Posts Tagged ‘stratford’
Amid the row over Greenwich Council’s dumb Bridge The Gap campaign, a little opportunity to improve cross-river links is looking set to be squandered. Ever one to leap on board a passing bandwagon, this website is today launching an “all-out” campaign to extend the 108 bus to the Olympic Park.
You what? I’ll explain. Transport for London’s launched a consultation on which buses should run into the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park when people start moving in later this year. It suggests seven services, including a night bus, should run into the park.
All well and good. But one’s missing. Why can’t we have a bus from south of the river to the Olympic Stadium?
The 108 is one of London’s oldest bus routes – it’ll celebrate its centenary in March next year. In 1930, it schlepped all the way from Clapton to Crystal Palace, charging a shilling if you were mad enough to want to ride all the way, but there was never long to wait – double-decker buses ran every three and a half minutes through the Blackwall Tunnel back in those days.
The route’s shrunk, grown, shrunk again, gone 24-hours (a lifesaver) and been tweaked since – the double deckers vanished in the late 1960s, but the Stratford to Lewisham service has been the sole bus service through the tunnel for decades. For many years, it was the only public transport link across the Thames east of Rotherhithe. Back then, it actually wasn’t a bad service, if the tunnel was behaving itself – in the mid-90s, when I lived in Greenwich and went to college in Clerkenwell, it only took 20 minutes or so to get me to Bromley-by-Bow station so I could get a Tube to Farringdon; making it pretty much the equal of taking the train.
But while other transport links have got better, the poor old 108′s been left in the shadows – an enforced diversion around the Millennium Dome building site months before North Greenwich station opened ruined it as a commuting route to anywhere but North Greenwich, but despite the idiotic transport arrangements around the Dome, it still carries healthy numbers through the tunnel each day. Remember, it’s a damn sight cheaper than the Tube.
I’ve heard loads of horror stories of endless waits for people in Blackheath who depend on it for travel to North Greenwich – they desperately need extra buses, but instead those get thrown into the schedule late at night for chucking out time at the O2. It’s time for someone with felt pens and a bus map to get to work and rearrange matters – but so far, there’s no sign of progress.
But there’s one change to the 108 that could gives us a real – yes – Olympic legacy, and might also improve the service. Tweaking the end point so it ran into the Olympic Park, rather than Stratford bus station, would still enable it to serve Westfield and the massive transport interchange there; but would also get it away from the awful traffic in Stratford, bring a 24-hour bus service from south of the river to the Olympic Park, and help us get to and from events there.
It’s a change that’d cost very little, but would make the regenerated Olympic Park feel a bit closer to us in an area that’s not been left with many physical reminders of the Olympics (especially once the mud goes).
Obviously, I’ll now be arranging a photoshoot with various pub landlords, kebab house magnates and the Stratford Westfield Massage Angels as part of my “all out” campaign to bridge this gap, but in the meantime, if you want to suggest it to TfL, head to its consultation page – it closes on 22 February.
I was lucky enough to get to see a rehearsal for Friday’s Olympics opening ceremony last night. All I can say is… it’s going to be a show this city and this country can be proud of. Danny Boyle and his army of volunteers have done a fine job.
The Olympic Stadium’s incredible and the park is spectacular, although the Orbit sculpture doesn’t look any better close up. Watch out for exorbitant food and drink prices and long queues, but the motif of London 2012 may just be the good-humoured members of the military – far better ambassadors for our country than any outsourced security jokers could ever hope to be.
Also at the ceremony rehearsal were a number of Greenwich councillors – the same ones who are cutting their meeting short tonight and avoiding questions because “of the Olympics”. They were offered tickets as a “reward”, I’m told.
Heading home was a bit of a trauma, though – the Central Line being down provided an early test for London’s capability to deal with big crowds and transport troubles. Crowds were diverted towards West Ham station to pick up the District line or rail services to Fenchurch Street, but that didn’t stop a big bottleneck building up inside Westfield, on the way to Stratford station.
But I turned round, walked back through the shopping centre, and got a seat straight away on the Docklands Light Railway from Stratford International instead. (Things weren’t much fun for those waiting for the high-speed trains to St Pancras and Kent, mind.)
It dawned on me that the cable car could be a useful way to avoid he Jubilee Line crowds… except that it shut two hours earlier at 9pm (11pm during the Olympics). In the end, the Jubilee Line from Canning Town wasn’t too bad.
So, that’s your first Olympic travel pro-tip – if you’re travelling from the Olympic Park, use the DLR from Stratford International.
Which got me thinking – have you got any similar pro-tips for getting around during the Games? Obviously we face massive disruption by road and rail, but do you have any ideas for ways around it? It’s worth sharing them, particularly as the Get Ahead of the Games campaign has been lamentable, to say the least.
One thing that’s worth noting is that North Greenwich Tube isn’t due to be too busy during morning rush hours, although progress may be slow later in the day. Buses up there can be awful, though – walking will at least guarantee a stress-free trip there, if you live close enough. It’s a useful place to cycle to, as well.
It goes against TfL advice, but with patience, it may well be your best bet. And it’s not as if we’ve been left with any other option, except for ones which charge extra like the river boats or cable car.
Avoiding London Bridge station (particularly next Monday) is also a good idea, although to be honest it’s one to avoid at the best of times anyway… as for other train disruption, local buses are taking Southeastern train tickets to compensate for the loss of services around Deptford, Greenwich and Woolwich.
New Cross-bound trains on London Overground tend to be quieter than those heading to New Cross Gate, providing a decent alternative route to west Greenwich and Deptford, or to 53 and 177 buses, while it’s surprisingly quick to get a 380 bus between Lewisham station and Blackheath or Charlton – and the walk’s not bad, either.
Plus there’s trains from Victoria to Lewisham, Blackheath and Kidbrooke if you find traditional routes too much of a squeeze.
Those are all the ones I can think of. If you have a useful tip to share, feel free…
(There’s a similar thread over on Brockley Central, too.)
The doors fling open today on Stratford City’s newest attraction, a huge casino within the shiny shopping centre next to the Olympic Park. Aspers Stratford City will be the UK’s biggest, with 40 gaming tables, a 150-seat poker room, 150 slot machines and 92 electronic gaming terminals. Here’s a surprise – the Evening Standard fawning over the rich man who owns it.
If Greenwich Council and one of the world’s richest businessmen had their way, though, all this – and more – would already be up and running inside the Dome. A casino was a central part of the business plan for what became the O2 – and the failure of that plan is still being felt nearly five years on.
Here’s the entrance to the O2 arena, seen last week during the ATP tennis finals. The big “Sky Backstage” hoarding marks the space where the casino would have been. The plan was to build a “regional casino” (or “super casino”) here, which could play host to up to 1,250 slot machines. The casino plans were part of the Tony Blair government’s liberalisation of gambling laws. Originally, eight were to have been built nationwide, but this was whittled down to just the one.
Local councils were invited to bid to play host to super casinos, and Greenwich was among eight shortlisted. The only other London bidder, Brent Council, had Wembley Stadium in mind, but pulled out at the final stage. But Newham Council was bidding for something smaller – a “large casino”, of up to 150 slot machines.
Greenwich’s bid was controversial and deeply divisive – a foretaste of the rows to come over the Olympics in Greenwich Park. A campaign group, South East London Against The Casino, was formed, claiming three-quarters of locals were against and it would bring crime and local youngsters into gambling. A report commissioned by PriceWaterhouse Coopers for the council – which it initially refused to make public – said “close proximity to casinos increases the prevalence of problem gambling”.
It wasn’t just Greenwich Council that wanted the super-casino, though. Then-mayor Ken Livingstone, the Greenwich Society and the local chamber of commerce, were all for it, claiming it would help regenerate the area. It had that look of a “done deal” that local cynics have grown used to – not least when it emerged deputy prime minister John Prescott had stayed at the Colorado ranch of Philip Anschutz, the billionaire behind Dome owners AEG. Another scandal erupted when AEG were caught out claiming local religious groups were behind the casino – they most certainly weren’t.
With claims that the council and AEG – never mind senior national politicians – had far too close a relationship, the whole thing was causing an unholy stink. The much-missed Greenwich Watch’s archive of stories – including its exclusive on the “faked” support from local churches – on it is well worth reading.
But the bid continued, and by January 2007, it was widely believed the casino would go to either Greenwich or Blackpool. Neither got it – the bid was won by Manchester, which planned to build it at Eastlands, home of Manchester City’s stadium. It was never built, though – Gordon Brown cancelled the scheme after becoming prime minister.
Over the water, things were more successful. Newham won its bid for a “large casino”, and that’s the same one that opens today at Stratford City, a short hop on the Tube from North Greenwich.
So, five years on, what are we left with? That big gap inside the O2 and a gaming college at The Valley are the legacy of Greenwich’s little flutter on having a casino. There was a section buried deep in the council’s website devoted to Freedom of Information requests about the scheme and the associated PwC report, although that vanished in the recent revamp of the site.
The failure still echoes around the O2, though. Before 2007, AEG planned two hotels for the Dome site, with dreams of turning the tip of the Peninsula into what seemed like a mini-Las Vegas. At the end of 2011, work has yet to begin on the one hotel given planning permission earlier this year.
While the O2 arena itself has been an undoubted success, the “entertainment avenue” next to it hasn’t been such a hot destination. Film premieres on the windy peninsula have been few and far between. Years of Jubilee Line disruptions have dented its appeal to the rest of London. Despite being on a clutch of bus routes, this collection of suburban chain bars and eateries under a mucky roof remains difficult to reach from the suburbs without a car. It’s recently gained a private members’ club but apart from after-show parties, why on earth would anyone want to join an exclusive venue there?
To be fair, it is busy at weekends, but has the unwanted prize of the highest concentration of alcohol-related crime in Greenwich borough.
It all feels a bit like a highly-fortified Bluewater but without the shops. But AEG is now planning to fix that – by turning the casino space into a shopping centre. Early papers submitted to Greenwich planners propose a “retail outlet village” inside the O2, stretching around the southern side of the Dome. Could it work as a shopping centre? Well, the Westfield Stratford City horse has bolted, and Canary Wharf’s malls have steadily built up over the years. But some shops would provide a reason to linger in the Dome, and maybe get a bite to eat too. Full details will no doubt hit the Greenwich planning desk soon.
But until the rest of the peninsula is built up – and that’s more than a decade off yet – it’s unlikely a shopping centre will bring the windfall for AEG – and possibly further investment in the area – that a casino could have done. Then again, considering the amount of alcohol-related crime there, perhaps we dodged a bullet by not having a mini-Vegas by the Blackwall Tunnel. Whatever your view, the O2 casino is one of the great local “what ifs” of our time.
Lots of people out and about yesterday indulging their inner geek on the Docklands Light Railway’s long-awaited new extension. Tourists hunting for Shakespeare at Stratford can now be joined by those searching for the Beatles at Abbey Road in getting completely lost in the back streets of West Ham.
I’d love Newham Council to put a zebra crossing outside Abbey Road station.
Most of it isn’t strictly a new line – it’s the old North London Line from Canning Town to Stratford with a couple of new stations added and an old one brought back to life. The new bit is the real reason why it’s here, though. Turn left out of the station and the Olympic athletes’ village is under construction. Turn right, and there’s Westfield Stratford City, which opens on 13 September.
So, with a direct line from Woolwich Arsenal to the new shopping centre, how is Transport for London aiming to take pressure off the Blackwall Tunnel and encouraging shoppers to take the DLR across the Thames to Stratford City?
By restricting the direct Woolwich-Stratford service to rush hour, unfortunately. Weekends and during the rest of the day, the service runs to and from Beckton, serving the University of East London and ExCel, which is where DLR thinks the trains are needed.
I can’t help thinking the lack of an all-day service on both branches, particularly from Woolwich, is going to be proved a mistake – there’s going to be a lot of demand for Westfield Stratford City, and a lot of people who won’t fancy dragging bags up and down the grim interchange at Canning Town. Plus experience in Shepherds Bush shows that a Westfield means traffic gridlock – so why not get people to take the train from day one?
Nobody’s reading the internet today because it’s so nice outside, but in case you’re stuck inside, I did a thing for Londonist about being a new cyclist, and how it doesn’t have to be about dicing with death on A-roads. It can be if you want it to be, but I like a quiet life.
Above is my “new” bike – I actually bought it in January, and it’s served me very well so far. I rode it home from Tottenham the other day, down through Walthamstow and Hackney Marshes and through the Olympic Park. With the Greenwich Foot Tunnel refurbishment dragging on, the new lifts can’t come soon enough, it’s a tight squeeze on the stairs now the tourist season has arrived…
A date’s finally been set for the long-awaited boost in the Docklands Light Railway service from Woolwich Arsenal – with the opening of the network’s new branch to Stratford International now due on 24 February.
London City Airport chief executive Richard Gooding let slip the date in an interview with the Travelmole website. The move should see the already-packed two-year-old service from Woolwich Arsenal to Bank joined by trains to Canning Town, Star Lane, West Ham, Abbey Road, Stratford High Street, Stratford and Stratford International, using the old North London Line route.
This won’t mean more direct trains to the City, but it’ll mean more opportunities to change to Jubilee Line, Central Line and mainline trains to central London and beyond, as well as the high-speed services to Kent from Stratford International and other rail routes to Essex and Hertfordshire.
(Thanks to @markvauxhall for the tip-off.)
When I twigged the other week that the Olympic Stadium can now be seen clearly from Greenwich Park, I almost squealed with delight. It’s not immediately obvious, but if you look over to the right hand side, there it is, among all the other 2012 building sites. Seeing the giant thing from the A11 is one thing, but clocking it on your own doorstep is something else.
But that fine view’s going to be disfigured by something called the ArcelorMittal Orbit.
As ugly as its stupid sponsored name, this thing’s going to leer over the Olympic Park and get in the way of the fine views from this side of the river. I can’t help thinking of the rows two decades ago when Canary Wharf got approval and campaigners said it’d disfigure the Greenwich skyline. This isn’t much better.
Some £16m of the £19.1m cost will come from said sponsors (the steel magnates, not the chewing gum) – the other £3m comes from us. Great.
“Designed by artist Anish Kapoor and structural engineer Cecil Balmond, the 115 metre-tall red steel tower will dominate the east London landscape and become, it is hoped, a permanent visitor attraction for generations to come.” (more)
Maybe… maybe I’ll be wrong and in two years it’ll look awesome. But I doubt it. Red will make it look rusty. You can see enough steel on the skyline most days with all the cranes around – it’ll just get lost among construction sites. And it’s horrible curved shape makes it look a bit like a curled-up turd propped up with a stick. Or is it the mayor’s colon? What the bleedin’ heck is Boris thinking?
“Some may choose to think of it as a Colossus of Stratford, some eyes may detect a giant treble clef, a helter-skelter, a supersized mutant trombone. Some may even see the world’s biggest ever representation of a shisha pipe and call it the Hubble Bubble. But I know it is the ArcelorMittal Orbit and it represents the dynamism of a city coming out of recession, the embodiment of the cross-fertilisation of cultures and styles that makes London the world capital of arts and culture.”
Err…. no, I’ll stick with the colon, actually. But the last time someone tried to impose a poor man’s Eiffel Tower on London, it didn’t work – the cautionary tale of Watkin’s Folly, an attempt by railway magnate Edward Watkin to outdo the French and sell a few more tickets on the Metropolitan Line. Wembley Stadium now sits on the site. And finding a use for the Olympic Stadium itself is going to be fraught enough without worrying whether Boris’s Colon will still be bringing in the punters come 2013.
And is it me, or would this thing get slated if it was proposed for west London? But now it’s scheduled for Stratford, the east London proles will just have to learn to love it because it’ll be somehow “good” for them.
These things can hang around to haunt you too. As a man born in New York, Boris Johnson should also be familiar with one of the crumbling remnants of the 1964 World’s Fair at Flushing Meadows – the New York State Pavillion, barely touched for 46 years after the global expo shut its doors. If London’s 2012 adventure goes awry, will we want a bloody great big reminder of it on the skyline? I doubt it.
While I’m largely behind our 2012 adventure, seeing a photo of a grinning Boris with Tessa Jowell and a model of this thing made me wonder – do any of us get the chance to say if we want to look at this thing every day for the rest of our lives in south-east or east London? Boris’s Colon could well be the most glaring example yet of what happens when Olympic planners get to ride roughshod over what real communities think.
Unless, of course, you like it…
And now, the end is near… well, not all that near, as it happened. There were still a good 10 miles to go on the Capital Ring as a I hopped off the 108 at Stratford High Street. All around, the changes to E15 as 2012 approaches were apparent, as builders worked on creating approaches to the Olympic Park and developers continued making the place look unrecognisable from what it was a decade ago. From here, the walkway follows the Greenway for a couple of miles – quite literally, walking on top of a sewer. Part of Joseph Bazalgette‘s Victorian scheme to rid London of pongs and disease, the Northern Outfall Sewer runs from Hackney Wick to Beckton. The Capital Ring sticks with it for most of the way.
It’s not thrilling stuff, to be fair. The first section is surrounded by Olympic Park works, as work takes place to upgrade the walkway towards West Ham station in time for 2012. It passes the ornate former Abbey Mills Pumping Station – another part of Bazalgette’s grand plan. A clear view down to the Millennium Dome and Canary Wharf reminds you which side of London you’re in. Passing over the District Line and London, Tilbury and Southend rail line, by a park and a cemetery, the pathway becomes more peaceful. Neighbourhood cats prowl through the bushes, while all around, the Plaistow rooftops stretch out.
Finally, it’s off the Greenway, through some residential streets, over the A13, and into Beckton District Park, covered in autumn leaves. I’d expected a grim, modern, featureless open space, but in most parts it’s actually anything but that. The park’s older than it looks – dating back to 1903, a couple of decades after the creation of Beckton, named after the governor of the Gas Light and Coke Company, Simon Adams Beck, whose works dominated this area for decades. The park alternates between little bits of woodland, grassy mounds and formal gardens like the walk featuring examples of trees from aroud the world. The Capital Ring takes a twisting route through the park, with Tate & Lyle’s huge Silvertown plant coming into view.
But it’s the great roars which start to dominate again, from the dual carriageway running north of the Royal Docks, and from London City Airport, whose planes make this walk a noisy one. The business customers who use the flights from here don’t have to come home to the housing estates which are dotted around Beckton.
The Capital Ring passes by New Beckton Park – padlocked for reasons best known to Newham Council – through some housing, and to Cyprus Docklands Light Railway station. Built in 1881, the Cyprus estate was named after Britain’s capture of the Mediterranean island. Bit it’s more a more recent building project that snatches the attention if you take a short diversion through the DLR station – the student accommodation at the University of East London’s Docklands campus, a series of cylindrical buildings which face the Royal Albert Dock. They also overlook London City Airport’s runway – perfect for plane-spotters, but I hope those student halls have good soundproofing.
Then it’s the grimmest part of the walk yet – past a boarded-up pub, over a nightmare-to-cross roundabout, just at the point where the Capital Ring signs dry up. Thanks, Newham. The map in my 2001 guide to the walk indicated a walk towards the river, but here the route appears to cross the dramatic Sir Steve Redgrave Bridge over the Royal Albert Dock, past King George V Dock, past the old work site for the DLR’s extension to Woolwich, ending up in a dull housing development at Gallions Point – stubbornly titled Galleons Point. Here, though, the path finally reaches the river, with a view across to Thamesmead and Woolwich, the water lapping up on a grassy bank below.
The path continues in front of some flats, a couple of signs pointing out that this is private property and only Galleons Point residents are allowed on the adjacent grass. Nice. You have to press a button on a gate to be allowed out. From here, it’s along a narrow, dilapadated riverside park to Royal Victoria Gardens. Opened in 1851 as Woolwich Pleasure Gardens, its fairgrounds were initially popular, but it later fell into disrepair and became a haunt for prostitutes. It reopened in 1890 under its current name, but suffered from wartime damage and today looks, like most of North Woolwich, like it’s seen better days. This small area had been part of Kent since the Norman Conquest, and was part of the old borough of Woolwich until 1965, when it became part of Newham. As far as I know, no trace of it being run from south of the river remains nowadays.
North Woolwich was always run-down, but it looks more down-at-heel than ever now, with Pier Road eerily quiet. Its pride and joy, the old station museum, a terrific but underpromoted little gem, was opened by the Queen Mother in 1984, but quietly shut its doors in January 2009. It’s now boarded up and vandalised. This huge building was the first North Woolwich railway station – the second, which replaced it in the late 1970s, also lies derelict and boarded up next door; superseded in 2006 by the Docklands Light Railway extension to nearby King George V and across to Woolwich. A heritage railway group had wanted to take on the old stations and the rusting remains of this leg of the North London Line – part of which is earmarked for eventual reuse as part of Crossrail – but their plans appear to have come to nothing.
Perhaps the DLR’s extension to Woolwich, which opened in January, had contributed to North Woolwich looking like a ghost town – plenty of people had always travelled from south of the river to use the North London Line, and later the DLR. Now they can just travel direct without walking down these streets. After all, the railway had always been an important part of North Woolwich’s history. It first opened here in 1847, long before the arrival of the docks, with a ferry service to “South Woolwich”, which didn’t get its own trains for another couple of years. The ferry to the south bank was killed off by the Woolwich Free Ferry, but the north pier stayed in use for excursions until World War II. Its remains are still there, opposite the old station.
After all this thought – and stopping to chat to a man who was waiting to photograph a bus – it was down into the Woolwich Foot Tunnel. The lifts were out of service, and chicanes have been placed inside the tunnel by Greenwich Council in a vain, aggravating attempt to deter cyclists from riding through the long, damp passageway. At Woolwich itself – the official start/end of the Capital Ring – the path runs through the car park of an ambulance station, through the traffic jam at the Woolwich Ferry (which has been operating a one boat service for some time), and then onto the Thames Path, past the smart flats at Mast Quay – built on stilts in case of flooding – and alongside Woolwich Dockyard Estate, where the path looked sad and neglected. The long-closed aquatic centre still looked as gloomy as ever.
The riverside path stops abruptly short of the Thames Barrier, denying Capital Ring users the chance to see London’s best-known flood defence close up. Instead, it’s through isolated housing at King Henry’s Wharf – a housing development built in anticipation of the Greenwich Waterfront Transit, axed by Boris earlier this year – and past some industrial units, and into Charlton. Where it started to rain. I’d gone 77 dry miles on the Capital Ring. The final one wouldn’t be so lucky.
But Maryon Park and Maryon Wilson Park – the former best-known for its starring role in Blow-Up, the latter much loved for its wonderful childrens’ zoo – seemed at their best in the gloomy conditions. Once part of a highwaymens’ hideout called Hanging Wood, both parks feature steep hills and huge trees. Clambering up a sharp incline in Maryon Park, leaves flying down from the trees, I was pleased I’d saved one of the Capital Ring’s best-kept secrets until last. The stands at The Valley come into view at Maryon Wilson Park, where – for the final time – I gazed back at the London Eye and the City. It’d been a long way…
Finally, it was out of Maryon Wilson Park, across the road, and into Charlton Park, where the football pitches and semis on Canberra Road came into view again.
A squirrel formed the welcoming committee as I reached the back of Charlton House, turned around to see if anyone was looking, and touched the sign post to mark the completion of my walk. Eleven separate walks and 78 miles later, my Capital Ring journey was all over. Ahead of me stretched the path back around to Shooters Hill, Eltham, Grove Park, Beckenham, Streatham, Wimbledon, Richmond, Isleworth… and the rest. Behind me stretched another path. With aching feet and fading light, it was time to go home.
One of the most striking things about living in London is that it is always changing, often before our eyes. Tourists may come to visit ye olde London town, but the city we know is always in a permanent state of flux. New buildings go up, old ones are torn down. People settle down, people move on. Not all change is good, and some change is bewildering. But one of the few things that stays the same in London is its constant reinvention. The end of my penultimate Capital Ring walk certainly showed that off – but it began with corners which have barely been touched for decades.
Social change was on display as the walk kicked off in the back streets of Stoke Newington. Together with nearby Stamford Hill, this area has one of the capital’s biggest Jewish communities, and certainly the most visible one. But there’s also a large Muslim community here, too. Any bother? No sign of it in these leafy streets. In 2002, one of the founders of the local Muslim Jewish Forum told N16 magazine: “When they’re house-hunting, Muslims often choose a Jewish road, they see Jewish neighbourhoods as safe and peaceful.”
The neat, snug streets didn’t last for long, though, as N16 became E5 and I entered Clapton. If you’re not local to that area, it’s unlikely you’ll have heard of Springfield Park. But it’s a beautiful green oasis, with well-kept lawns and views out across north-east London. At the foot of the park is the River Lee, and Walthamstow Marshes, and a marina for boats to moor up in. The path crosses the river, and for a while you’re on the Walthamstow side of the river – or, once upon a time, the Essex side.
There’s very little marshland left in London – the last remnants of Greenwich Marshes vanished 20 years ago, Plumstead and Erith marshes are now Thamesmead. So Walthamstow Marsh is special, almost unique – and almost eerily quiet and still; well, until a rush of sirens from distant Lea Bridge Road. The wetlands now form a nature reserve, and with some of the land also used for grazing, there’s even a cattle grid on the route. Railway arches cut across the land, and it was here that aviation pioneer AV Roe tested his early aeroplane designs. A century on, this side of the Lee probably looks much the same as it did then. Across the river, back on the Clapton side, the Anchor and Hope pub looks tempting… but the High Hill Ferry which used to cross the Lee here, and gives its name to the street along the water, ceased many ago.
Eventually, it’s back across to Clapton, through Millfields Park, across the Lea Bridge Road and down to where the River Lee Navigation splits off – it’s this route the Capital Ring will follow. Outside another pub, the Princess of Wales, an old lady was having a bizarre row with a mum and kids. From someone’s back garden, a greyhound stuck its nose through the gate to see what I was doing. Back across the water again, and now on the edge of Hackney Marshes as the Lee Navigation continues ahead. Alongside are the Middlesex Filter Beds, once a part of London’s water supply; now a nature reserve.
Narrowboats are moored along the water, their owners stopping to chat – it dawned on me that it’d probably be very easy to live up here and completely disappear from the rest of civilisation… all wistful thoughts ended, though, with the discovery that the tow-path was flooded. A sign had warned of some flooding that was due to be fixed “by September 2009″. It was the end of October, and the contents of a Thames Water main were still streaming into the canal. There was no other option than to take a deep breath – and go for it, though the water…
Squelching on down the pathway, I reached the old Lesney toys factory at Homerton. Formed after World War II by schoolfriends Leslie Smith and Rodney Smith, Lesney began life as a die-casting factory, diversifying into toys in the 1950s. The Matchbox line was a roaring success, with the Lee Conservancy Road complex opening for business in the 1960s. The original Lesney firm folded in 1982, the Matchbox name was sold and production eventually moved overseas. With so much change in east London over recent decades, the Matchbox factory looms over the Lee like a relic – but not for much longer, as demolition teams have already bulldozed part of the site and are currently stripping out the rest.
Recently-built housing mixed with light industry on the other side of the Lee Navigation, but the greenery on my side came to an abrupt halt at a sign pointing out that there may be some diversions to the Capital Ring. This was the start of the Olympic Park. It was a hive of activity, but the 2012 media centre is shaping up to be a squat, ugly building. In fact, I didn’t quite twig it was part of the Olympic Park at first, thinking it might just be some kind of warehouse. No wonder the residents of Leabank Square, opposite, aren’t impressed. (“If we were across the canal from Hampstead Heath or Wimbledon Common – they would have been to scared to design something like this! But it’s only Hackney Wick – so let’s lay a tower block on its side and the scum locals will absolutely love it!”) The huge Olympic Stadium suddenly appears behind the media centre, and starts to dominate the view.
Further down, a familiar tune came into my head – I’d reached Lock Keepers’ Cottages, the home of Channel 4′s The Big Breakfast for nearly a decade. Now a private home, it’s dwarfed by the Olympic Stadium just behind. The cottages, by Old Ford Lock, only date back to the late 1940s, but in 60 years have already seen dramatic changes to their surroundings. The next few years will see even more change as a whole new district emerges behind the cottages. I’d last walked up here in June 2007, shortly before the bulldozers moved in. Blue hoardings block off the old Lee riverside path, which now leads up to the stadium. There’s enough in place now for the imagination to fill in the gaps on how this will look in 2012.
The path finally leaves the Lee at the Greenway – the walkway on top of the Northern Outfall Sewer. It’s shared with Olympic workers and construction traffic, and offers an uninterrupted view of the stadium and the complex work going on around it. There’s a diversion off the Greenway further down, onto Pudding Mill Lane, passing its eponymous DLR station, and across Bow Back River. Suddenly very familiar territory came into view – Stratford High Street. After waiting an eternity to cross the A11, something even more familiar appeared. I put my still damp-feet into motion and ran for a 108 bus home.
So now, the end’s in sight. If all goes to plan, there’s one more leg to go – Stratford to Charlton. It’s strange to think I’ve covered nearly 70 miles already. At least I know what to expect at the end of the final 10 – but there’s still plenty of exploring left to do in east London.