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Limehouse Basin: pockets of peace in the heart of Tower Hamlets

Discover overlooked corners of Limehouse Basin that offer rejuvenating retreats in a city that never sits still.

The rain has stopped, but its earthy fragrance still lingers in the air. It has a freshness to it and it feels as if it is heralding the start of something new.

I am on a quest to discover pockets of calm in a city that never sits still and I have reached my starting point, Limehouse Basin. 

Limehouse Basin sits at the junction of three “green corridors”. The River Thames, Regents Canal, and Limehouse Cut all meet here, each providing a green highway along which any part of the city can be reached by foot or by boat.

You need to decide what side of London you want to explore. You can head to Canary Wharf, the glittering glass heart of the city’s lux financial district, whose gleaming towers you can spy in the distance. 

You can follow the path alongside Regents Canal under the old brick canal bridge and make your way through three of London’s most lush and iconic parks, Mile End Park, Victoria Park, and Stratford Olympic Park.  

Both are great options, but the narrow black footbridge that will take you to Limehouse Marina is calling you.

Once on the other side of the bridge, you will have a good view of the horseshoe-shaped basin surrounded by mid-height apartment blocks, which have been designed to look like the boats below them. 

You look down and see row upon row of brightly coloured boats moored side by side, with equally colourful names such as Sapphire and The Spirit of Life.

Boats moored at Limehouse Basin
Boats moored at Limehouse Basin

The smoke emanating from a barge’s small chimney catches my eye and fills my nostrils and I wonder what life is like for those who live on London’s waters.

“Morning Ethel”, I heard one boat resident call his neighbour who was making her way along the jetty clutching heavy shopping bags. Returning back to the present moment I realised that I was surprised to hear this neighbourly greeting. 

In London, it is not unusual to not know the names of people living on the very same street as you. Yet, at the Marina, a close-knit water community had been formed. 

Once you have taken your fill of the water dwellers, you will notice that the Marina is squawking and splashing with wildlife.

Cormorants, gulls, common terns and grey herons are regular visitors to the Marina. The water itself is home to fish like bream, roach, carp and pike with eels being spotted occasionally.

Despite the basin’s plentiful fish stocks, this is not what draws the residents of the Marina, rather it is the proximity to Canary Wharf where the majority of them work. 

It was the middle of the day now and I was keen to discover what food offerings there were in the area. I turned my back on the watery amphitheatre of boats and climbed up a steep stretch of steps to find myself on Narrow Street.

Simply cross the road and you will find yourself facing Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay’s Bread Street Kitchen and Bar, which boasts panoramic views of the River Themes. At three o’clock in the afternoon, the open deck was still full of city workers on their extended lunch breaks.

A view of the River Thames from Narrow Street

Now turn left and walk a little further down the street and you will find The Grapes, one of the oldest pubs in London and where Charles Dickens was once a regular. Here you will find tempting pub grub that can be eaten at the bar or on the heated riverside deck.  

If you want to rub shoulders with the locals, make your way there on a Monday evening to enjoy the popular quiz night. 

If neither of these options is tickling your tastebuds, then retrace your footsteps and keep walking past Bread Street Kitchen and stop at Old Sun Wharf. Directly opposite is Mosaic square. 

In the centre of the square, you will find a large water fountain, decorated with mosaic tiles depicting blue and white waves.

Here, occupying units below residential blocks were a good choice of restaurants that felt like casual dining spots enjoyed more by locals. 

There was Holy Cow which offered Indian food, Tex Mex Cocina Mexicana, a Mexican restaurant and sports bar and La Figa Pizzeria.

I still didn’t feel as if I had found the right spot. I wasn’t looking for a quick bit,  but a place to rest and enjoy something delicious. So I decided to head to a place I was told was a welcoming haven to all.

To find this unique foodie experience continue through Mosaic square, cross the road and walk through St James Garden.

The garden is an inviting green space, lined with trees and benches with beds of blooming yellow daffodils.

On exiting the garden, you will see several signs directing you to The Yurt Café, a Social Enterprise run by The Royal Foundation of St Katharine. An organisation that has an almost 900 year history of taking care of people through worship, hospitality and service. 

I head inside the yurt and I am engulfed by warmth and light. The space is large and bright, the white canvas walls are supported by brown wooden beams, there are plenty of tables and cushioned chairs and patterned rugs are strewn across the floor.

You can head to the counter, where you will be greeted by a friendly member of staff. Everything on the menu is freshly prepared onsite or sourced from local bakeries. 

As you look around you will see the café attracts everyone from parents with babies in prams, to digital nomads tapping away on their keyboards. The yurt’s tranquil atmosphere is being enjoyed by all.   

Once you are fed and watered you prepare yourself to head back into London’s hubbub, knowing that whenever you need to recharge you have the hidden retreats of Limehouse to return to. 


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