This was the scene that greeted me at North Greenwich Station yesterday as I alighted the bus from Eltham – a brave new world of golden tower blocks rising from Bugsby’s Marshes. Whale oil to property development, money magicked from mud. I’d just gazed across a moat at the Tudor Eltham Palace, and here new palaces stacked atop each other jutting out on a peninsula in the Thames. Eerily the website for the development has a headline that I’ve been using as the work-in-progress title for my new book.
The idea was Iain’s, noticing that I rarely ventured south of the river he suggested a walk through his manor, Beckenham, following the River Beck. In the course of deciding where to start we somehow settled on the mouth of the River Ravensbourne at Deptford Creek.
We worked our way South through morning Greenwich and over Deptford Bridge, through Brookmill Park to Lewisham, where we gave a nod to the River Quaggy. The passage through Ladywell took me back to the walk I did for This Other London in autumn 2012 to Herne Hill Velodrome that passed this way over Ladywell Fields. Where I peeled off that day over Blythe Hill, Iain and I carried on beside the waters of the Ravensbourne across Catford Bridge to the Linear Park where the Ravensbourne departs and we followed the Pool River to Bellingham.
In Cator Park, Beckenham (after a David Bowie detour) we find the confluence of the Pool and the Beck (and also see the Chaffinch Brook) and from this point, entering early evening and pushing on for 15 miles for the day, we are now fixed on the source of The Beck.
Families are out in force perambulating around the broad waters of Kelsey Park, it’s a good time to stop for ice cream. It gives us the legs to push on through outer suburbia bound for Shirley.
I won’t spoil the end of the video, but the moment of finding the source, not quite where we expected, was a moment of mild euphoria. 21-miles river walking through South London, two middle-aged men gazed with love and amazement at a trickle of water dribbling from a pipe in a narrow strip of woodland in Shirley.
The other week I joined the final leg of the Refugee Tales walk from Greenwich to Rotherhithe with Iain Sinclair. Over 70 walkers had set off from Canterbury 5 days previously bound for Westminster. Along the way we talked to David Herd from University of Kent about the walk’s aim to call from an end to indefinite immigration detention.
Part 2 of my walking video that started in the Woolwich Foot Tunnel. I pass the Thames Barrier ruminating on how tenuous London’s grip is on the solid ground we take for granted when the rising waters of the Thames could reclaim the City …. and one day will. Oddly, I find this a comforting thought.
Despite it being a sultry, cloudy day I could appreciate the narrative arc of re-crossing the Thames on the Air Line Cable Car from Greenwich to Royal Docks. If I was honest, I was a tad disappointed with the experience – when something arrives with such corporate fan fare you’re entitled to expect to have your mind blown. But as the cable car glides to its summit mid Thames look southwards to the highlands of the ridge of land running from Greenwich to Belvedere and from there are views that will truly twist your melon.
It’s taken 23 years but I’ve fallen in love with the DLR. I’ve used it twice in recent months and it has beguiled me with its charms. It makes me feel like like the early train passengers riding an iron horse.
|Entrance to Greenwich Foot Tunnel|
Yesterday my two urges of getting to water and riding the DLR coincided. The family were inert at home so I headed to Island Gardens. I was tempted straight away to head down into the Greenwich Foot Tunnel but had no interest in what was at the other end. I wanted to skirt the eastern periphery of the Isle of Dogs.
The memorial at Dudgeon’s Wharf is a reminder of life in Docklands before the biggest threat to the area was trouble in the money markets or a rise in the price of Bolly. In July 1965 six people, including five firefighters, were killed in an explosion at a chemical storage facility here.
I struggle to find much to say about Docklands, it already feels overly mediated. It is also puzzlingly paradoxical. There are fragments and echoes of its past like sections of wharfs and jetties, decommissioned cranes. But on the other hand it is utterly removed from the rest of the city – a private estate, a samizdat Singapore.
I always feel like an intruder in Docklands, unwelcome and illicit. I’m long-haired, bearded, wearing shorts and sandals topped off with a baseball cap – that probably breaks at least two recently imposed local by-laws.
|Lady Daphne and the Greenwich Uplands|
It’s the Thames Festival this weekend – maybe that’s where the urge to head for the water originated. I caught a glimpse of the Lady Daphne chugging her way eastwards after a day of ferrying passengers as part of the festivities.
|signwriting worthy of Bob and Roberta Smith|
The opposite shore in Greenwich still seems to be clinging onto some vestige of its industrial functions. But the glass and steel towers are on their way to keep the Millennium Dome company.
I wound up at East India Dock, unable to finish my walk with the statutory pint. So it was back on the DLR and into the Leyton Technical pop-up pub in old Leyton Town Hall for a fantastic pint of Windsor and Eton Ale – this could well be the best thing to come out of the Olympics.