For the last year I’ve been regularly walking around London. The river usually plays a part in most walks as I love the Southbank. It’s a great way of walking through London without having to worry about traffic or polution. The Southbank is actually a section of something called the Thames Path which runs from it’s source up to the Thames Barrier. Earlier in the year I walked a section of the Thames Path from Richmond to Hammersmith Bridge and found it a good way of seeing new bits of London.
This weekend a Tall Ships festival was taking place in Greenwich. This is the first time the ‘Tall Ships’ have been to London for 30 years. The focus of the festival was Greenwich but there were also going to be ships moored at Woolwich. So I thought this would be a good opportunity to walk another new section of the Thames Path, the Woolwich to Greenwich section and a section that couldn’t be more different from the Richmond section.
The walk started at Woolwich Arsenal where there’s a museum detailing the factory’s history and holds some of the big guns developed at the factory. I briefly visited the museum last year and if you like military history it’s a great little museum. Unfortunately, I’ve heard it’s under threat as they are finance their current budget.
The Arsenal was buzzing with lots of visitors, stalls and entertainers
The path starts on the riverfront in front of the museum where there’s a collection of Andrew Gormley sculptures that are well worth investigating.
The Tall Ships were moored alongside Woolwich pier. Unfortunately there were only two ships which was disappointing.
The first part of the path is relatively uninteresting as the path leads along the Woolwich waterfront, past the old Woolwich dockyard to the Woolwich ferry.
As you continue along the path, you reach a point opposite the Tate and Lyle sugar plant where the path stops and you have to take a detour into Woolwich. It’s worth turning when the sign tells you, otherwise you’ll end up retracing your steps.
Once you’re on the main road, it’s just a short walk until you see the signs for the Thames Barrier.
Turn when you see the signs for the Thames Barrier.
London was covered in a mist all day which is a pity as the barrier looks fantastic when it’s reflecting strong sunlight.
Luckily as I reached the barrier a number of the ships where sailing out into the Thames estuary taking people on day trips.
As you walk past the barrier it’s worth taking some time to look at the wall which depicts the Thames’s path from it’s source to the barrier.
The next bit of the route takes you through the working Thames with a big Tarmac plant that appears to manufacture concrete. It’s easy to forget when walking through the centre of London where the old wharves have gone or have been converted to homes, shops and restaurants that the Thames is still a working river and I found I really liked this section of the Thames path.
As you move on past the Tarmac plant you next come to the Greenwich Yacht club with its interesting club sitting on stilts in the Thames. At low tide, you can get easy access to the Thames shore via the yacht club’s slipway.
Next to the club is the Greenwich Ecology Park. This is an area of recovered industrial wasteland that’s been restored back to the original wetland habitat.
It looks like this area is an area targeted for redevelopment with several large flats being built and what looks like a fairly recent development called the Greenwich Millennium Village
As you continue along the path, the O2 now looms large in the distance as you follow the path around a big loop in the Thames.
The new Emirates Cable Car is the next notable sight. The pillars holding the cable car are lovely. Rising out of the Thames like the twisted roots of a slender tree. But you do have to question the point of the cable car. You can’t realistically use it for commuting and it’s not like it’s providing a picturesque view. As you can see from my photos, it’s hardly the most visually stimulating section of the Thames.
You’re now on top of the O2. Here you’ve got two options. You can continue to follow the path around the loop or take a short cut through O2. I decided to follow the path around, as I usually visit the O2 at least once a year for gigs. It’s amazing how much this place has developed over the last decade with the area around the O2 now hosting restaurants and hotels and the O2.
If you decide to continue along the path the O2 is relatively hidden by a high fence. But you’ll be greeted by the wide curve of a bend in the river and the sight of Canary Wharf.
Sitting alongside the O2 is Slice of Reality, a sculpture by the artist Richard Wilson commissioned as part of the Millennium celebrations and never removed. Apparently it’s still owned by the artist who’s paid for the mooring rights and so can’t be removed. I quiet liked it. It reminds us that this part of the Thames used to be a major working port.
The next bit from the O2 to Greenwich consists of old jetties and industrial plants. However, a number of the Tall Ships had been moored along this section so fences had been placed along the entire length of the path hiding these plants from view.
At the O2 end of the path, a small food park had been opened. But if you’re walking this section on a normal weekend. I suspect there’s little around here. So it might be worth visiting the O2 to grab food, drink and to take a toilet break as there’s nothing but industrial units for the next mile or so.
One thing that was obvious as I walked along the path was that this section of the Thames is changing. There was a serious amount of Riverside building work going on, with new flats and hotels being built at Woolwich, Greenwich Millennium village, the O2 and new flats being built on this last section near to Greenwich. It would be interesting to do this walk again a few years time to see how these changes effect the feeling of this section of the Thames and how it will change local communities. As I’ve said, there’s an ‘honesty’ to this section of the Thames. I’m sure once City workers start to move out to these riverside properties this will be compromised and for me that’s not necessarily a good thing. It may not be the prettiest bit of the Thames, but it’s less likely to put the country into massive dept unlike the big buildings on the other side of the Thames.
The final section leads you into historical Greenwich past the Old Greenwich Naval College and the Cutty Sark. Greenwich has managed to retain much of it’s character. So if you’ve never visited the place before, it’s worth spending some time exploring as there’s a lot to do here.
Most of the Tall Ship Festival activity was centred around the old college where a small festival village had been created offering the usual combination of food drink, and entertainment.
I had originally intended to continue the walk towards Tower Bridge. But I decide to call it quits here. I’d started my walk far later than I meant to and had kept stopping to take photos of the Tall Ships and had been dragging my heavy camera bag so didn’t feel like I wanted to make up the time on the next section. Maybe I’ll do that section on another day.