Tag Archives: urban packrafting

Sigma TXL on the Thames

Anfibio Sigma TXL Main Page
Anfibio Revo on the Thames
Gumotex Seawave on the Thames
Gumotex Sunny Incept K40 on the Thames

Order! Orrrrdeuuuurrr!!
TXL on the riverbank

Miraculously, a sunny spell spanned the Easter bank holiday weekend so I took the new TXL down the Thames for its maiden voyage. At Putney I caught the remains of a spring tide but dithered too much so only had a hour until it turned at London Bridge and pushed back up the river. Nevermind, I’ll get as far as I get and hop out anywhere there are some steps or a ladder. With a packraft it’s easily done.

Skeg half out but does the job. One thing I like about longer, centrally positioned packrafts is the the trim is level, not back-heavy as in a conventionally sized rear-sat packraft like my 2K, (unless you are light or it has a hugely voluminous stern, like a Revo)

Floor pad and skeg
This is a similar run I did a couple of months ago in the dead of the Covid winter with the Revo, but this time I remembered to air up the floor pad good and hard. I’m expecting the 2.8-m long, hard-floored TXL to be nippy, and so it is. Setting off the boat skates across the water so that you can ‘paddle – pause/glide – paddle’ like in a kayak, not spin like a food mixer to keep moving.
I fit the skeg but notice from the pix that most of it is out of the water. Don’t think the 2K was like that, but it’s submerged enough to track well. I did wonder why it wasn’t on the flat of the floor for full effect. Perhaps, as with the Nomad S1, it’s not strictly necessary. Something to try next time. As mentioned, I do plan to fit a second skeg on the front to see how that affects crosswinds and sailing.

Seat
They advise using the foam seat block (left) with the floor pad. It feels a bit of an afterthought, adds packed bulk and, as others have reported, is not so comfortable. or effective. After 20 minutes I was getting a sore coccyx which was only going to get worse.

More seats than the O2 Arena

Mid-river I shuffled over the twice-as-large blow-up seatbase but soon found it wobbled around on the hard floor pad (like trying to stand on a soft football) in a way they don’t when sat on regular packraft floors. This must be why the block seatbase is supplied but the foam is too hard for flatwater cruising. I aired it right down (easily done in situ) until I was nearly sitting on the floor, but in rougher waters there would still be a wobble and anyway, by then your butt and heels are nearly level like sitting on an iSup board; not an ideal paddling stance.

OMG – non-locking krabs! (fear not, a solution is at hand)

Overall, the raised position on the floor pad does aid good paddling as you can clear the fat sidetubes with the paddle more easily. Sat higher, I would expect stability in rougher water to suffer; at that time you’d want either thigh straps – or just sit yourself lower by easily airing down the floor pad. The backrest is easily adjusted in the boat too, and is held up by thin bungies so it’s easy to shift it up your back if it slips.

For the moment I feel the seat in MRS Nomad was a better affair. Partly because I felt it was part suspended/supported from tabs halfway up the side tubes like a hammock, not sat directly on the floor. That means your body weight is spread broadly along on the side tubes, not pressing down solely into the floor, created sagging. However, at around half-a-metre square, the seat base is much bigger than previous packraft seatbases I’ve used. Without the floor pad, this broad base may nearly replicate the advantageous load-spreading effect of a Nomad-style side-tab suspended seatbase. An underwater picture will tell all, but I like to think the TXL may be as functional and not much slower without the floor. After all the floor-less Nomad was nippy enough.

The TXL’s raised floor jams you less well into the boat sides which is 4cm wider than the Nomad. I quite like a jammed-in feeling but recognise that with a floor pad, added height requires a bit more boat width to maintain stability. And up front there’s plenty of room for feet side by side, unlike in the pointy ended Nomad.

There are a few more evaluations to do with the TXL but it looks promising. Comfortable, supportive seating I know can be an issue with IKs so using the floor pad I’m confident I will either get used to it, find a better seatbase or find that the pad is not essential for shorter paddles.
Fyi, I have now become very used to using the Flextail electric pump to air up the boat (and the floor), before finishing off with the handpump. It can vacuum shrink the boat too, for compact packing. As you can see the handy BowBag fits on like it should.

Anfibio Vertex Tour paddle
Anfibio sent me their new, four-part, multi-adjustable Vertex Tour paddle to try. It weighs just 890g on my scales, same as my old carbon Aqua Bound Manta Ray, with same-sized blades. A simple lever clamp allows you to set any offset the carbon shaft left or right, as well as vary the length 15cm between 210 and 225cm which is something new to me. Theoretically I can see using the full length with a backwind or a strong current and a short paddle for battling into the wind in ‘low gear’.

Each piece is 63cm long. The all-round shaft felt a bit thinner than normal, and sure enough, measured up around 29mm ø compared to my 32mm Werners which suit my hands better. Smaller handed persons will prefer the Vertex.
The middle clamps up firmly but there was a bit of slack at the paddles; we’re talking less than half a millimetre here but it’s enough to rattle and be noticeable as you release the pressure on lifting the blade out. Does it make difference to non-competitive propulsion? Not really and better too loose than too tight. I wrapped some thin, smooth tape round the ends to eliminate the slack. The Vertex costs €125 – that’s a lot of light and fully adjustable paddle for your money.

Packrafting through London – Anfibio Revo

See also:
Anfibio Revo XL review
Packrafting the Regents Canal

An hour and a half before sunrise and I am in the midst of a twitter storm. Up above me unseen in the trees the neighbourhood avians are performing their dawn chorus a little ahead of schedule.
I’d been planning to try out a prototype Anfibio Revo for weeks, waiting for a sunny day while failing to pull off more ambitious test venues. In the end they wanted it back so it feel to a transit of the dreary old Thames through London.

But walking to the station it was clearly far from the predicted freezing night leading to clear skies till noon. No frost glittered on car bodies nor stars twinkled above. Oh well, it’s 6.30am and I’m at the station. I may as well go through with it. Not done the Thames in a packraft before, so there’s that.

At Putney jetty energetic young rowers were hauling out their cheesecutters from the sheds while I fumbled with the Anfibio Revo’s floor pad. At a glance the Revo looks bigger than my 2K so it might be a bit faster. It’s a self-bailer with an unusual drain funnel under the seat (like some Gumotex canoes) rather than the usual lines of holes along the floor’s edge (like the ROBfin; another stillborn test). An 8-mile run along the Thames wasn’t going to tax the self-bailing, but for flatwater the dangling funnel can be pulled in and rolled up like a dry bag to stop the boat filling up.

I am on the water midway through a 6-metre ebb; LW is 11am at the Mayflower pub in Rotherhithe.
The Revo has a high-volume stern typical of whitewater packrafts to stop them flipping backwards coming out of rapids (I presume).
That old hay bail from my visit last April in the Seawave.
It’s an arcane sign indicating ‘arch closed’ or danger. Could make a nice bird nest too
The Revo seemed to yaw a lot for a long boat. Maybe the floor pad making the floor extra flat doesn’t help.
So I pull over and fit my skeg which made it a bit better
You don’t want to push up against this with 0.55mm of TPU between you and the fetid Thames
Is Battersea Power Station powering again? I hope someone informed the new residents?
I am reminded of the famous Pink Floyd LP cover from 1977.
People ask: What does the pig symbolize in Pink Floyd?
Along with dogs and sheep, pigs are one of 3 animals represented on the album. The pigs represent people, like [Mary] Whitehouse, who feel they are the moral authorities.
I was only asking!
The latest scandals? Where to start, but good to see they’re finally getting the flammable cladding sorted.
9am, all is quiet on the river but as soon as you pass under Westminster Bridge things gets choppier.
My P&S camera is barely coping with this eclipsarian light. What a wash out.
Jaunty buildings; journey’s end is nigh
I try some more selfingtons, but the focus is too low
I pull in just before London Bridge. I averaged 5mph for 7.5 miles, but half of that speed was the tide.
Like any packraft, the Revo felt slow at times. You sure miss the g l i d e of a long IK.
But it got me here and weighs just 4kg with the floor pad.
Jeez, I’m glad I got off before he bombed through!
A picture of me rolling up the packraft, so you know I’m not making it up.
I decide to climb the ladder for old time’s sake.
Back in summer 2005 with the old Gumo Sunny (my first IK) and before I knew about packrafts
Notice the small standing waves you often get just after London Bridge
What is the name of this famous ship?
And who was the illustrious captain?
I find myself in Borough Market for the first time in years, an Aladdin’s souk of upmarket nosebag:
Paradoxically, in the middle is a greasy spoon and before I know it I’m sat before my annual Full English.
After, I buy a giant sourdough loaf for a fiver and some wafer-thin slabs Comte and Gruyere at just £45/kg.
Can I see you ticket, please?
London Bridge & APaddleInMyPack

Read more about the Anfibio Revo here.

Urban Packrafting: London’s Regent’s Canal

See also:
Wandle: An Urban Packrafting Nightmare
Urban Packrafting: Kebab Death Weir Tunnel
Kayaking through London
Urban kayaking East London

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Urban canals have long been rediscovered as quaint, idiosyncratic backwaters for boat dwellers, joggers and cycle commuters, or have seen adjacent industrial wasteland redeveloped into glitzy apartment blocks or waterside business parks complete with mouth-watering eateries and amusing sculptures. The old cliche of filthy neglected ditches where joy-riders dumped scooters and drunks hurled traffic cones or shopping trollies is outdated, at least in central London.

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These days, if Doctor Who needs a grotty urban canal to stand in for a toxic sewer where evil Cybermen are spawning The Invasion (1968; 00.57), they’d probably have to go abroad or something. All of which means that, once you include London’s excellent transport links, the capital’s fascinating canals make for great packboating.

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The 200-year old Regent’s Canal is inner London’s best example, arcing nearly 9 miles across London from near Paddington eastwards to the old docks at Limehouse on the Thames. It starts at the dreamy, willow-rimmed mooring of Little Venice, passing Regents Park’s neoclassical mansions and the chattering apes of London Zoo before turning for Camden Lock Market where Jimi Hendrix bought his first Rosetti Airstream. Here the canal drops down a few locks to unrecognisably redeveloped Kings Cross, home of Google UK and where giant Victorian-era storage tanks have been converted into luxury flats. East of here, your water-level view flits between bohemian, suburban, light industrial and even rural parkland, until you arrive at the marina of Limehouse Basin by the Thames. On the way you’ll have portaged 13 locks and two tunnels (marked in red on the map below).

The Regent’s Canal

Britain’s canals helped kick off the world’s first industrial revolution. Canals linked or added to long-established river navigations and enabled inexpensive and reliable cross-country transportation of heavy or bulky commodities. At this time the decrepit road network was still suffering from 1500-years of neglect following the Roman era, couldn’t handle the demand and proved too costly.
Around 1805 the Grand Union Canal linked the burgeoning industrial heartlands of the Midlands with Paddington – then a village on the western edge of London. The advent of the Napoleonic Wars, including attacks on coastal shipping, necessitated secure inland transportation links to help provision the war effort. (The Wey-Arun Navigation linking London with the navy fleet at Portsmouth, was another example).

The Regent’s Canal followed London’s northern perimetre to link the Grand Union with the tidal Thames to Limehouse (above) near the new West India Docks. Here, lock-controlled ‘wet docks’ were regarded as more efficient and secure than London’s old bankside wharves. The map below is from 1830 and shows that even a decade after the canal opened, most of it passed through open countryside. Within a few years railways gradually brought about the demise of commercial canal transportation. 
I pinched most of this information from Jack Whitehead’s detailed version.

Time to go. I was on the bus before sunrise.
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Bear with me, I’m still waking up.
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Cables and cladding at Edgware Road tube.
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New apartments, offices and the Fan Bridge at Merchant Place in Paddington Basin, the ‘Paddington Arm’ terminus of the Grand Union from Birmingham.
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The canal ahead of the lifting Fan Footbridge is cordoned off so you can’t actually put in here. Along with the similar Rolling Bridge nearby, a cynic might say these are eye-catching engineering solutions to non-existant problems. The bridges make scheduled performances on weekends.

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The Paddington Arm of the Grand Union. Regents Canal actually starts by the former barge turning-point known as Brownings Pool; today’s Little Venice.

Just up the way below a footbridge is a strange retracting weir whose purpose may be to keep the scourge of duckweed from spoiling Paddington Basin’s clear-water vibe.

You can put in anywhere around here but…

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Maida Hill Tunnel
Before you start assembling your boat, know that in about 5 minutes you’ll need to backtrack from and portage around the 250-metre-long Maida Hill Tunnel which is closed to ‘non-powered craft’. And it’s not a quick 250-m hop-around either. Because of a private towpath along Blomfield Road, and closures for repairs, currently it’s nearly a mile before you re-access the water below the Casey Street footbridge east of Lisson Grove. Knowing this, you may prefer to do as I did, and walk to (or start from) Casey Street Footbridge, about half a mile north of Marylebone tube. See map below.

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The temporary towpath closures (left) are to repair electric cables stemming from the power station at the end of Aberdeen Place at the tunnel’s eastern end. When it reopens the portage distance will halve, but that may be a while.
So, you can paddle up to the western tunnel entrance from the Little Venice end (paddleboarder, below left), but you can’t get out here onto Blomfield Road because of a locked gate to the moorings. You have to backtrack to Little Venice, but it’s probably still worth it for a peep into the short if forbidden void.

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In 2018 the Canal & Rivers Trust (formerly British Waterways) provisionally opened the 250-metre-long tunnel to paddle-powered craft. (Consultation document.) According to their own regs, any straight canal tunnel of less than 400m can be paddled. At Maida Hill you can clearly see the other end, anything coming at you will be silhouetted or lit, and the whole drama takes a couple of minutes to paddle, including taking pictures.

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But to saves costs the tunnel is narrow and without a towpath (barges were legged through by ‘walking’ off the walls). Passing isn’t allowed or even possible, even in a slim kayak. Or a boat operator may not notice low-in-the-water kayaks, even with the mandatory headlight. Tour boats run via the tunnel daily from 10am between Camden and Little Venice.

‘Thank you for your enquiry. We do not allow kayaks through the Maida tunnel unless it is part of a special event”.
Three months notice is preferred for your special event and solo transits are not allowed anyway.
The website additionally warns:
Non–approved unpowered craft shall not transit the tunnel eg. rafts and other types including inflatable arrangements designated for ‘fun’ use.

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Clearly, they’re no more clued-up about modern IKs and packrafts than the BCU, or assume we’re all intoxicated pillocks goofing about on inflatable unicorns.

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What could possibly befall a typically open and unsinkable IK, canoe, packraft or iSUP board in the tunnel? Do they assume such boats are inherently more dangerous than a beginner capsizing mid-tunnel in a tippy hardshell?
Maybe the CRT has had problems with ‘inflatable arrangements’. Who knows, but I’ve also encountered this anti-inflatable prejudice on PLA media about padding the tidal Thames. I suppose it’s too much to expect these officials to know the difference between an Intex bin bag and a €3000 Grabner, but the common denominator must surely be the required BCU licence (or a more expensive and limited pass direct from the CRT). I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a canalised version of road-tax paying car drivers [cruise operators] vs freeloading pushbikes [kayakers]. The resentment the former feels towards the vulnerability of the latter generates irritation.

traffic

Here’s a suggestion: mount some traffic lights at each end on a 5-minute turnaround, and perhaps some low-level motion-activated illumination inside. That way the Maida Hill Tunnel could be safely and easily open to all users. Apparently, it’s currently being considered.

Long story shortened a bit, I enjoyed my exploratory walk and finally got to air-up my MRS Nomad below Casey Street footbridge looking down on the Lisson Grove Mooring (aka Marylebone Wide).

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The canal surface was thick with a lush carpet of floating pennywort or, as I prefer to call it, Hydrocotyle ranunculoides. This lurid green matting covered the canal from bank to bank just about the way to Limehouse. At times it was so thick birds easily stood on it, but it didn’t noticeably impede my paddling…

… because an MRS Nomad doesn’t exactly slice through water like Poseidon’s scythe.

Once on the water I paddled back west, 
under the Lisson Grove or Eyre’s ‘tunnel’…

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… for a peek at the eastern, ‘Doctor Who’, end of the Maida Hill tunnel. It didn’t look that far or that deadly.

Then I paddled back, passing nesting coots…

… and preening fowl. By 8am I was on my way to Limehouse.

Under the Chiltern Line rail bridges and Park Road (A41).

And into the bucolic enclave of Regent’s Park, passing elegant mansions and accompanied by a phalanx of pushbikers and joggers dashing and dodging other joggers and pram-pushing nannies.
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At London Zoo all was quiet. Not a squawk, a yelp or a roar.
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Regents Park was built around the same time as the canal, and one reason the canal didn’t simply cut directly east from Paddington towards the City along today’s A501 Marylebone Road (called ‘New Road’ back then, blue below) is because the well-connected park developer objected under the Tudor Statutes of NIMBY. The dirty canal diggers were forced to burrow like badgers through Maida Hill before swinging off on a northerly arc, all adding hugely to the cost and completion time. Funding the canal was a real stuggle. 

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At now-filled in Cumberland Basin (red, above), by the famously top-heavy Chinese pagoda restaurant the canal, appropriately, takes a left turn into the borough of Camden.
Soon I arrive at Camden Lock Market but it’s too early on a weekday morning for the place to be busy with beret-wearing tourists.

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There are three locks here in less than 300 metres, so I line the boat along the bank like a Yukon voyageur.
I paddle away from trendy Camden and soon pass under the deafening Eurostar rail lines at St Pancras before entering what they now call Gasholder Park. Old Kings Cross is long gone and some of the gas storage tanks have been turned into flats. Welcome to trendy Kings Cross.

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In the Eighties when I squatted near here, trendy + Kings Cross were not recognised combination. This was probably the seediest corner of central London, the real thing: junkies, prostitution, porno studios – a far cry from quaint, touristy Soho.
One time we used the gas tanks as a backdrop for an article I’d written about a bike running on Nitrous Oxide or laughing gas. Fans of Mad Max will know about that. Mike Leigh’s High Hopes (1988) was filmed around the corner. Funnily enough, the story of a lefty-slacker moto messenger, his woebegone mum and some pantomime-vile yuppies. Oh happy days!

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A lifeboat houseboat. No worries about rising sea level or tsunamis here.

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The Word on the Water floating bookshop.

I can’t quite square where I am with what lies around. I think perhaps it was all once a huge goods yard behind high walls. I swing into Battlebridge Basin but the museum isn’t open yet.
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I move on but it’s high time to…

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Up ahead is the 880-metre-long, Islington Tunnel. Again, as straight as a pick-axe handle but closed to hand-powered boaters for similar reasons as Maida Hill. I was kind of hoping a barge might rock up and let me hook on for a lift, but the only things I’ve seen on the water are wildfowl, plastic bottles and Spirodela polyrhiza. The museum organises  boat tours through the tunnel two days a week. Maybe they’d agree to some slipstreaming.
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I read that the portage follows helpful plaques set in the pavement. Cross the A1, Upper Street and head for Duncan St. It’s about a kilometre and would be somewhat of an arseache in a hardshell. Either way, I emerge at the eastern portal…
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… and in need of a waterside snack at City Road Lock. It’s only 9.30.
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By 10am I’m refreshed and on the move again. I put back in below the lock with a plop.
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The canal turns north into Haggerston where, just after the Whitmore Road bridge, there’s a handy knot of cafes on the left. A better choice than City Lock if you want more than coffee and cake. It’s all yummy mummies round here, not the snarling bottle-throwing punks I’d feared.
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Kingsland Basin to the north, with a somewhat baffling kayak slalom course. Soon you pass under the Kingsland Road bridge, edging ever closer to south Hackney.
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The canal is actually about 4 feet deep. near here I can see traffic cones and other junk on the bottom. But a prod with the paddle reveals two centuries of anaerobic silt, so don’t expect to be able to stand if you fall in.

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A populist ambush. These Eastenders are such wags.
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Swan narcissus. There’s a fairy tale in there somewhere, a swan that fell in love with its image and was turned into an ugly duckling.
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Another trickling spillway below a lock. I’ve lost track where.
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Nosferatu guarding someone’s tent. Sure beats a shopfront on the Strand.
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More gas holders near Cambridge Heath Road. You always find them near waterways as the huge tanks need to float on water.
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They’re actually like an upside-down cup resting buoyant on water and are as much about producing an even pressure as storage. Gas from a nearby factory is pumped in to the cavity above the water depending on demand, and the weight of the lid keeps the low pressure steady as it’s released out into the network (in an era before regulators).

New graffiti; 28-speed revolutions.
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It’s that Nosferatu again. You just can’t get rid of him.
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I’m approaching Victoria Park near Bethnal Green or South Hackney, it’s hard to tell. The precise name of your neighbourhood is very important to Londonders.
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By Old Ford Lock (named after a car they dragged out of the canal) are the first canalside public toilets I’ve seen. Good to know. A nutty, bin-rumaging vagabond in a top hat has a quick chat and warns me of heavy weed ahead.
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Is that a real turtle on the sunken kayak or a rubbery Hacknean joke?
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On the left the Hereford Union which leads two clicks up to the rejuvenation Olympic Park and the River Lee Navigation. We’ll be exploring there shortly.
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More of yer Acne ‘umour?  Someone report these ratbags to the CRT, pronto!
You won’t see such frivolity in la-di-da Little Venice.
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Architecture-spotting: new, old, industrial, domestic, elegant, ugly – is all part of the fun on the Regents.
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I probe a weed-clad lock. Locks are creepy places.
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Canary Wharf ahead – the former Docklands of London which was the Regents’ very raison d’etre.
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And here we are at Limehouse Basin and the first actual moving boat I’ve seen since Paddington.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A lot of weed to clean off.
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All wiped down and rolled up.
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I set off to walk upstream along the Thames for a bit.
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The river looks really quite choppy and a strong spring tide shoves an abandoned kayak upstream towards Wapping.
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Bored [sic] as a coot? Not on the Regents Canal! Thanks for reading.

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Wandle: An Urban Packrafting Nightmare

See also: Kebab Death Weir Tunnel

We had a good look, then shot this underground weir and were spat out the other end, grinning and alive.

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Years ago I recce’d South London’s Wandle ‘River’ from Merton Abbey Mills to the Thames at Wandsworth – a varied urban run of just a few miles – and all from the safety of my pushbike.
It’s not far from where I live but I decided the Wandle held too many elements which played to my watery phobias, not least near the end where the current sucks you into a series of sunless tunnels (left) under a shopping centre and former brewery. Sounds like a perfect setting for a macabre Gothic horror story.

But not everyone is so timid. Tim from Longshore International went down there with a couple of his boats. Full story with a description of the real hazards and more photos on the Longshore Blog.