Running tales from Ealing – Grand Union Canal (part 1)

Back at home! And out for a lovely autumn run along the canal. I am lucky enough to live near the Grand Union Canal which is a great place for running, walking or cycling. For some reason I tend to run towards Brentford and the river Thames. But today I found myself going the other way, towards Southall. It really wasn’t a conscious decision, my feet just went that way.

My feet took me up the flight of locks today! What a lovely sunny Sunday morning.

There is something about running along waterways that is very good for the mind. It’s very calming. Partly that’s the effect of water and the surrounding trees, and just being in natural surroundings. Partly it’s that there are no decisions to be made about where to go, no roads to cross, it’s just one long path stretching ahead until it’s time to turn around and come back again. However, it doesn’t work if you switch off your brain entirely. It’s an opportunity to engage in mindful running. This became increasingly important as the path got more and more muddy and uneven, with big puddles where pigeons were having a morning bath in the sunshine. I regretted not wearing my trail shoes as I sploshed through another puddle, and nearly slipped on the muddy edges of the next.

Hanwell locks, built in 1792, is a fairly dramatic flight of six locks taking the canal up (or down, depending on your point of view) 53 feet (16 m) in less than half a mile. You can tell it was busy back in the day because there are several lock cottages for the lock keepers along the flight. There’s a long brick wall along the towpath that is the boundary for what was once the Hanwell Asylum (aka Hanwell Pauper and Lunatic Asylum), and is now the home of St Bernard’s Hospital (a mental health hospital). Hanwell Asylum opened in 1831, and was run by pioneers in the humane treatment of mentally ill patients. It had extensive grounds, including market gardens. The patients worked outside a lot of the time as part of the (at the time) almost revolutionary, certainly progressive, treatment. Produce was used within the hospital/ asylum, and was also sent to the outside world. Some of it was sent out via the canal. There was a ‘hole’ in the wall opening onto the towpath, from where goods went in and out of the Asylum.

A little way past the flight of locks are the ‘Three Bridges’ – this is in fact one railway and two bridges.. one is the canal aqueduct, and over the canal is the road bridge – Windmill Lane. The structure was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the famous engineer.

Railway, canal and road bridge. I love this three dimensional intersection of transport links. Even more when I imagine the pedestrians and cyclists also in the mix.

Windmill Lane was named after a windmill that used to be near this spot. JMW Turner lived for a time in Brentford, not far from here, and the Tate has drawings/sketches and paintings of the lock and windmill.

A painting by JMW Turner, (probably) of the Windmill and Lock near Windmill Lane. The bridge is in the background.
(Link here)

Further along the path is Southall. Before the canal was built Southall was a farming village. Once the canal connected it to London and Birmingham the area rapidly became much more industrial. It is still quite industrial along this bit and into Hayes. However there are also some old cottages, and some quite nice new housing developments that look over the canal. The downside of this closeness to ‘civilisation’ is the abundance of litter. It is sad to see so many cans and bottles, plastic bags etc. I had an up close and personal experience of this rubbish dumping this morning when I managed to step on what I thought was a pile of leaves and got a nasty surprise when there was a loud squelch and a wet feeling on my lower leg…

Jeez!! A rotten tomato!! I guess it could have been worse…

One of the famous workshops/businesses set up in Victorian times in Southall (Havelock Road) was the pottery of the Martin brothers. Nowadays it is highly collectible and sells for a lot of money. It is not to everyone’s taste…

A typical Martinware bird container. (photo from Wikipedia)

A landmark visible from the canal is the big Sikh temple (also on Havelock Road…) with its golden dome.

Right in the middle of this picture is the gold dome of the Sikh temple. This boatyard in the foreground is one of several along the canal.
This is at Bulls Bridge, where the Paddington arm branches off towards Northolt, Greenford and onwards to Paddington. I turned back soon after this junction.

It was beautiful morning for a run. The trees are looking very autumnal now, and glow in the sunshine. Next week is my eleventh half marathon – along the Grand Union canal again, but a different bit. I’m looking forward to it as it is a part of the canal that I really don’t know very well, some of it not at all.

Mr and Mrs Swan with their teenage children

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