This half-day walk could easily be turned into a whole day out if you add some of the side trips, but even without them you’ll have a lovely 3 or 4 hours strolling along some of London’s priciest real estate, past unparalleled water views and peeking into its gritty urban heart.
Start at St John’s Wood underground station. Leaving the station turn right down Grove End Road. At the end, turn right again, and within a few metres you’ll see people walking oddly across a pedestrian crossing, outside Abbey Road studios. Snap your photos, and retrace your steps to the station. Now turn down Wellington Road, left into Circus Road (consider picking up picnic supplies from Panzer’s deli and grocery), and then right into Cochrane Street, to St John’s Wood burial ground, consecrated at a ceremony organised by Thomas Lord, a name synonymous with the neighbourhood and with cricket. The church grounds are a pleasant, leafy spot, and you can see the lights and grandstand of Lord’s Cricket Ground from the Park Road end. Lord’s run tours at scheduled times during the day, except when matches are scheduled.
Father Time watches over matches at Lord's
Negotiate the unfriendly Park Road roundabout, admiring the uncompromising statue of St George in its centre, before turning right off Park Road a few metres from the intersection (look out for the plaque about the original site of Lord’s cricket ground) and dropping onto the Regent’s Canal towpath. Suddenly you’ll find yourself in a different world – a world of elegance, affluence and the definite tinge of royalty. Admire the villas and their beautiful sweeping lawns down to the canal, and enjoy the placid water, the birds, the pretty bridges – while watching out for cyclists and joggers.
The canal is a thread through London, around which cluster leisure activities these days. But the canal’s rather more workmanlike origins are still to be seen – specially on the columns re-used when “Blow up Bridge” was rebuilt. A sign tells the story of the explosion that brought down the bridge, and how the columns were turned to the smooth side when used in the reconstruction. Because canal barges had to be physically pulled through tunnels and under bridges, using ropes and plenty of manpower, the columns now have grooves on both sides.
Before too long you’ll come across Regent’s Park Zoo, one of the world’s best zoological gardens. The canal runs between the famous Snowden aviary and various other enclosures – you won’t see too much from the water, but I have spotted plenty of birdlife and the African wild dogs from the towpath.
Narrow boats still ply the canal which cuts the zoo in two
The next landmark is a distinctive Chinese restaurant – at this stage I recommend a brief detour from the canal into the celebrity-sprinkled streets of Primrose Hill. Head past pretty St Mark’s church and the sparkling Albert Pub, and straight to Melrose and Morgan grocery and kitchen at the canal end of Gloucester Avenue for a restorative coffee. You can easily get back on the towpath from here, and soon you’ll find yourself heading over a bridge and into the heart of Camden Lock market. It’s absolutely heaving at weekends, but much quieter during the week. If you haven’t been before, take some time to poke around the stalls, have some lunch and check out the bookstores.
Foodies heaven at Camden Lock market
Back onto the relative calm of the canal, you’ll probably detect a change of atmosphere. Gone is the quiet and assured elegance, replaced by something more edgy and urban. Camden’s home to funky townhouses, mixed with council and social housing and small business premises. Signs for the Jubilee Greenway start appearing on the towpath. This is one of London’s many walkways, linking Buckingham Palace with the east end. You may feel you’ve earned a pint by about now. Take the stairs at St Pancras Way and cross the road to The Constitution. It’s a low-key neighbourhood pub, with a brilliant beer garden and a good selection of ales.
The Thomas Hardy tree in St Pancras gardens
Refreshed, head back to the towpath for the final stint. Going as far as bridge number 19, head up the stairs, turn right following the signs to Camley Road reserve. Down the hill, just before the underpass on your right is a large gate, and inside are the St Pancras gardens. St Pancras Old Church, sits in a park of old trees and scattered tombstones, designed by Thomas Hardy while he worked as an architect. The Soane family mausoleum is here, with its design from which telephone kiosks are supposed to derive. The church is built over Roman remains, has a Norman wall and Victorian additions, but for me it’s most attractive for being in synch with the local community and contemporary times.
After you’ve explored the gardens and the church, head back through the gate you came in by, and continue down the hill, through the underpass, and cross the road into the Camley Street Nature Park. This is a piece of wild green, masquerading as a classroom. It’s a lovely place, ramshackly and natural. Spend a few minutes savouring the disconnect between eye and ear (the noise from road and rail is constant), and then stroll past the planter boxes, the ponds and through the woodland enjoying this untamed wild space.
A green oasis within earshot of the Eurostar
Back out onto Camley Street, turn left at Goodshed Road, crossing over when you see 90 York Place – the award-winning building housing The Guardian. The building follows the canal, so take the steps, turn to face the water and walk past the Rotunda (great for a glass of wine). You’ll soon look across the canal arm to our final destination on this walk, the London Canal Museum.
London Canal Museum is built over a Victorian ice house and an Italian gelateria
You get there by turning left into Crinan Street, left into Wharfedale, and finally left into New Wharf Road. The museum is in an old ice house and tells the story of the development of the canal network across the country. It’s a fascinating story, and a fascinating place. You will have earned a break after your efforts, so head back into Wharfedale, turn right at the end of it into Caledonia Street where there are loads of restaurants, cafes and bars in which to relax and reflect on your excellent day out. King’s Cross station is just a few minutes’ walk away.