Monday, 2 February 2015

Paddington Trails - Paddington Mini Trail

Paddington at Paddington
After the hurly burly of dodging Christmas shoppers on the last Paddington Trail I was pleased to head out west for another trail in a rather quieter part of London.  Being a Paddington Trail it would have been rather remiss of me not to include Paddington Station itself and so that is where I headed.  Paddington is of course the station that the bear is named after and where he first met the Brown family.  This was one of the rather more comical scenes in the recent film, which the trail is designed to promote.  The bear at the station was a traditional looking one, complete with duffle coat and case full of (one assumes) marmalade sandwiches.  He even looked like he had just come off the train!

Paddington was strangely quiet during this lunchtime period – I assume for most people they had already been or gone?  Being Christmas week though I thought I would see more festive travellers.  I set off in search of the next bear, which was in nearby Norfolk Square.  This was a very pleasant square of houses, fairly resonant of the sort of housing you would expect in the more well appointed areas of London.  I imagine its proximity to Paddington Station and the A40 Westway makes this a pretty desirable location.  The gardens in the middle looked well cared for and that is where I found the Paddington.

Come Rain or Come Shine
My next mission was to find the outlying bus on the earlier bus trail.  I’m not sure why the bus was included way out here, nearly five miles from the next nearest one but I suspected that it was because it was housed outside a transport office and the organisers of the bus tour wanted one to look at themselves.  It was boldly painted and I realised that it was painted by Thomas Dowdeswell – we have seen his painted sculptures before on the Gromit trail and the Books About Town trail.  Having ticked that off my list I headed back up the Edgware Road along the dead straight road that I can remember using a lot for holidays as a child.  Those were the days before the M25 when going through London to anywhere to the north was almost mandatory.  Once we got on to the Edgware Road (the old A5) it seemed as if we had completed the hardest part of the journey as traffic tended to ease as we headed out of the city.  Now it seems busier than ever – M25 or no M25!

Paddington Basin
Just before reaching the Edgware Road tube station I dived down a side road and found myself in the rather surreal world of Paddington Canal Basin.  I say surreal because I imagine that this was once a thriving centre of commerce, being a major unloading point for narrowboats heading south from Birmingham along the Grand Union Canal.  Now it has a different kind of commerce there – high rise buildings with retail units on the ground floor and plenty of computer and hi tech companies all houses in the offices around.  The flats that were part of the complex looked well appointed but I couldn’t help thinking that they all looked rather hotel like from my vantage point.  Perhaps many of them are merely crash pads for well heeled city workers while their main home is elsewhere?

Little Blue Bear
The remaining part of my walk was around the canal basin and the first mile or so along the Grand Union canal.  This is an area that has obviously had a good deal of inward investment in recent years and I imagine the organisers of the Paddington Trails were encouraged to route the trail through here to showcase the area.  Two of the Paddington mascots that particularly caught my eye were a blue one that was covered in the kind of fuzzy plastic that you find in presentation boxes and one that was in a brick pattern.  The blue one was gaining a lot of attention as it was impossible to pass by without giving it a little stroke.  The feel of it was remarkably soft considering that the little fellow had been outside in all elements for a number of weeks by this point.  I assume the brick one is a homage to the brick industry for which London was once so famous…

The Mayor of Paddington
I crossed the canal here via a very eye-catching looking bridge and wandered past the hospital on the other side, which looked rather at odds with all the modern buildings all around it.  Just the other side of the wall was the outer platforms of Paddington station and as I passed by the distinctive roar of an InterCity 125 (are they still called that?) started up as an express headed out towards South Wales or Devon/ Cornwall.  I wondered how long these old trains would be kept going for – they are now among the oldest still running on the network even though they are much loved.

The next Paddington on the trail stood outside Paddington underground station.  A tube station directly accessed from a canal towpath seemed a little strange but I suppose in years gone by this was pretty useful.  Most of the people coming out now were headed for the nearby small businesses and the hospital clinic buildings. Anyhow this was perhaps the most regal Paddington on the trail for he was dressed as the Mayor!  

Standing Man and Walking Man
I passed under a rather austere looking road bridge and took a sharp turn to the left along a path that initially looked as if it were a dead end but soon turned right to take a route behind some shops.  This then opened out into quite a large amphitheatre created in the courtyard of the high rise buildings all around.  As a piece of open space it was very effective.  I imagine during the warmer months this can be used for all manner of different events?  The Paddington housed here was very fittingly in the middle of the stage at the bottom of the bowl of seating.

Approaching Little Venice
I headed back to the canalside and passed by a rather strange looking sculpture of two men looking like they were playing a game.  They are called Standing Man and Walking Man. Their lifelike features were a little unnerving at first.  The path headed under the concrete monstrosity of Westway, part of what was once an ambitious plan for a ring motorway around the centre of London (a kind of inner city M25).  Only fragments were built and in the usual British style the whole project (which was badly conceived due to how much destruction it would have caused) was shelved immediately following the oil crisis.  The road is not now even a motorway, having been declassified in the early 2000s.  Passing underneath though you wouldn’t know for the deafening roar suggests that traffic levels haven’t reduced following its change of status.

Love Paddington
Life on the canal could not be more different from the high speed of the road network.  Most of the boats moored here were deserted and those that were populated seemed to have crews that were happy to stay put and enjoy their wood burning stoves on board.  One or two had even opened up the boats for serving teas and trinkets for the few tourists enough to be wandering about on such a cold day.

Little Venice
The best part of the walk was saved until last.  Only one more Paddington left and it was at the far side of the triangular canal junction with the city arm of the Grand Union canal (known for the section that runs through London Zoo).  I had to walk around all three sides of the triangle to complete the route and this was a delightful section, even on what was rapidly becoming quite a gloomy day after the sunshine of the morning.  All around were lots of Victorian houses, attracted I imagine by the proximity of the railway and canal system.  Many of the canal boats in this part of the canal basin look semi-permanently moored and many were dressed up for Christmas.  The Paddington at the far end of the canal basin was a very fetching silver colour – rather fitting for a precious area of London I had never previously visited.

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