Chilterns: Grand Union Canal

7.7 miles (12.4 kilometres) easy, picturesque walk along the canal and Colne valley. October, warm and cloudy. With the fam. GPX here

It’s a perfect autumn day and the leaves are well and truly turning on the Grand Union canal. The ash and birch are dropping colourful splots into the black water and the trees are fracturing in the ripples made by the lock. Mr. Heron is spearing along the water and all is well with the world. Well not really, the world is in a mess and the news is chaotic with the threat of an idiot destroying democracy which is why I refuse to watch it.

But right now I’m trying to reach a point of tranquility seldom reached after an underground journey as we’re just a short 30 minute trundle from the centre of London. We are walking en famille, sandwiched between the Grand Union canal and the Colne Valley lakes.

We begin, all of us, by crossing into the busy Colne Valley country park, it is Saturday after all but there’s enough path to go round, and joining the canal at Stocker Lock. Someone wants to stop at a cafe already. No surprise there then. There are plenty of coots, swans and a cygnet and I realise once again I have forgotten my duck food.

At home I have 15 kilograms of duck food. It seemed like a good deal at the time but this sack is enormous and gets in the way and nine times out of ten I forget to bring any. I estimate it will probably last me around 26 years, and I am getting very generous (avian flu put a stop to my duck feeding for quite a while).

From time to time I duck through the trees to take a look at the lakes to our right. It looks like these are private fishing lakes, I can see the odd shelter but apart from that they look deserted. On the far side in the distance I can see what looks like HS2 work, they have an ongoing problem here protecting the park and lakes from developers. Further along there is more HS2 encroachment up to the canal. There are a few kids fishing in the canal, the poor man’s version of angling; the pub at the lock is even called the Coy Carp.

We decide to eat our sandwiches by the lock, watching the boaters refilling with water and waiting to go up through. There are no boat trippers on this section, everyone looks hardy and weather worn. I’m beguiled by the different kinds of canal weed. I know nothing on the subject. There are tiny leaved ones I guess are duckweeds, but also big stretches of wavy underwater grass, some huge leaved things and some which look like tangles of string. No single one looks like it is taking over so I guess it is fantastic for fish in there. A fish-eye view of the world would be a great thing to see.

There’s also a vast reed bed, which is always a rich biodiverse habitat.

I find myself crunching, walking on a carpet of acorns, and then crab apples. The canal could probably sustain a few wild pigs if anyone cared to let them graze. There’s a huge weeping willow and the canal widens to a pool of working boats and a huge marina. At one point there is even a barge graveyard where old dredgers and coal barges come to die. It’s a very photogenic walk. There are still some dragonflies darting under the railway bridge.

The walk is nearing an end, we are going to cut through the Denham country park along the South Bucks Way. There’s also a wooden café here, and Shovell tells me he thinks I should have cake and coffee, and I don’t like to argue with him when his little legs are getting tired.

As we are leaving the canal lovely son spots some tiny mushrooms growing on a fallen tree over the towpath, and it’s an excellent spot. They are half a centimetre small, and hiding among the spongy moss. It’s a micro world: but to the tiniest of bugs the teeny toadstools are huge towering monsters and the bark is a landscape of impassable crevices with a jungle of moss.

We all spend some time trying to get a picture of them, teeny as they are but Shovell is getting hungry and reminds us all if we don’t get a move on the cakes will all be eaten and it will be a terrible end to the walk. Thankfully for all of us, they aren’t and it isn’t.

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Walk info

This walk was made by lovely son, it was based on a hike he had done with friends while carry heavy packs to camp nearby. Fortunately I only had to carry my camera and snacks. We began at Rickmansworth on the Metropolitan line and ended at Denham on the Chiltern line to Marylebone (or underground connections from Ruislip). It’s very easy walking on level ground and the GPX is here.

3 responses to “Chilterns: Grand Union Canal”

  1. Thanks for the tour, locks are always fascinating to me.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “I estimate it will probably last me around 26 years, and I am getting very generous” – lol. I am sure there will be a bunch of consistently happy ducks once you set a reminder for yourself to visit that sack before you go to visit them. Lovely walk.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ll be like the pied piper, only with ducks.

      Liked by 1 person

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