When London Became An Island

Ibn Battuta roamed the seas many years before the smoking chimney of any steam engine was seen on land or sea, but, like many explorers, he may have kept an eye out for burning ships as they might indicate the presence of pirates. If so he might have been nervous on the next part of the canal as there is a Pirate Castle (1), complete with battlements and a fluttering Jolly Roger, and a pirate boat might also be seen (2). No need to be afeared though, the outlaws in this redoubt are harmless. The Pirate Castle grew out of an idea by Viscount St Davids to develop a canal orientated youth club. Originally it was based on a barge, but successful fund raising eventually led to the construction of the club in quite an unusual design. The Central Electricity Generating Board added to the effect by building a water pumping station in the same style on the north bank, which was very sporting.

Passing beneath Oval Road (don’t worry the portcullis will not come crashing down) will bring you close to the end of this first section of the canal. Much of the industry that grew up in Camden Town, partly as a result of the proximity of the canal, has long gone. For example, Gilbeys, now best known for its gin, had a considerable presence here until the 1960s.  Today Camden Lock has a quite different image to that of half a century ago and certainly to the one it had when people assembled to see a demonstration of a mechanical lock, registered as a Hydro-Pneumatic Double Balance lock, in 1816. The area close to the lock is now a popular place for entertainment, as evidenced on a variety of videos uploaded to You Tube. I always find it something of a disappointment that so little of the early history of the canal is reflected in local names. After all, without the canal there would be no Camden Lock. What about a club venue called the Hydro-Pneumatic or even the Double-Balance?

Before we end the first section of the walk we must pass over a hump in the towpath. This crosses the entrance to what was once known as Dead Dog Tunnel, which ran to a basin that fed a substantial number of underground vaults, collectively known as the Camden Catacombs. Once over the hump look out for a doorway in the brick wall just before the oblique bridge (3) linking the canal's north and south banks. Go through the doorway and you will find yourself in part of Camden market with several places to get refreshment. Here are offerings from many parts of the world including Columbia, Venezuela, Holland, Greece, Indonesia - even Yorkshire! (4). You might also like to browse amongst the second hand volumes of the Blackgull Bookshop - all secondhand bookshops should be supported!

Want to leave the walk and go to the Tube? Then you should cross the oblique bridge and walk on to Chalk Farm Road. Now turn right and walk down to Camden Town Tube Station. Otherwise click the blue button below to go to the Camden Lock to Kings Cross section


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