hippest street market in London – for a shot of revitalizing urban energy.
WHEN TO GO:
TIME IT TAKES:
2 to 3 hours
Electric Cinema, Portobello Road – London’s oldest working cinema; a listed art deco building opened in 1910.
London Zoo Aviary – designed by Lord Snowdon.
Primrose Hill – panoramic view over London.
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
A good alternative to walking the whole way Is to catch the waterbus that leaves every half hour from Paddington Basin to Camden Lock – a delightful boat ride through Malda Hill tunnel and
past London zoo.
The Portobello Market operates on Fridays and Saturdays thr