Circular walk from Limehouse Basin
Enjoy colourful waterside views and a taste of history on this 1-mile circular walk from Limehouse Basin, London.
Limehouse Basin links the Regent’s Canal to the River Thames. Its name comes from Les Lymhoost, 14th-century lime kilns on the river, and its fame comes from its service to an Empire. Opened in 1820, it was the world’s gateway to over 2,000 miles of inland waterways reaching across Britain. London’s Docklands and the stylish Canary Wharf peep over the Basin. It’s a skyline that shares a goose-bumped history of oceangoing vessels arriving with new exotic fruits and fancies from faraway places.
Canal: Regent’s Canal / Limehouse Cut
Start and finish: Limehouse Station OS Grid ref: TQ361810 Postcode: E14 7JY
Distance: 1.6km / 1 mile (circular walk)
Start: Turn left at Limehouse Station, and walk towards Limehouse Basin alongside the arches of the Grade II-listed viaduct carrying the deep red trains of the DLR.
1. Limehouse Basin used to be known as Regent’s Canal Dock. Commodities including coal were loaded onto smaller boats to travel the canals linking London to Birmingham. The Basin was once so busy you could reputedly cross it by hopping from one boat to another. Records state 1,500 ships and 15,336 barges entered the dock in 1865 alone. Limehouse had to find new focus when the Docklands closed in the 1960s, and has transformed into chic city waterside living. A ninety-berth marina with yachts, barges and narrowboats adds authenticity and interest to the water. Look out for huge mooring dollies as you walk round.
2. The Basin is home to swans (often seen on floating nests), geese, coot, moorhen, and of course ducks. Birds such as cormorants, gulls and grey herons come here to feed on carp, bream and other fish. Head down the steps and left towards the Harbourmaster’s office, where boats are watched over.
3. Limehouse Ship Lock measures 100ft by 30ft, and was built in 1989 for yachts and pleasure craft within the chamber of the former Ship Lock – which was almost three times as long and twice as wide. The original gate-recesses help to grasp the size of the former lock. A swing bridge carries Narrow Street across the River Thames entrance, and swings open for tall ships entering or leaving. The Narrow pub in the Grade II-listed former Customs House here is run by chef Gordon Ramsay, and a short walk along Narrow Street is The Grapes, also Grade II-listed, currently co-owned by the actor Sir Ian McKellen. Built in 1583, it is one of the oldest pubs in London – Charles Dickens drank there and wrote about it in his book ‘Our Mutual Friend’.
4. The Cruising Association’s headquarters on your right houses a world-renowned library and information centre, the largest of its kind in the world, with over 10,000 books, charts and pilot guides fully accessible to its members.
5. Cross the footbridge over Limehouse Cut, a short cut to the River Lea, Three Mills and Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. It opened in 1768 and is London’s oldest canal. Its straight line saved time for boats between the Thames and the Lee Navigation. The canal once fed directly into the Thames, but from 1968 has entered Limehouse Basin (the old entrance is along Narrow Street). Around the corner, Ropemakers Field is a park created on derelict land, and running underneath it is the Limehouse Link (reputedly the most expensive road ever built in Britain). For centuries, it was where rope for marine anchors, rigging and mining was made, and is referred to by Samuel Pepys who visited in 1664, and was visited in 1871 by Tsar Alexander II of Russia.
6. Look above the viaduct to the Grade II-listed Accumulator Tower and its chimney. Built in 1869, it regulated the hydraulic pressure needed to power cranes, locks, capstans and swing bridges in the Basin. The Tower can usually be visited during the London Open House Festival in September.
7. Commercial Road Lock is the last (or first, if travelling northwards) lock on the Regent’s Canal. The canal heads north to King’s Cross, Camden and past Regent’s Park on its way to join the Grand Union Canal Paddington Arm at Little Venice, before the Grand Union Canal continues onward to Birmingham and the Midlands.
End: Cross the pedestrian bridge over the lock’s entrance into the Basin and walk, keeping the Basin to your left, until you reach Limehouse Station again.