Grand Union Canal Cycle:   Regents Park - Kings Langley

22nd June 2008


  Planned some weeks in advance with colleagues David Gray and Joby Allen, along with Sue, we deliberated as to which end of the route we should leave our cars i.e. at the source in London at Euston station or our the intended destination in Hemel Hempstead. Upon checking early morning train times into London, forced the decision upon us to opt to park behind Euston station, though it probably made little difference either way. Once on our bicycles, we cut through Regents Park, where signs indicated we should dismount. Responsible citizens that we are, we obliged. David suggested that we cycle up to the Regents Canal, which seemed closer. Initially, this seemed a great idea but we soon realised that much of this section required cyclists to dismount and walk virtually until we reached Maida Vale, where the Regents Canal joins up with the Grand Union Canal. I had wondered why we had started from Little Venice the last time around, with my London buddy Andrew, in 2005 but it soon became clear - we were off the bicycles more than we were on them. At one point we were required to take a detour near Edgware Road. It was an interesting passage, nonetheless. The weather was warm but there was a stiff breeze blowing in from the west, with gale force winds having been predicted for the north of England the night before. No sooner had we raced through plush suburbs along the canal near Bayswater and Notting Hill whereupon we had reached the aqueduct crossing the A406.

Click on map to open in Google Maps - Regents Park in London Hertford to Kings Langley Station (via the Grand Union Canal), a distance of 35 miles.


Joby, Dave and Sue in Regents Park around 09h30.


On the Regents Canal, before joining up on the Grand Union Canal at Maida Vale.


Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and up for it.


Cyclists are required to dismount on the Regents Canal up to Edgeware Road; Plush residential complexes along the canal, near Kensal Road (Maida Hill); Near Harrow Road (Ladbroke Grove).


Crossing the A406 bypass on the Grand Union Canal aqueduct, near Wembley and Brent Cross.


The old-world Grand Junction Arms, Acton Lane Canal Bridge, Harlesden; Canal signs giving directions to Tube stations; near Greenford, a suburb in the London Borough of Ealing.


Shortly after crossing the North Circular Road at the aqueduct, Dave spotted a tea-room around 10h55 near Greenford and decided it was time for tea. The rest of us thought it was a bit early for a stop and he was promptly outvoted. We pressed on and encountered the Mesh Project, created by Thames21, an environmental charity working with communities to bring London's waterways to life. Not long after that, near Southall, we reached Uxbridge Road leading from Ealing and encountered swans along the canal path, with their young. Soon we reached the canal junction at Bull's Bridge near The Parkway (A312), where the Paddington leg meets the Brentford canal. Cycle barriers along this section and the section towards Cowley Peachy were a major irritant and hindered our progress. At one such barrier near Southall, sue nearly came a cropper when she decided against hurdling it, braked but failed to unclip in time. We looked on in amazement as she simply stopped and then felled over into some nettle bushes, much to the amusement of the rest of us and at the expense of her embarrassment.


Bringing Southhall's canal to life - Mesh Project.


Swans near Uxbridge Road, Southhall.


Cycle barriers en route hindered our progress; Swan and chick; Sue comes a cropper near Southall and ends up in the nettles.


Swan alert.


Looking up the Paddington leg towards London (the way we had come), near Bull's Bridge.


Bulls's Bridge Junction near Southall, just north of the M4 motorway, heading in the direction of the A312 Parkway.


Dave and Joby were beginning to acquire serious hunger pangs and the delight on their faces, when we finally reached the Water's Edge pub and restaurant at Cowley Peachy around 12h25, was unmistakable. The other three popped off to order their meals whilst I looked after the bicycles. As my order went in some time after theirs, it appeared that the staff at this establishment, which, ironically, I had been raving about as a result of the previous cycle stop in 2005, had suddenly lapsed into a bout of total amnesia. An hour and fifteen minutes later, after the club sandwiches ordered by the other three had long since been digested, despite three complaints at the bar, my damn sandwich was nowhere to be seen. Thoroughly peeved at this point, two ciders later, I stormed into the bar and demanded a refund. Having wasted far too much time, we were on our way. I suggested to Dave that I should cycle in front, lest I should lag behind and fall into the canal owing to a possible lapse of faculties.


Dave and Sue tucking into their club sandwiches, the privilege of which I was cruelly denied.


Crossing the Grand Union Canal at Benbow Bridge (Benbow Lane), shortly before Cowley Lock.


At Benbow Bridge, looking back towards Cowley Peachy.


  Soon after our lunch stop at Turning Point at the Water's Edge, we crossed over at Benbow Bridge (work on the towpath meant we had to join it further up the canal) and reached Cowley Lock, crossing the canal yet again at Iver Lane. The others, concerned for my welfare, having only had cider and no lunch, encouraged me to buy a sandwich at Cowley Lock kiosk but at this stage the photographic opportunities were all the more mouth-watering. Dave stopped to fill up the water bottles. By now we were running north and virtually parallel to the M25, which was just west of us. Within a few minutes, our Xerox Uxbridge offices came into view and we stopped briefly at the Swan and Bottle pub where Oxford Road crosses the canal. Uxbridge Lock is just a couple of minutes beyond that. I was amazed at how many more narrowboats took up every bit of the canal alongside the towpath, virtually adjacent to the Xerox office complex, compared to when we had passed by in 2005.  We passed under the A40 (Western Ave), which I had assumed to be the M25, debating this at the time with Joby, then swinging over, I think, Denham Bridge (Bridge 183). Denham Deep Lock is just beyond that. The A40 becomes the M40 and runs from London west towards Oxford. The terrain was becoming less of a tow path and rougher by the minute.

At the kiosk at Cowley Lock, Dave stops to fill up with water.


Just beyond Cowley Lock, crossing the bridge at Iver Lane.


Uxbridge Lock and the cottage, just up from our Xerox Uxbridge offices near Oxford Road.


Beautifully decorated narrowboats, just after crossing the A40; Crossing Bridge 184 earlier, at Uxbridge Lock; "Sapphire" passes under Bridge 179, just beyond Widewater Lock


The terrain now becomes rougher and more demanding, resembling less of your typical canal tow path.


We all agreed later that this section of the Grand Union we had cycled this day had been much tougher and demanding than the Lea River Canal had been, even though the overall distance was the same. We passed by Harefield Place golf club and we found ourselves surrounded for mile by small, pristine, beautiful lakes, crossing under the Denham railway arches, near Denham Green. Just after passing under Moorhall Road Bridge (Bridge 180), which also crosses the River Colne, we reached Widewater Lock. Located on the right hand side, just before Moorhall Road Bridge, are Widewater Moorings. At Black Jack's Lock, we witnessed a narrowboat being manoeuvred skillfully through the gates. Black Jack's Lock takes its name from the adjoining Black Jack's Mill, once a flour mill but now an Italian restaurant. Two bridges lie between Widewater and Black Jack's Locks, these being Bridge 179 and Bridge 178.


Widewater Moorings, near Denham Green, just before Moorhall Road Bridge (Bridge 180) and Widewater Lock.


Looking back at "Sapphire" from Bridge 179, between Widewater and Black Jack's Locks.


Bridge 178, just before Black Jack's Lock, Jack's Lane, near Harefield, Uxbridge.


Looking back just before Bridge 178 (same spot as above), near Black Jack's Lock.


On Bridge 178 near Black Jack's Lock, looking back in the direction of Widewater Lock.


A narrowboat navigates through Black Jack's Lock, near Harefield, Uxbridge.


View from Bridge 178 near Black Jack's Lock, looking back in the direction of Widewater Lock.


A narrowboat navigates out of Black Jack's Lock and under Bridge 178.


Prime canal real estate and exclusivity adjacent to Troy Cut Weir, Harefield. Troy Cut Sidebridge can be seen in the distance.


Canal reflections.


Prime canal real estate at Troy Cut Sidebridge; View from Troy Cut Sidebridge, back towards Troy Cut Weir; Copper Mill Lock - looking back.


Upon reaching Troy Cut Weir, Harefield, where the canal runs parallel to Jack's Lane, some truly magnificent prime canal real estate locations come into view. A bit further on, at West Hyde, where the canal swings northeast towards Rickmansworth, is Copper Mill Lock. The mill used to make copper sheets for protecting the hulls of wooden warships. The sheer beauty and tranquillity of residential living adjacent to the Grand Union Canal is emphasized to no greater extent than at Lynster's Lake, near Summerhouse Lane. It amazed me that people out on Sunday walks were utterly courteous towards us as cyclists, giving way spontaneously to allow us to pass, reflecting our own non-aggressive behaviour. We saw some jolly folk too, celebrating the beautiful weather with a glass of the old laughing water.


Beautiful homes adjacent to Lynster's Lake, near Summerhouse Lane, just beyond Copper Mill Lock, West Hyde.


Narrowboats moored at homes adjacent to Lynster's Lake, near Summerhouse Lane, just beyond Copper Mill Lock, West Hyde.


Bridge 175 at Stocker's Lock.


Grazing fields at Stocker's Farm, adjacent to Stocker's Lock.



  The landscape briefly assumes a more countrified appearance in the vicinity of Stocker's Farm, with Stocker's Lake on the left. Here the canal route veers almost due east. Just after passing under Bridge 175, one reaches Stocker's Lock, where, once again, a narrowboat, Merlin of Braunston, was in the process of navigating the said lock. Investigation reveals that Merlin is one in a pair of boats, the other being Theo, available for hire. for a weekend, at a cost of 300. Fair deal? Passing Batchworth Lake on the left, the up-market town of Rickmansworth is reached, its public golf course on the right. Swinging north again, the Grand Union cuts through Cassiobury Park, west of Watford. This is where Andrew and I cut short our cycle in 2005. On this occasion, it transpired, Dave and Sue had a prior evening engagement, it was fast approaching five in the afternoon. Joby was also keen to get back. After consultation, the decision was reached to proceed to Kings Langley. We then charged through this section at breakneck speed, stopping on fewer occasions than was previously the case.

A narrowboat navigates through Stocker's Lock.


Lady Capel's Bridge (Bridge 163), in Cassiobury Park, near Watford.


Cassiobury Park is the principal public open space in Watford, Hertfordshire. It comprises over 190 acres and extends from the A412 Rickmansworth Road in the east to the Grand Union Canal in the west. The name "Cassio" is ancient. The earliest known spelling is Caegesho, which may derive from the Old english caegs, meaning "a spur of land". In AD 793 the town of Watford is thought to have been part of the Manor of Cashio, belonging to the Monastery and Abbey of St.Albans. When King Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in 1539, Watford town was divided from Cashio and Henry made himself Lord of the Manor of Cassiobury. In 1546 he granted the Manor to Sir Richard Morrison, who started to build a large house in extensive gardens, but had not made much progress by 1553 when he went into exile abroad. The estate grounds were much larger than they are today, reaching as far as North Watford and southwards almost to Moor Park.After the death of his father in 1556, Sir Charles Morrison continued building and completed the mansion, Cassiobury House. It had 56 rooms, a long gallery, stables, a dairy and a brewhouse.

It was well wooded and we had little with which to gain our bearings at this point within the Park. Just after Lady Capel's Bridge (Bridge 163), Joby and Dave, up ahead and setting a furious pace, ended up a virtual dead-end, as the canal turned to the left. By the time I had reached them, they had were heading back, realising that they had missed a bridge crossing (this error can clearly be seen on the Google track of this journey). This occurred just before we reached and crossed under the M25 near Heath Wood, near the Old Watford Road leading to Kings Langley. Just after this, we reached North Grove Lock and Lock House.

In 1610 Sir Charles Morrison's daughter, Elizabeth, was baptized at Watford parish church. In 1627 she married Arthur Capel (1610-1649) and the estate passed into the Capel family. The Capels were settled at Hadham, in Essex, but after the marriage they became closely associated with Cassiobury. The coat of arms of the Capel family appears on the badge of Cassiobury Junior School; the name "Lady Capel" persists at Lady Capel's Wharf, which is beside the Grand Union Canal a mile or so north of the park and was the place where goods were unloaded for Watford. Lord Capel was condemned in 1649 for his loyalty to Charles I and beheaded outside Westminster Hall. His son, also named Arthur (1631-1683), also married an Elizabeth and was Morrison's great-great-grandson.
At the Restoration, after the English Civil war, King Charles II made Arthur Capel Earl of Essex and the estate was returned to the family. The Tudor house was then rebuilt on an  "H" ground plan, popular at the time. In 1683, Arthur Capel was implicated in the Rye House Plot, accused of plotting to assassinate Charles II. Like his father before him, Arthur was imprisoned in the Tower of London. In July 1687 he was found dead at the Tower, his throat cut, apparently by his own hand. In 1841 a fire destroyed the orangery, which was filled with newly collected plants and fine orange trees.  The public were allowed to ride and walk through the grounds, but had to apply for a ticket in advance. In 1909, 184 acres of parkland were sold by the 8th earl, most to Watford Borough Council for housing and the public park. More land for the park was purchased in 1930. Having remained unoccupied and unsold, the house itself was demolished in 1927. Only the stable block remains, converted to an old peoples' home.

We crossed under the London Orbital M25 motorway once again, near the A4251/A41 junction (Junction 20), beneath the imposing viaduct across the Gade River Valley - tributary of the River Colne - the route running parallel to Watford Road which becomes the High Street in Kings Langley. Kings Langley is a historic town. It was the home of the makers of Ovaltine and the imposing factory facade is now all that is left and still stands alongside the railway line among a new housing development. The Ovaltine factory itself has recently been converted into a series of flats and duplexes. The former Ovaltine Egg Farm was converted into energy efficient offices. It incorporates a highly visible wind turbine alongside the M25. Kings Langley is home to a Waldorf School, the Rudolf Steiner School Kings Langley.

At Home Park Mill Link Road, we finally left the Grand Union Canal, heading up to Kings Langley Railway Station, having covered 35 miles in total. We had just missed a train into London. It had been a great ride but my "sit-upon", to quote Monty Python, knew all about it. Another colleague of ours, Paul, lives in Kings Langley, but was away at the time. The CEO of Xerox in Welwyn Garden City lives in Rickmansworth and yet another colleague, Peter, in Watford. I had jokingly informed the others that I had proposed the we "drop in for tea" en route. We took the next around 18h30 and arrived at Euston Station, stopping in the terminus for a well-earned coffee break. A short cycle round the back of Euston station, we packed our bicycles. Programming Joby's Hertford address into my Tom-Tom resulted in a journey up the A10 instead, through North London, which was slow and arduous, due to extensive Sunday evening traffic. I got home to Royston in time to watch the second half of the Italy versus Spain Euro 2008 match, a dour affair by all accounts.


Between two crossings of the M25 as one heads towards Kings Langley, North Grove Lock, near the Old Watford Road (A41)


Home Park Mill Lock, finally leaving & crossing the Grand Union Canal near Kings Langley Railway Station.


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