London canal walk, Mile End to Old Ford Lock
Enjoy a gentle waterways stroll along the Regent’s Canal, where rail tracks, water roads and towpaths crisscross harmoniously. This short walk is less than a mile long.
This is a walk of parks. Wildlife and greenery line the towpath and evidence of this area’s heritage is everywhere - from deep grooves worn into stone by working boat horses to the lock-keeper’s cottage dramatically converted into university lecture rooms still keeping an eye over the canal.
Canal: Regent’s Canal
Start: Mile End Road OS Grid ref: TQ362824 Postcode: E1 4PA
Finish: Old Ford Lock OS Grid ref: TQ356833 Postcode: E2 9JG
Distance: 1.2km / ¾ mile
Start: Descend the steps from Mile End Road to the canal at Mile End Road Bridge.
1. Passing picnic benches at the canal side, follow the towpath up the slight slope beside Mile End Lock. All locks on the Regent’s Canal were built with two chambers to allow working boats through in both directions at the same time, though most now only have one working chamber. Deep grooves have been worn into the stone by countless boat horse ropes towing heavy loads. The lock-keeper’s cottage, dating from 1864, is now part of Queen Mary’s University of London and has a dynamic contemporary extension.
2. The grassy banks of Mile End Park slope towards the towpath, offering space to sit, picnic and watch the water. The Park was laid out on land which had been devastated by catastrophic bombing during World War II, and formed part of a scheme for green corridors to connect the suburbs to the heart of London. It runs along the east edge of Regent’s Canal and is now a 32-hectare linear park divided into themed zones for all to enjoy. Sounds of water, birdsong and the low putt-putt of boat engines are a relaxing contrast to the frenetic world of Mile End Road.
3. As you continue along the towpath, you’ll notice barges and narrowboats moored alongside, sometimes two abreast. As you read their names, you’ll see that these boats come from all corners of the country. On the opposite bank, students of Queen Mary’s take advantage of their waterside location.
4. Near Meath Gardens Footbridge, a bench invites you to take a moment beside three steel sculptures. There is the still memoir of a horse representing the hardworking boat horses who were essential to carry trade along the canals. A sculpture of Sylvia Pankhurst the suffragette (1882-1960), who did so much work in the East End to improve living conditions. And Ledley King (born 1980) who grew up in the East End and went on to play for Tottenham Hotspurs and England in the World Cup. The bench and sculptures are part of the series of Sustrans Portrait Benches, over 250 life-sized sculptures of local historical or cultural figures around the country.
5. Beyond the Palm Tree pub, a Grade II-listed survivor of the wartime bombing here, the towpath is bordered by an army of reeds. Part of the Ecology Park, a complex of lakes with an earth-sheltered pavilion, a viewing platform here gives you space to do some wildlife and bird spotting.
6. The concrete mass of Roman Road Bridge gives you a choice of two tunnels to walk through. By an entrance into the Park here, there’s a large bright orange fishtail seat. It has been covered in tiled scales, some of which were designed by local children.
7. Beyond the bridge, the canal widens like a lake and is bordered by dangling willow trees. This is the junction between the Regent’s Canal and the Hertford Union Canal which heads eastwards from here towards the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. The Grade II-listed Stop Lock Bridge takes the towpath up and over the entrance to the Hertford Union Canal.
8. Just beyond Old Ford Road Bridge, Old Ford Lock is right next to the southern edge of Victoria Park, at over 86 hectares, the largest in East London. The Grade II Listed Lock Cottage and stable block once used to house and refresh the hardworking horses toiling day and night to pull the cargo-laden boats along the canal.
End: Take time to relax by the water, explore the towpath ahead, hop on a bus, or walk back to Mile End Road to see the water from a different viewpoint.