Urban Packrafting through London

Packrafts may have been designed for whitewater and wilderness adventures, but their small pack size also makes them perfect for exploring urban waterways. In this case, we took a leisurely paddle along the Regents canal, which runs through a fascinating and varied area of central London.  

On a warm summers evening, three of us swam against the tide of commuters streaming out of London. By bus, tube and foot we converged on Paddington, with packrafts and paddles tucked away inside small rucksacks. Having tested out the deckchairs in Paddington Basin and briefly soaked up the sun before it swung behind the glass towers, we inflated our packrafts and paddled north, towards Little Venice. Our ultimate aim was to have a pint in Camden.

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Little Venice is not appropriately named. Don't get me wrong, it's a pleasant triangle of water where three canals meet, but Lord Byron who supposedly named it might have been a little ambitious.

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From here, we turned east towards the Maida Hill Tunnel.

In the UK, unpowered craft are not usually allowed through tunnels, but a year ago the Canal and River Trust ran a trial allowing unpowered craft like SUPs and canoes through the Maida Hill Tunnel. And since no one died, they opened it up making it one of the few tunnels you can officially paddle. It's only 200m long but is unlit, extremely narrow and has no towpath, so if a powered boat were to come the other way at speed, you could be in trouble.

So we switched on our head torches and waited for our moment, then paddled furiously into the darkness, trying to make it to the other end before another boat entered... 

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... or at least most of us did. Just as I was about to follow, a tourist leaning over some railings high above the entrance, shouted and beckoned me over. It turned out he'd dropped a £20 note in the canal and was insistent, once I'd retrieved it, that I keep it! 

Once through the tunnel we were slightly bemused to hear the sound of a brass band echoing up the canal and gradually increasing in volume. Eventually two canal boats lashed together, with a brass band balanced atop, slowly gained on us and overtook, providing a live soundtrack to our paddle as we passed by the American Ambassador Residence

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Before long we were paddling through London Zoo, past the Grade II listed Snowdon Aviary. We skipped past the Feng Shang Princess and turned north into a slightly more seedy area of London. As we neared the Pirate Castle, a group of drunks with guitars serenaded us (a British version of dueling banjos) and insisted we visit the Ice House Pub in Cambden.

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We pulled our packrafts out of the water just above Camden Lock and a couple of minutes later had them all stowed in rucksacks. The Ice House was unsurprisingly rammed and some of its punters were a little worse for wear, so we gladly skipped it and opted for a Byron Burger and a couple of pints in the Oxford Arms, courtesy of the kind tourist who gave me the £20 note. Then it was home by tube, train and foot again with a plan to do the next stretch of the canal soon.

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All in, our trip from Paddington Basin (near Paddington Station) to Camden Lock (near Camden Tube Station) was about 4.5 km and took a leisurely 2 hours, as we stopped regularly to chat and watch the world float by.

We used Longshore EX280 Packrafts. If you want to find out more about our packrafts or this route feel free to get in touch.

Tim Clarklondon zoo