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A walk along the canal - Part 1: Ladbroke Grove to Great Western Avenue

One piece of fascinating industrial history we have on our doorstep in Golborne Ward is a section of the Paddington Branch of the Grand Union Canal. In the 1980s and 1990s, the towpath along the southern side of the canal was a somewhat derelict and unwelcoming prospect but over subsequent years much has been done to improve the walkway, making it a pleasant place for a stroll today.

The Paddington Branch of the Grand Union Canal was opened in 1801. The Grand Union was part of a network linking the industrial heartlands of the Midlands with London. There was also a passenger service from Paddington to Uxbridge crewed by men in yellow-buttoned blue uniforms with yellow capes. However, the canal gradually fell into disuse as the railways were developed.

Today, you can take a walk along the Golborne section of the canal by starting at the bridge that takes Ladbroke Grove across the canal. Ladbroke Grove marks the western boundary of Golborne Ward.

Portabella Dock

As you start along the towpath on the southern side of the canal, with Sainsbury's behind you, you'll immediately encounter a steep incline. This is a bridge over the entrance to Porta Bella Dock. Built in 1894, this once was where Kensington's rubbish was taken to be carried westwards by horse-drawn barges to a dump at West Drayton, near today's Heathrow Airport.

Across the canal you'll see a terrace of the Victorian housing that survived the slum clearances of the 1960s and '70s. Next you'll come to the pedestrian foot bridge across the canal known as the Half Penny Bridge. One old halfpenny was said to have been the toll to cross the bridge. The bridge you see today replaced the original one in 1990.

Another five minutes will bring you to Meanwhile Gardens, a place where the Victorian housing did not survive clearance. We have an artist called Jamie McCullough to thank for this green space. He's credited with seeing what was a derelict site in 1976 and having the vision to realise that it could be a magnificent park.

Heron contemplating the Meanwhile Gardens pond

McCullough persuaded the council (Westminster at the time although the land is now part of Kensington and Chelsea) to allow the community to create a park there. It was meant to be just a temporary arrangement, hence the name Meanwhile Gardens. Over 40 years later the Gardens are very much a permanent feature of Golborne.

Another thing to keep an eye out for along the canal is the birdlife. Cormorants, mallard ducks, swans, coots, moorhens, Canada and Egyptian geese, and grey herons are amongst the species you might spot.

Gerry Dalton's magical garden

As you walk along the edge of the gardens along the towpath which skirts them, look across the canal. You'll see an extraordinary ornamental sculpture garden complete with immaculately manicured shrubs on the other canal bank. Gerry Dalton, originally from Athlone in Ireland, created this magical environment which some call Gerry's Pompeii. Sadly he died in 2019 aged 83, although his garden remains in good order.

Just after that whimsical sculpture garden, you'll come to the Meanwhile Gardens skate bowl, well used by BMX-ers as well as skateboarders. It dates back to the early in the days of Meanwhile Gardens' establishment and is reputed to have been one of London's first skate parks.

After some more Meanwhile Gardens green space, you'll now reach the Carlton Bridge which takes Great Western Avenue across the canal as it heads north to Harrow Road. The bridge forms the boundary between Kensington and Chelsea's Golborne Ward and Westminster borough. On the other side of the canal is the Union Tavern, formerly called the Carlton Bridge. It features a canalside terrace, a choice spot on a sunny day.

By now you'll have walked about three-quarters of a mile. If you continued along the canal towpath for about a mile more, you'll come to the pleasant vistas of Little Venice, where the Grand Union Canal meets the Regents Canal.

Read A walk along the canal - Part 2