The Grand Union Canal to Osterley House

From London, West London
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The [1] Grand Union Canal is a 137 mile liquid motorway that connects London to Birmingham. It is no plain sailing, for it has in total, 166 locks from start to finish. But judging from my walk below, it is a far more delightful way of arriving in Birmingham than the monotonous M6!

It Is Possible to Follow The Grand Union Canal All The Way to Birmingham

So here’s a quick recap of my day so far. I spend the morning exploring the grand rooms and spacious gardens at [2] Osterley House. After a quick lunch, I embark on my circular walk which takes in the Grand Union Canal.

I Start My Day In The Enormous Gardens of Osterley House and Park

Within 30 minutes from Osterley House, I’ve switched from wandering around a grand estate to walking in an urban, industrial scene. My walk now takes me past security fences, breeze block walls, a railway line, an industrial park, skips and yards full of timber and metal scraps. Until I get to the Grand Union Canal, the start of the second part of my walk.

I Find The Grand Union Canal At The Back of An Industrial Estate

I’m in the district of Ealing in London. So other than pretty potted plants on the roof of barges, I’m expecting a very suburban walk. But almost immediately I come across [3] Piggeries Orchard, a voluntary scheme that plants fruit trees for passers by to help themselves to. What a wonderful idea!!

A Homely Looking Barge on The Grand Union Canal

The Grand Union Canal was first built by William Jessop at the end of the 18th century to provide a speedier trading route from the Midlands to London. Tall signposts on the tow path countdown the miles to Birmingham. At canal level though, I find mile stones for a town called Braunston.

Signs At Ground Level for Braunston

So other than the 1,759 villagers of Braunston, why is Braunston of interest to the world? It’s because of the width of this canal. Every lock from Brent to Braunston is able to accommodate two narrow boats abreast of each other. So this is actually the quick bit of the journey!!

Narrow Boats Can “Speed” All The Way to Braunston

From his canal side lodgings, it was the job of the lock keeper to manage the locks. It wasn’t a solitary existence. All around him would have been a community of carpenters and bricklayers, some living on boats along the canal. They are all the essential workforce to keep the locks in working order.

A Lock Keeper’s Cottage Along the Canal

Raising a family of 4 or 5 on a narrow boat would have certainly been a very cramped affair. Communities still live in barges along the Grand Union Canal. Some have their own little private garden on land. Some gardens are tended beautifully. Some have practical items, like a shed. In one garden, I spy a child’s trampoline.

Blissful Living Along the Grand Union Canal

I can imagine the scenes at these locks during the heydays of the canal, when thousands of boats traveled along it. From the crack of dawn, a queue of boatmen would start forming at either end of these locks. It was the lock keeper’s job to manage fraying tempers as they waited their turn.

Some Of The Locks Along the Grand Union Canal Are Very Very Old

Time and tide waits for no man. And that is certainly true with the tidal section of the canal downstream of Brentford Locks. Which is why I’m sure there must have been some heated exchanges as boatmen jostled to get their turn in the lock.

Barges With Cargo Must Try And Catch the Tide on The Thames

Whilst I stand at the bottom of [4] Hanwell Locks, admiring the flight of locks ahead of me, a breathless boater runs past. He has just tackled the first of these ancient locks. “How many more ?”, I ask. “Just six more” , he says. I wave bon voyage, as I set off on foot along the old tow path.

The Famous Hanwell Locks

The series of locks at Hanwell date back to 1794. Today it is a Scheduled Ancient Monument. My legs can certainly vouch for the fact that these locks raise the water level by a hefty 53 feet in just half a mile. No wonder horses occasionally fall into them as they towed heavy loads up the sometimes slippery incline.

Steps Leading Out Of The Canal To Help Fallen Horses Out

It all looks very Dickensian as I walk along the tall, grim brick wall at the back of [5] Ealing Hospital. It used to be an asylum where the inmates gardened in its huge allotment for fresh air and exercise. Excess vegetables were then traded for coal, shipped in through the now bricked up archway, into what the boaters called [6] Asylum Docks.

The Back of Ealing Hospital Was Where Asylum Docks Was Located

When I started my walk along the canal, it was actually along an engineered part of the River Brent. The river veers off near [7] Green Lane. There is also a sign for the very convivial looking [8] The Fox at Green Lane. Perfect for a pit stop.

The River Brent Splits Away From the Grand Union Canal

When the great engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel is asked to build a railway to Southall, he runs it underneath this canal at [9] Three Bridges. A traffic road, Windmill Lane, also runs over the canal at the same point. This is a very unique bridge, where three modes of transport intersect each other.

Brunel Builds The Very Unique Three Bridges in 1859 Just Before He Dies

Officially, Hanwell Locks comprises 6 locks. But by the time I get off the canal at the pedestrianised [10] White Bridge I’ve counted over 12. I think of that boater from before. I think he’s got his work cut out for him. And I do hope he is not in a hurry.

Exiting the Canal at White Bridge

The walk through the suburbs of Ealing after White Bridge is not worth talking about, until I get to the Grade II [10] Plough Inn. I go down [11] Tentelow Lane and across a wide open field, which I’m sure was part of the 750 acre Osterley estate in Tudor times.

The Plough Inn is the oldest Fuller Pub in England

Crossing over the M4 I’m back at Osterley House where I started this morning. As I leave, I pop into [12] Osterley Farm Shop for a wide selection of locally sourced vegetables. And with a full shopping bag, this ends one of my more enjoyable walks from my little AA book of London walks.

I Drop In To Osterley Farm Shop Before Heading Off to Osterley Station

Other Related Blogs

Some Useful Links

  • Tube Map and City Mapper are free apps that provide London maps, route planner and train/ bus times from your nearest stop.
  • Only Oyster Cards, purchased at stations, or contactless cards are acceptable on Transport for London.
  • AA Walk from Osterley along the Grand Union Canal (Pdf Guide here )
  • The Fox, Green Lane (website) – a family run free house
  • Plough Inn, Tentelow Lane, Southall (website) – has a nice beer garden
  • Osterley Farm Shop – closed Monday and Tuesday. Open from 08:00 to 17:00.
My Route From The Grand Union Canal to Osterley House

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