Walking With Kids – What!?!
Can it really be classed as a walk when it’s with the kids? When every five seconds you’re stopping to let them catch up because they’re dragging their feet, or you’re biting your tongue because they’re complaining their legs are aching and you’re not even out of the car yet! A walk conjures thoughts of an idyllic stroll to enjoy your surroundings, a bit of escapism from the everyday treadmill you sometimes find yourself on. But with kids you may wonder why you even bothered to suggest it!
We’ve resorted to GeoCache hunting, impersonating other peoples strange gaits, video-making, scavenger hunts and even saying hello to passersby in funny voices. What can I say : kids hate to walk a long way unless their mind is occupied!
When we’re in London as two adults on a cheeky weekend away sans children, it’s so easy to just wander and take it all in. We would regularly walk the grid like some sort of crime scene, sticking to one neighbourhood and totally not wanting to miss out on the hidden gems, but you just can’t get away with it with children in tow. So let me tell you about a little walk in London that we’ve discovered that will keep the kids engaged and they wont even notice you’ve worn them out…
Regents Canal – London
Regents Canal – Built in the early 1800’s it runs from the River Thames just west of Canary Wharf to Little Venice near Paddington. From above it looks like a long blue arm, a protective limb, cradling central London, the home of commerce and industry, and hypothetically it is! It was initially supposed to run closer to the Thames but influential landowners pushed it further north. Then, when it came to designing the section near Regents Park, architect John Nash thought it would be great to have the canal running right through the middle – who doesn’t like a garden water-feature!? But the locals put paid to that when they raised concerns of uncouth Navvies with their dirty faces and dirty mouths. So, the canal was yet again pushed north and sunken lower than eyesight for the sake of Regents Park residents.
But, the whole canal is actually 8.6 miles long and I’d rather chew my own foot than attempt that with kids. However, there is a little 2 mile stretch of it that is both accessible and full of fab things to see for all ages.
Little Venice To Primrose Hill – London Walk
The nearest tube stop is Warwick Avenue, sang about by Duffy who wants you to forget the past and be true, or if it’s more convenient then Paddington Station isn’t too far either.
Little Venice is a hidden gem in central London. It’s quiet, serene and pretty beautiful if you ask me. Canal boats and barges are painted all sorts of rainbow colours and the residents of this section of the canal have really added to the aesthetic of the neighbourhood. On a sunny day people lounge about on deck with a cold beverage just watching the world go by, while you watch them watching you. The kids are fascinated by boat life, every square inch made use of with vegetable gardens and make-shift bike sheds. Simple, modest lifestyles with a touch of bohemianity are a million miles away from the wealthy locals of nearby Maida Vale – a preened district boasting home-owners such as Paul Weller, Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss. A nice neighbourhood if you want to get brunch before you begin your walk.
With the 5,000 tulips of the nearby Rembrandt Gardens and the grand white stucco buildings that line the canal, and not a gondola in sight, I’d say this part of London would be more accurately named Little Amsterdam than after the sinking Italian city. There’s a quaint little place by the water where you can grab yourself a coffee or even an afternoon tea and just watch time pass by, along with dog walkers, joggers and promenading old couples hand in hand – it’s called the Waterside Cafe and has plenty of seats inside and out. If you have the time, or the inclination, then there are always the Floating Puppet Show and the Floating Art Gallery if you’d like to explore this water basin anymore. Now, head north-east towards Camden…
At some point you will need to leave the towpath and return to the pavement as there is a section of private moorings. House boat owners that are prepared to pay a little bit extra for a more permanent mooring with full privacy – definitely prime real estate if you wanted to live on the water, you can just about see these trendy alternative homes from the pavement. Carry along the towpath and once you reach Cafe Laville you can only reconnect with Regents Canal by taking the road above which bypasses the Maida Hill tunnel – about 250 metres long.
Keep going. There are dozens of long narrowboats parallel parked together like the knife drawer at Hestons place. It’s a great opportunity for the kids to grab a peek into the innards from a different angle. You might want to linger a little as it’s the nicest stretch for the next few minutes, unless you have a strange fascination with National Grid art installations! Keep your eyes low and you may not even notice the electrical sub-station but you definitely can’t avoid the graffiti’d walls next to the water. Hang on in there though, you’ll soon be at the London Central Mosque.
The London Central Mosque is a sight to behold – from the canal path you can see the golden dome shining in the sun, hopefully, but even without help from our elusive sphere of fire, it gleams away like a giant Ferrero Rocher on the skyline. This place holds 5,000 worshippers at times so you can well imagine the stature and size of this landmark will impress the kids. Just past the Mosque are several very large mansions, where the other half live. Houses worth in excess of £100 million. But this area has always been home to the rich and famous – originally King Henry VIII’s hunting ground and still property of the crown today. Thousands of years ago this next stretch of canal was once dense forest and Deer roamed freely, years later this was what caught King Henry’s eye so he seized the land from the owners and used it as his own little playground, a place to entertain foreign dignitaries and the like. However, the civil war later mounted up debts that potatoes couldn’t pay off and trees had to be felled and sold instead. It’s a shame I hadn’t known – I’d have offered them the trees on my road for free (flamin’ magpies and their flamin’ birdsong!) Anyhow, it’s quite apt that you’re about to walk into London Zoo territory, what with its former history of wildlife.
But, not before you walk under Macclesfield Bridge. Railways weren’t keen to carry explosives in the 1800’s so gunpowder was often transported on water and in 1874 a narrowboat called the Tilbury completely exploded the bridge with its cargo of gunpowder and petroleum, killing 3 men and a horse and shattering house windows a mile away. Apparently there is a nearby tree which continues to bear the scars – something fun for the kids to find! It was rebuilt and still stands today with its new name of Blowup Bridge. Can you see what they did there!?
Forgive me for getting a little excited but I was totally not expecting to see wild animals roaming around central London the day we discovered this walk. I may have done a little dance at the sight of Giraffes so I am going to wholeheartedly recommend that you exit the tow path for a brief detour and have a little wander around the front of London Zoo. Honestly, I’d be lying if I said I felt like David Attenborough, only a glimpse of the Zebras and some creature which looked like someone had glued a cow, horse, lama and zebra together. However, the gracefully beautiful Giraffes made it totally worth it. Now back to the canal.
From the canal itself you get to see a pretty large enclosure of vicious looking African Hunting Dogs (think Hyena’s off of Lion King) and you’ll be very glad you’re separated by water. This stretch was definitely the highlight of the walk for the kids – just watch they don’t walk over the edge of the canal into the water as they become mesmerised by the warthogs and villainous dogs of Africa. To the left you’ll have no trouble spotting the avery either – plenty of species of birds for the kids to spot.
You’re coming to the end of your little walk now and the big red floating Chinese Pagoda beckons you to the finish line ahead. If your children’s little legs are buckling then at least their inquisitiveness will be piqued by this beautiful multi-story floating restaurant, the Feng Shang Princess, just ahead of them. By all accounts the food is pretty good if you’re in the mood for some noodles.
So, here ends your 2 mile expedition and a grand walk it’s been too. If you wanted to carry on along the canal and grab some food in Camden Market then you’re only another 10 minute walk away but if I were you I’d avoid the greasy stir-fry’s that only taste of incense sticks anyway. Save the kids from the torture of ethnic jewellery stalls and let them return at a later date when they’re in their teens and want to experiment with tie-dye and vegetarianism. Instead I’d recommend packing a picnic and crossing the road to the wonderful Regents Park – 395 acres of beauty, including a rose garden, boating lake, open air theatre and a few cafes.
I think this is the perfect little walk for kids but I’m sure there are more in London that are just as interesting – do you know of any? If so, do drop me a line, I’d love to hear of them…
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