Tagged: rotherhithe

The Big Half: New half-marathon from Tower Bridge to Greenwich

The Big Half route

The London Marathon is the best day of the year in this part of south-east London, right? So wouldn’t it be great if there was another one?

And no, not the return of Run to the Beat.

Just announced today, and coming on 4 March 2018, is The Big Half – a half-marathon using the central chunk of the London Marathon course. It’ll start at Tower Bridge, wind its way back around Canary Wharf, then back over Tower Bridge to end at the Cutty Sark. It’s organised by the same team behind the London Marathon.

The event in full…

The Big Half, a mass participation race over the classic half marathon distance, starting at the iconic setting of Tower Bridge and finishing in Greenwich

The Little Half for younger runners will be held on a 2.1 mile route from Southwark Park to the stunning Finish Line by the Cutty Sark in Greenwich

The Big Relay, exclusively for community groups from the four host boroughs of Tower Hamlets, Southwark, Lewisham and Greenwich, with distances ranging from one mile to five miles

The Big Festival in Greenwich with a huge range of food music and entertainment, including performances from community groups and fun activities and fitness classes for the whole family to enjoy

Entry is open now if you fancy doing it yourself. There are 5,800 places in the main race (making it much smaller than either the main marathon or the unlamented Run to the Beat) with a limited number of discounted places for people from the host boroughs (Greenwich, Lewisham, Southwark and Tower Hamlets).

Quotes from the press release:

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “The Big Half has the potential to become one of the most remarkable days in our sporting calendar. And putting local people at the heart of a world-class running event is a masterstroke. Sport has the power to change people’s lives, and we hope The Big Half will become an annual event that can help inspire tens of thousands of Londoners to get involved in sport and in their local communities.”

Hugh Brasher, Event Director, The Big Half, said: “If you were inspired by Sunday’s London Marathon, this is your chance to get involved in an event like no other. Sport can be an incredible way of joining people together and getting communities to interact together. We are creating an event that is unique, that is fun, that people will want to come back to year after year. The Big Half is a celebration of community and life.”

There’ll still be a bit of disruption (I imagine people in Wapping will feel sore) but nothing like the mass closures of full marathon day. And it looks like it’ll be a huge day for Greenwich town centre. So stick the date in your diary…

Are Boris bikes finally coming to Greenwich? The mayor backs it…

London's new hire bikes feature the Dome - even though there are no terminals near North Greenwich

The Dome features on the new London Cycle Hire branding – but you can’t pick up a bike there


The prospect of London’s cycle hire scheme coming to Greenwich came a step closer this morning after mayor Boris Johnson backed a proposal to bring the scheme to the area.

While the ‘Boris bikes’ – formally Santander Cycles after a recent change in sponsor – are a regular sight in Greenwich, it is impossible to hire or dock a bike in the area.

Instead, visitors take bikes from stations close to Island Gardens and take the bikes through the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, or they cycle from docking stations closer to Tower Bridge.

The scheme has largely avoided south-east London – despite poor transport connections, particularly around Walworth, Camberwell and Bermondsey – pushing out instead to east London and more affluent parts of west and south-west London. But Greenwich’s status as a tourist destination could now help bring the scheme to the area.

Asked by Conservative Assembly member (and Tory mayoral hopeful) Andrew Boff if TfL would consider three to five stations in Greenwich, Johnson said he would back an expansion to Greenwich – with a larger number of terminals.

Presumably 45 terminals would be enough to fill the gap between Tower Bridge and Greenwich. The answer’s a surprise as TfL has appeared to have been prioritising filling in gaps in the existing area rather than expanding the service further.

Later, Boff gave credit to Greenwich Tory councillor Matt Clare – probably Woolwich Town Hall’s keenest cyclist – for coming up with the suggestion.

Boff also asked about a wider expansion towards New Cross and Lewisham, and suggested asking Network Rail for money as such a scheme would help mitigate the effect of the Thameslink works at London Bridge. We’ll find out a fuller answer to that in the coming weeks.

Could this actually happen, though? It’s likely to end up in the next mayor’s in-tray, and it’s worth noting that past expansions of the cycle hire scheme have required local boroughs to contribute £2 million each – are Greenwich, Lewisham and Southwark up for that? The bikes are largely used by tourists and more affluent commuters – but that hasn’t stopped Greenwich, which has stepped up its cycling efforts in the past year, giving funding to Thames Clippers. Other boroughs may take different views.

The level of expansion is also worth considering. The hill separating Greenwich from Blackheath could be a natural barrier (although being hilly hasn’t stopped an identical bike hire scheme taking off in Montreal), but the mayor’s involvement in redevelopment schemes in Greenwich Peninsula and Woolwich’s Royal Arsenal could see even further expansion.

Santander’s new branding includes the Millennium Dome, even though it’s impossible to hire or dock a bike there. Incidentally, Green Assembly member Darren Johnson has asked TfL to investigate a walking and cycling connection from the peninsula to Canary Wharf – a connection that would make the extension of the hire scheme to the peninsula a no-brainer.

If the hire scheme is extended, private hire operators could lose out for the visitor market – tourists can hire less cumbersome bikes from Greenwich’s Flightcentre for £4/hr, but recent changes to the hire scheme now mean Boris bikes match that price.

An expansion to Greenwich is by no means a certainty, but it’ll be interesting to watch how this plays out in the weeks and months ahead.

London Marathon organisers – why keep locals in the dark?


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I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again on Sunday, and I’ll say it again now. There’s no better morning to be in this part of south-east London than London Marathon day. A rolling carnival of human endeavour, sporting excellence and charity follies, it’s something that brings out the best in this corner of the world. Richard Branson and the Evening Standard had a wheeze to re-route it away from this area, but thankfully it came to nothing.

But has anyone on the route heard anything from the organisers this year? For many of us, the marathon’s a Sunday morning lock-in, a day you may need to plan in advance for. I live in the locked-in area and have heard nothing. The other night I had a call from a pal who lives on the route and had also heard nothing.

I asked on Twitter, and the unanimous response, from mile one to mile eight at Rotherhithe was… we’ve had nothing through our doors.

Now, I understand some car owners have had notes on their windscreens asking them to shift their motors, but that’s it. You might say that since the marathon’s more than 30 years old, everyone knows about it – but they don’t. Plenty of people think they can drive out of the lock-in area as soon as the runners pass, some even try to catch buses while the race is on.

Shouldn’t the marathon organisers be upping their game here? After all, we don’t want it to become an unwanted imposition like Run to the Beat (back again this year).

Some places to find marathon info: Greenwich Council, interactive route map.

Crawling for glory

In last place in this year's marathon...
Keep an eye out for this fella over Easter – fundraiser Lloyd Scott is crawling along the marathon route raising funds for Action For Kids.

I just bumped into him on Woolwich Road, Charlton, and he’ll be spending Easter navigating his way through Greenwich, Deptford and Rotherhithe at a pace of a mile a day. You can see more on his blog.

Boris bikes and Greenwich – so near, but yet so far

If you travel by Docklands Light Railway, you’ve probably seen signs at stations north of the Thames trumpeting the imminent arrival of the London cycle hire scheme – the Boris bikes. They’ll be coming to DLR stations and other locations in east London in advance of the Olympics next July.

Well, I say “east London”, it’s more like “the borough of Tower Hamlets”, since the bike hire locations seem to stop dead at the Bow Flyover, just short of the Olympic Stadium in Stratford. (Perhaps 2012 bosses don’t want two-wheeled adverts for a bank whizzing around their expensively-sponsored turf?) And, of course, they stop dead at the river. Us south-east Londoners can gaze across at the bikes – but that’s all.

Map man Oliver O’Brien has put together a “heat map” of the scheme’s new boundaries and has plotted the rough locations for bike stands on Google Maps.

From the heat map, it’s easy to see the absurdity of extending north of the river but not south, with the whole Rotherhithe peninsula – which is decent cycling territory, with no hills and some handy back roads – left out in the cold.

Indeed, the hire zone will now stretch out to the north side of the Blackwall Tunnel. Yet the south side, which could benefit from this being in place as developments spring up through Deptford and Greenwich – the hire scheme could be embedded in the new developments around Deptford Creek and the peninsula – gets nothing.

A cynic might suggest that concentrating the bikes around Canary Wharf is a deliberate play to the demographic which is making the most use of them – well-paid, professional men, like the mayor himself.

That’s not going to be strictly true since the new hire zone stretches deep into areas like Bow and Mile End, but even though the river forms a natural boundary, the maps do make the decision to keep the hire scheme north of the Thames look eccentric. Even a simple extension along the A200 and A206, not venturing up the hills, would surely be relatively easy to implement, and make further extensions even easier to put in place. Perhaps the heavy traffic would make maintenance difficult – but that’s no reason to run away from implementing a scheme which the mayor thinks will take cars off the roads. It simply seems that south-east London has been forgotten again.

Not that Transport for London seems to have noticed – I hear a TfL executive invited to speak at a recent Greenwich Council cycling seminar waxed lyrical about the benefits the extension would have for Greenwich. Not if the bikes are on the wrong side of the river, they won’t.

You can find out more about the extended cycle hire scheme over at Suprageography.

Inside the Thames Tunnel

Thames Tunnel north entrance

Dark holes in Rotherhithe don’t normally strike people as a must-see. But when it’s Marc Brunel’s 1843 Thames Tunnel, open to the public possibly for the last time before the London Overground rail service takes over, then access to a cold, damp tunnel becomes the hottest ticket in town.

Thames Tunnel

So hot that sadly many people were being turned away at Rotherhithe railway station and the nearby Brunel Museum – it seems a TV report this morning implied tickets were available. They weren’t – they were only available online for a brief spell last week before the London Transport Museum’s ticketing website crashed. A lucky few managed to slip into the station for the tour – the rest made do with a visit to the museum and a natter with a volunteer on the door, bemused by how chaotic the whole thing was.

Thames Tunnel north entrance

Rotherhithe station’s all but ready for its rebirth as a mainline stop – the old building’s been completely refurbished, only the faded ads on the escalator looking out of place, including one for Joseph and a not-quite-so-Technicolor any more dreamcoat. Health and safety spiel done, rubber gloves on – to protect against Weil’s disease – and down to the platforms it was, and the odd experience of walking in the middle of a railway track. My initial thought was that this wouldn’t be much fun for claustrophics, but once inside the Thames Tunnel proper, the lighting and the concrete treatment applied to the tunnel emphasised what a substantial piece of work his was.

Thames Tunnel south entrance

Brunel’s tunnel was the first under a river anywhere in the world. Victorians would come to fairs down here, with people selling items from the arches between the two carriageways. Even on foot in the middle of the tunnels, it’s hard to imagine stalls between these small spaces. But the tunnel would have looked vastly different then – lit by gas and reflecting off fresh, clean brickwork – and no rails in the way. It was a commercial failure, and was later sold for railway use – with Victorian steam moguls eyeing this up as part of a route to the continent – via Baker Street, the Circle Line, and New Cross. From May, it’ll be rejoined to the mainline once again, but to Croydon rather than Calais.

Brickwork detail - Thames Tunnel

The brickwork had concrete applied to it in the 1990s to protect the tunnel – said to be the leakiest on the Underground network – but after a row broke out between London Transport and preservation agencies, a small part close to Rotherhithe station was left alone. Rather than a reminder of how the tunnel was, the existence of the exposed brickwork just seems to justify the decision to cover it in concrete in the first place.

Concrete ends, brick starts

We walked up to Wapping, where the tunnel entrance is at the end of the station platforms, and back down to Rotherhithe again – a strange experience in itself, to be able to walk under the Thames at this point. Indeed, the loss of the old East London Line severed a useful artery of the capital’s transport system – it’ll be good to have it back in its new guide. (The nearby Rotherhithe Tunnel is actually open to pedestrians, but I can’t imagine it’s used by more than a handful of souls.)

Wapping railway station

Back out of the tunnels, and we removed our gloves – which had become sticky and sweaty during our tour. I shared the tour with Peter Watts, who remarked on how many women there were on the tour. Old railway tunnels usually bring only a certain kind of man out – but the Thames Tunnel represents so much more, a fragment of a London which has gone forever. Tonight and tomorrow the Brunel Museum is holding “fancy fairs” – recreations of just what took place in the tunnel after it opened. For me, just that glimpse of Brunel’s lost world under the Thames was enough. Enticing as a “fancy fair” sounds – it’ll be much more popular when the railway reopens.

Forget all your problems, forget all your cares…

I went for a walk along the Thames to central London yesterday – the first time I’ve done that in about 14 years, I reckon. (For the record, it took about five hours to stroll from Charlton to Soho via Greenwich Park, Deptford High Street, the Rotherhithe peninsula and the Millennium Bridge, not including a short stop to watch the end of Newcastle’s Premier League career in the only Bermondsey pub not containing punch-drunk Millwall fans.) Not something I’d planned to do, but I was due to meet some pals in the West End, had walked to the Last Orders exhibition at the Gallop gallery (ta Deptford Dame), and it was such a nice day I decided to extend my stroll.

The last time I walked into town, it was out of neccessity – I had 90p to my name and used that to take a bus home. But, by chance, I popped into a pub on the route to enquire about a job behind the bar – and ended up working there for a year. This stroll was less life-changing, but it was intriguing to see how much had changed on the route – the destruction of Chambers Wharf came as a surprise to me.

But another hardy icon of SE16 has also bitten the dust – no, not Downtown restaurant!
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I remember, for some reason, this being a big deal when it opened – early 1980s? In fact, before the arrival of Surrey Quays shopping centre, wasn’t there an attempt to rebrand the Surrey Docks area as “Downtown”? I was always surprised to see it still open; I’ve no idea how long it’s been shut for, but a it looks like a relic of early Docklands optimism has gone forever. If anyone knows any more about this place, I’d love to hear it.