John Betjemin once famously urged friendly bombs to target Slough, a rather unlovely town in the mostly lovely county of Berkshire. The town might not be anything to shout about but the well maintained canal towpath is a surprisingly pleasant stroll with long straight sections and a haven for all manner of aquatic fauna and flora.
Opened in 1882 and departing the Grand Union from Turn Around Bridge at Cowley Peachey, the canal's purpose was to satisfy London's demand for bricks, sand and gravel. After this trade declined, rubbish came from the opposite direction and was used as landfill for the exhausted quarries. By the 1960s the local council wanted to fill in a portion of the canal as part of a road scheme but local enthusiasts formed the Slough Canal Group and by 1975 it had been saved and subsequently made navigable again.
Initially the towpath walker passes the Packet Boat Marina on the other side of the cut. A nearby BW boat, the 'Limehouse' has been busy collecting dumped supermaket trollies (there's a large Tesco at Bull's Bridge) and bicycles. Interestingly the first bridge is no.0 and then, as you walk through
the Colne Valley Regional Park, created out of the remnants of the gravel and clay extraction industries, three rivers are crossed in fairly quick succession: the Frays River, River Colne and Colne Brook. Guarded by pill boxes, you can visualise Corporal Jones fending off the hun from these hi-tech defensive positions.
Except for the odd empty can of lager, the amount of litter is minimal, due in no small measure to volunteer litter pickers, and the towpath verge newly cut. Even the bridge under the M25 has been scrubbed clean of graffiti. The water is filled with reeds and lilies and the banks shrouded with willow, chestnut and hawthorn, with brambles lining the path.
Having already passed a noisy, dirty re-cycling plant backing onto the towpath, you know that there is an unattractive world lurking beyond the canal as you go through the Iver Cutting. But for the most part you can't see it. However the towpath deviates from the canal at bridge 4 and you climb steps to view the surrounding landscape and indeed it is not pretty. Returning to the canal on which there is little or no traffic, residential boats of many shapes, sizes, ages and repair are moored 2/3 abreast near High Line Yachting and stretch all the way to bridge 7.
Here someone has dumped a Sainsburys bagful of empties and a copy of The Sun - clearly not noticing the domestic re-cycling centre directly opposite.
Fields now open up on the opposite bank and a thoughtful sign warns any unsuspecting person who falls into the canal that they'll be in deep water. On the towpath side it is David Brent heaven with large swaths of modern soulless business units. A new housing estate follows and then, after a winding hole, Bloom Park (home to the annual Slough Canal Festival) provides a pleasant green space before neat houses begin to encroach.
At bridge 11 there's an information board explaining that the 'rats' you've seen running about are really water voles. It doesn't take too much patience to watch them emerging from the water and then diving back in when they see you. The mural on the bridge confirms that they are voles but I need a bit more convincing.
The Uxbridge Road Gas Works is a spaghetti mess of steel tanks and steaming silver clad pipes and further along factories and warehouses take over. Look to the right just past Wexham Road bridge and you'll see the gleaming white Slough Islamic Primary School appearing imposingly above the tree tops.
The great thing is that, even though you are near the centre of Slough, all you hear at this point are birds tweeting and leaves rustling while watching voles scampering and dragonflies fluttering. However after just under 5 miles the arm terminates at the decidedly unwelcoming Sough Basin
which is just a winding hole next to a roofing supplies company occupying Stoke Wharf.
Hover over photographs for extra information
Slough Basin, not exactly a tourist trap
A mural featuring unconvincing water voles
Residential boats moored between bridges 6 and 7
A wartime pill box still ready for action
Limehouse with a full load of trolleys and bicycles
The entry to the Packet Boat Marina at Cowley Peachey