While a stroll along the Thames will always be up there with London’s best walks, we shouldn’t neglect the city’s other waterways – especially ones as beautiful, uncrowded and visually arresting as these ones.
The capital’s canals, which stretch right out into the countryside, are perfect for a summer stroll, notably the Grand Union Canal.
The stretch between Rickmansworth and Uxbridge is ideal for us Londoners.
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You can start and finish your adventure at a Tube station, with both on the London UndergroundMetropolitan line, the route is relatively flat and it takes in a dramatic mix of terrains, giving the walk an intrepid fell without being too challenging.
The entire route longs the canal, passing several extraordinary lakes, weirs and water features. It is part of a longer Grand Union Canal walking route between Birmingham and Central London or Brentford.
Hertfordshire: Rickmansworth to Denham
Start at Rickmansworth Station, half an hour away from Zone 1.
Turn right upon leaving the station and follow the road under the bridge onto the High Street. Here you can pick up lunch for the walk or browse the many quaint, independent stores which make up the county town centre.
Head to the end of the High Street (past The Western pub and M&S) and turn left at the roundabout.
You’ll see a playground which marks the start of the Rickmansworth Aquadrome, a public park and nature reserve with impressive lakes and watersports facilities.
Turn right just past the playground and cross the bridge to the main lake of the Aquadrome. Swing left and head to the end of the lake, where you’ll meet the Grand Union Canal for the first time.
Turn right and follow the canal path.
You will quickly leave suburban Metroland and views of narrowboats will be replaced by cows and sheep. Things get dystopian when you’ll pass Harefield Limeworks, an abandoned industrial building which is now popular with the Urbex community.
It’s haunting presence is amplified by giant toy figures and a boat which have been suspended from parts of the building which remain intact.
As you continue along the canal past Maple Cross, things turn Floridian with swamp-like conditions in the low-lying countryside sitting deep in the Colne Valley.
Around 90 mins from the start of the walk, you will cross into Buckinghamshire, just after Jack’s Mill.
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Buckinghamshire: Denham to Uxbridge Lock
Sticking with the path, you’ll be able to take a pause beside pristine lakes at Denham in an area untouched by development, until you reach a brief void of beauty created by the High Speed 2 railway works.
Dystopian, but in a different way to the previous sights en route, this section of the canal path is patrolled by security to prevent the HS2 works from being disrupted.
The sight of fully operational suited and booted security guards along a quiet canal path in the chocolate box countryside is certainly interpellant.
After passing under the Denham Viaduct, there’s a neat, sweet ice cream parlour and café with a garden tucked away at the crest of Denham Country Park. It’s the perfect place to pause on a hot summer’s day and watch the narrowboats traverse the canal locks.
The number of moored narrowboats starts to pick up as you return closer to urban sprawl. The path then crosses from one side of the canal to the other as you pass under the exact point the A40 separates from the M40 motorway.
London: Uxbridge Lock to Uxbridge
Uxbridge Lock will then appear as you emerge into Greater London.
The lock has plenty of seating and you’ll often find members of the Canal and River Trust as well as narrowboat residents here, who will be able to explain to you what life on the canal is truly about. It’s a friendly atmosphere as you return to the capital and start to hear the ambient purr of traffic once again.
At Uxbridge Lock, cross to the other side of the canal again and when you reach The Swan & Bottle, a huge white building on the right-hand side which you’ll probably hear before you see as revellers enjoy the pub garden at the front, leave the canal path and turn left across the bridge.
Follow the main road until the High Street, where you bear left with the cycle lane instead of to the right with the main road.
This seemingly tiny back street is actually the start of Uxbridge High Street, which becomes more apparent as you ascend the final hill of the route. This will likely be around 2hrs 45mins in.
Follow the High Street dead street over the roundabout and through the pedestrian section to Uxbridge Station, which you will arrive at around 3 hours after exiting the Tube at Rickmansworth.
Being in Zone 6 instead of Zone 7, you’ll profit from a slightly cheaper journey home in the knowledge you’ve just completed an eight mile ramble through three counties.
Have you ever walked the Grand Union Canal? Do you have any other recommendations? Let us know in the comments below!