Grand Union Canal Walk:
The Thames at Brentford to West Drayton

7 April 2007

Boats on the River Thames above Kew Bridge
After a walk from Gunnersbury station, we reach the River Thames at Kew Bridge and start a walk along the Thames Path westwards. There are lots of boats permanently moored here, now serving as houseboats.

River Thames at low tide
The great waterway, the River Thames, looking rather pathetic with the tide out. To be fair, this is only part of the river, those old docks being on an island, but it is the Thames, and the line of the borough boundary between Hounslow and Richmond - perhaps suggesting that this was once the main channel.

George by entrance to Grand Union Canal
After a rather frustrating bit of the Thames Path, which flits between the riverfront and the road, making the route much longer than the riverfront, we reach the entrance to the Grand Union Canal.

Boatyard by Thames Lock on the Grand Union Canal
The boatyard by Thames Lock, with boats marooned on mud at low tide.

Weir on the River Brent and Grand Union Canal
As the route (which is still the Thames Path at this point) diverts around that boatyard, a view of the water of the River Brent pouring over a weir - the Grand Union Canal in its lower stretches is actually the canalised River Brent.

Thames Lock, Grand Union Canal
Finally we reach Thames Locks after the diversion around the boatyard, and from here on it is a classic towpath walk. This lock number 101 on the canal from Braunston, making 158 locks from the Thames to Bordesley Junction in Birmingham.

Grand Union Canal and River Brent above Thames Lock
George takes a quick rest by the towpath. This bit of the Grand Union Canal and River Brent is semi-tidal, the level rising a little at high tides.

Ladder on Thames Path
The Grand Union Canal Walk and the Thames Path makes an abrupt change of level here by what the Thames Path guidebook described as a ladder. Well, not quite, but the signing was distinctly temporary (that on the left with its back to us is just held down with a sandbag).

Brentford Lock signpost
Crossing the A315 Brentford High Street, we join section 7 of the Capital Ring, which has come across Syon Park from Richmond Bridge. We follow the Capital Ring into section 8 where it leaves us at the Hanwell flight of locks. The signpost also shows that it is 139 miles to Birmingham along the Grand Union Canal Walk.

Brentford Guaging Locks
Brentford Gauging Locks, with the River Brent joining on the right.

Apartments above Brentford Gauging Lock on the Grand Union Canal
Modern apartments dominate what was once a bustling docks area, but with a mixture of boats and reasonably attractive housing it looks a pleasant area.

Covered loading area, Grand Union Canal
George heads off towards old and new - the disused covered loading area through which the towpath makes its slightly spooky way, and the gleaming modern glass skyscraper of the GSK head office.

Clitheroe's Lock, Grand Union Canal
We then reach Clitheroe's Lock, the first "classic" Grand Junction Canal lock we have met. The locks between here and Braunston are of this pattern.

Horseley Iron Works bridge, Grand Union Canal
A graceful cast iron bridge, made at Horseley Iron Works near Birmingham in 1820, carries the towpath from the south to the north bank of the canal.

M4 viaduct and Grand Union Canal
Looking back from that bridge, the canal going around the corner to the right while the River Brent disappears over a weir (protected by the fence that is just visible) and under the M4 viaduct.

Hanwell locks, Grand Union Canal
The Hanwell Locks are a flight of six (numbers 97 to 92) which lift the canal away from the River Brent for the last time - the Capital Ring leaves us here too, making its way along the river. Here we look from lock 97 to locks 96 and 95.

Lock on Grand Union Canal
George rolling around on the grass below lock 93.

Lock cottage, Grand Union Canal, Hanwell
An unusual lock cottage at lock 93.

Hanwell Asylum from Grand Union Canal
Looking back from lock 92. Behind the wall was the (1st) Middlesex County Asylum, better known as Hanwell Asylum, which opened on 16 May 1831. The site is now home to the West London Mental Health NHS Trust: the very high barbed wire topped fences give it the air of a prison.

Three Bridges or Windmill Bridge, Hanwell, Grand Union Canal
This unusual structure is known as Three Bridges, or sometimes as Windmill Bridge. Here Windmill Lane is carried over the canal by a cast iron bridge, and the canal itself is carried over a branch of the Great Western Railway in an iron trough. The bridge dates from 1855 to 1861. The name is inaccurate, as really there are only two bridges, but it is still an interesting structure, designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and is a rare surviving example, most of the cast iron structures he designed having been since replaced.

Grand Junction Canal Company milepost
Only 90 miles to Braunston, the northern end of the Grand Junction Canal with the Oxford Canal.

Bull's Bridge or Bulls Bridge Junction, Grand Union Canal
We then reach Bull's Bridge, junction with the Paddington Arm of the Grand Union Canal, sadly looking rather shabby, even without the graffiti. Paddington basin lies about 13˝ miles away along a level pound - the level canal between Paddington and west London, and even as far as Slough, helped this part of the canal to remain competitive against the railways much later than elsewhere.

Paddington Arm of Grand Union Canal
Looking north-east along the Paddington Arm.

Nestlé factory, Grand Union Canal, Hayes
Looking to the Nestlé factory, a destination known to generations of working boatmen as "Hayes Cocoa".

Great Western railway bridge over Grand Union Canal
Here we pass under the Great Western railway mainline.

side arm of Grand Union Canal in Hayes
One of a number of bridges remaining on the towpath side which allowed access to wharves served by the canal.

Grand Union Canal Walk and London Loop together
Since Bull's Bridge, we have been sharing the route with the London Loop, and so we have walked bits of the route here, though the Loop takes, well, loops, off to the sides of the canal, so parts are new to us.

George - American Cocker Spaniel
George takes a breather on this warm Easter weekend.

Grand Union Canal side arm, now a business park
Another side arm no longer in use, and the site of a business park. After this the canal is straight and less interesting as it makes its way through the suburbs of West Drayton and Yiewsley. Lucy picked us up near West Drayton station, setting up a future walk from there, perhaps to Rickmansworth. I don't think a walk all the way to Birmingham is likely, but perhaps eventually to Cosgrove (north of Milton Keynes, where the regular railway stations cease) may be appropriate eventually - or even to Blisworth, which would cover all of the canal that we haven't done by boat. We shall see, but in the meantime, an enjoyable spring walk.

Zoom in for more detail, or see map in larger window: Ordnance Survey | Open Street Map | Google Maps

Total distance 17.4km in 4 hours 40 minutes (3 hours 35 minutes on the move according to the GPS).


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Unless otherwise stated, all images copyright (c) Stephen and Lucy Dawson