A couple of weekends ago, I found myself with a free Sunday afternoon. Needing little more encouragement, I set out on what was to be the last warm day of 2009, and headed along the last couple of miles of the Thames Path from the Greenwich Peninsula down towards the Thames Barrier in Charlton.
This part of the river is still fairly industrial, as is evidenced by the working wharves that litter the river bank. Shale, shingle and gravel are piled up high in order to supply London's construction industry (still going despite the recession). There are also some pleasure spots, believe it or not, yachting marinas and the like. However, this remains a very different river bank to the more popular reaches upstream. Few visitors make it down this far into South East London, and so the path retains almost a wilderness type quality to it.
However, do not think that this is a wasteland. After all, this is London and space is at a premium in this city. The river bank is well utilised even this far downstream, and although it was fairly deserted on that Sunday, it can be seen from wandering past this area, that this part of the Thames is a working area. London is not famed for its heavy industry, but it does exist in part throughout the city, you just have to look for it. And here, along the lower reaches of the river, there is plenty of industrial capacity, strewn across the water's edge.
But this wander, was not just to see London's 'manly jobs' but also a satisfaction of curiosity. After all, the famed Millenium Village lies along the Thames. Supposedly an attempt in providing good quality, low cost homes to Londoners, there is more than a whiff of corruption in the air, as it seems that us taxpayers have sponsored a brand new set of riverside apartments for sale at ludicrous prices...am I the only one in London to question why no ordinary Londoner can afford to live here, despite the fact that it was subsidised by my taxes?
Enough of the bitterness. I can't be bothered to rally against corruption. Let me get some more soma and have a look at what my hard earned cash paid for:
Moving on from the balcony lifestyle, I always like to tell a story, or wind up with a tale of intrigue when on my wanders through London. And this part of the Thames Path is no different. This forgotten part of one of London's greatest treasures is on the frontier of the North Sea. The Thames Barrier stands at the end of the Thames Path and protects the capital from the ravages of flooding. Opened on the 1980's, it is one of the greatest examples of forward planning envisaged by this country. Shocking considering the usual ineptitude of the UK's planning policy, but the Thames Barrier really does perform an essential function. It saves lives. Since its completion, it has been raised numerous times to protect London from the storm surges of the North Sea. As we enter Autumn and the threat of storms and spring tides loom ever closer, we will be entering the phase when the barrier will probably be raised up more than once. We take this structure for granted, but without it, London would be no more better off than Bangladesh. But silently, reliably, this magnificently built structure allows the city to sleep safe at night, and despite global warming (with rising sea levels), the barrier still has a few good years left in it...
But before I go, let us not think that South East London is all work and no play. After all, this is London, albeit a part of the city that even few Londoners bother venturing to. And yeah, I must admit, beyond Greenwich, much of London is pretty grim. There is not much to look at, there are no large attractions, and travel around here is difficult at best. Still, here is a little something to brighten up the riverside...
Getting there and away:
On weekends, don't even think about it. The nearest tube is North Greenwich, and of course, the Jubilee line is only weekday only service.
Woolwich is a bus ride away from the Thames Barrier and of course has the very funky new extension to the DLR up and running. Otherwise, you are subject to the whims of Southeastern. You know what, better to stay at home, and let 'El Director' take you on an armchair tour instead...