Despite living in Islington for more than five years, there are parts of the borough that I haven’t yet explored, particularly the areas east of Holloway Road – Canonbury and Highbury. Considering that these are some of the most interesting streets in the borough I’m not sure why it has taken so long. But with an afternoon to spare, I thought I would aim for the New River Walk, that cuts through the heart of Canonbury.
The old joke about the New River is that it is neither new nor a river. It is actually an aqueduct, constructed in the early 17th century to bring water from Hertfordshire to London.
Originally the New River terminated at the New River Head reservoir in Clerkenwell. Today most of the water for London’s water supply is drawn off at Stoke Newington. However, the route between Stoke Newington and Islington has been preserved as a linear park called the New River Walk and there still remain stretches of water, albeit shallow and fairly stagnant.
The most interesting part of the New River Walk is the stretch through Canonbury, where it meanders gently through quiet streets of elegant Georgian and Victorian villas. Along the river the banks have been planted with willows, poplars and stands of bamboo. Resident wildlife includes moorhens, coots and mallards, and of course the ubiquitous grey squirrels.
One interesting survivor is a circular brick watchman’s hut. Apparently there were originally several of these along the New River, where watchmen were stationed to ensure that the water supply was kept clean and clear.
Despite the gloomy weather and failing light I took a few photos of the walk, plus other buildings in Canonbury and Highbury, ending at the very modern Emirates Stadium, home of Arsenal F.C.