London Borough of Bexley into Greenwich
Thursday August 2nd 2018
Walking boots were calling and a fairly easy stretch of the Thames Path seemed like a good idea. We wanted to walk as far as Woolwich which is a good stopping point as there are various crossings of the Thames there. It is just over six miles from Erith to Woolwich and impossible to get lost as the path runs beside the water all the way
The only problem we could see, and which proved to be a major one, was the weather. The summer of 2018 had been hot and dry with no rain since the beginning of June and temperatures in the high 20s and even up to the low 30s for weeks.
We set off early with the plan of walking as much as possible in the morning before it became too hot and thus we were in Erith at 9.30. The big Morrison’s furnished us with food and lots of drink and we set off to the pier which marked the start of the walk in high spirits.
Here we stopped to note down time and mileage and encountered another strange man. There must be something about Erith Pier which attracts them! This one was interested in our walk but did not stop talking and in the end we had to firmly say goodbye and walk away. He was still talking when we went round the corner!
We joined the river path a few yards further on at the site of an ancient ferry which had, according to the plaque, been crossing the river at this point since 1199.
The tide was out with mudflats along the river wall and out into the water revealing the remains of old piers, slowly rotting away.
The path was easy to follow, as expected, because it just followed the river bank. At times, however, it was narrow and hard on the feet being tarmacked all the way.
This stretch of the Thames is highly industrialised. We stopped for a rest in the shade of a wide conveyor belt taking produce from a huge food milling factory out to a waiting boat. Lots of sniffing ensued before we came to the conclusion that a large amount of bran was whooshing above our heads.
We passed a timber yard, a concrete works, a lorry rental depot, a building supplies yard, a factory making industrial wipes, a Lidl distribution warehouse, a coffee roasting plant, and a business shredding company, all using the river for transport in various ways.
As we walked along the sun become hotter and we sought out shade whenever we could, making sure we drank lots of water. Because the tide was low, there was not much moving on the river which was a shame as we love to see the various shipping along the way.
On the horizon we could see a strange ultramodern building but first we came to an enormous power station which is run, so the information board told us, on waste. Anyone in the centre of London will have seen those huge barges loaded with containers of rubbish heading downstream. This is where they end up in a vast incinerator which turns the waste into electricity and the ash into building materials.
At the same time on the opposite bank we spotted the Dagenham Ford Factory which also uses the river to transport its finished products.
Just around the corner we arrived at the huge modern building which turned out to be Crossness Sewage Works. The works coverts sludge into power in vast quantities and is owned by Thames Water. Around the site is a new nature reserve and it is also home to the old Crossness Beam Engines, the original pumping station built in the mid-1800s. The pumping station operates as a museum but is currently on limited opening hours while it is being restored and was closed when we passed.
We had begun to look for a shady place to stop for lunch and met a photographer here who told us there was a park inland a bit. A gate and sign to a park looked hopeful but we just ended up walking in a loop and ending up on a housing estate. A check of the map showed a lake so we thought that might be a good place to head for but all paths towards it were blocked and we could not reach it. We ended up heading back onto the river bank again and sitting under a tree for a while.
It was by now very hot and we decided to have a proper break at Thamesmead which was just a couple of miles away. Unfortunately, at this point, the sun got to me and I began to feel quite faint. A longer rest with some sweet food and more drink helped a bit and we carried on for another mile or so. By then I really was feeling very wobbly and faint so we decided to stop. Luckily we were close to a passageway off the Thames path into a different part of the estate which had a road nearby with lots of buses. We resolved to catch the first one that came along and sort ourselves out on the way. It was going to Thamesmead Town Centre so we went too.
At Thamesmead we located another Morrison’s superstore and had a cold drink and a sweet snack in the air conditioned café. Once I had recovered a bit we caught a bus to Belvedere Station and began our journey home.
Once again not quite what we had planned but we will try and pick a cooler day to walk next time.
Walk T4 (continued)
London Borough of Greenwich
Saturday August 18th 2018
Two weeks later and the weather had broken, the high temperatures of June and July were past, rain had fallen and the days were much more typical of a late English summer.
Another problem had appeared with the ongoing strikes by train guards on South Western Railway. There were trains but they were very sparse and slow so we decided to try a different route. From North Camp we caught a train to Reading and then on to Paddington using Great Western Railway. We are hoping to arrive or depart from all of the London railway termini over the course of these walks so we headed for Cannon Street and a service to Abbey Wood.
Here a Sainsbury’s superstore was handy for food and loos and a bus which would take us back to the estate in Thamesmead where we had stopped previously. Unfortunately we got on the wrong bus, but quickly realised our mistake and switched to the right one eventually arriving at the bus stop beside the footpath to the riverbank. It’s a good thing we enjoy travelling and seeing new places!
Back on the Thames Path we resumed our walk westwards along a fine wide path almost like a seaside promenade busy with families out cycling and walking dogs. We spotted a rubbish barge heading downstream and the Barking barrier which protects Barking Creek and the River Roding from flooding.
Soon we spotted a sign on a building warning craft not to proceed any further without permission as this section of river is near the Thames Barrier.
A few yards further on is Tripcock Point beneath the approach to London City Airport which is on the other side of the water. The river here bends quite sharply left and on the promontory is a lighthouse – sort of – marking this notorious bend. It was here that the Princess Alice, a pleasure steamer returning from Gravesend on a summer’s night in 1878, crashed into a collier and sank with the loss of 700 lives. It remains the worst public transport disaster in Britain’s history with whole families drowned.
The scene nowadays is pleasant and peaceful with a newly laid wide cycle and footpath bordered by thick bushes and very well used.
As we rounded the corner, we could see red lights in the river, which made us realise how murky the day had become. A few minutes of puzzlement was followed by the realisation that this was the Thames Flood Barrier up ahead. Nothing was moving on the river apart from a fairly large flat boat which seemed to be crossing. The Woolwich ferry! We were nearing the end of the walk already.
This was confirmed by the beautiful building on the left, originally part of the Royal Arsenal but now flats. Very expensive flats. A three bedroomed penthouse in this development recently sold for over a million pounds.
Here several cycle and footpaths converged and high up on a platform with great views of the river were a couple of benches. Lunchtime!
We enjoyed our sandwiches and fruit and were peacefully contemplating the view and watching people walking along when we heard a strange noise. Boing! We looked round and could see the top of a lamppost quivering. Its base was hidden behind a bank so we could not work out what had made it suddenly tremble. Then a cyclist came into view picking himself up and looking rather sheepish. He had, apparently, cycled straight into the lamppost. I was about to go and see if he was hurt when a man on roller skates screeched to a halt with the same idea. All was well apart from wounded pride and a slightly bent bike and he wheeled the bike away shortly afterwards.
We moved on to pick up the last section of the walk past more military buildings converted into flats and came off the river at Woolwich Arsenal Pier. Here the old parade grounds have been tidied up and are now beautiful open spaces to walk.
Also here was a fascinating sculpture named ‘Assembly’ and created by Peter Burke. The sixteen metal figures are arranged within a circle and are fascinating but I found them a little spooky. Every figure has open sides and is incomplete so that as you walk round it, you can see inside. Each one is different and they have an industrial feel but at the same time are individual. A very interesting concept and a brilliant location.
By now we were feeling the need, although not urgently, for coffee and a loo so continued on along the river bank to see what we could find. Very soon we came to the rear of Waterfront Leisure Centre and worked our way round it to see whether it might have a coffee shop to fulfil those needs. However, the front was not promising, with a very long queue to get in, mostly of people going swimming. There were a few cafes opposite but nothing looks particularly appealing either.
At the other side of the leisure centre was Woolwich Pier and the end of the walk for today. It was time to pick up the second thread of the walk; crossing the Thames by every available crossing. The ferry was just leaving so we opted for the foot tunnel first.
The Woolwich Foot Tunnel was opened in 1912 as an alternative to the ferry in bad weather and was used by thousands of dock workers every day to cross the river from their homes to their work. The tunnel is 1217 feet long and 69 feet deep. A huge lift with ancient looking wood panelling walls whisked us down to the tunnel entrance. It was light but cold and damp and a little smelly.
There was no-one in sight but sound carries and there were apparently some children away in the distance whose voices seemed very loud. I suffer from claustrophobia and, although the tunnel is not low, I felt very uncomfortable down there. However, if all the crossings have to be made I had to do it, so we just set out to walk through it as quickly as possible. The tunnel is dead straight and it seemed like a very long way to the other end. We passed the children with their dad and were overtaken by several cyclists ignoring the no cycling signs, which was not a problem as the tunnel was so empty. Finally the other end loomed up and another equally spacious and ancient lift took us to the top. We emerged by the entrance to the ferry which was just docking.
The Woolwich ferry is a free pedestrian and vehicle ferry linking Woolwich itself with North Woolwich. The first ferry began working here in the 1300s and it has been operating in its present guise since 1889. In 1963 it was it changed its operation to Roll On Roll Off, which speeded up journey times and made the crossing much more efficient. It can carry surprisingly large lorries and is well used by commercial and other vehicles as it is the link between the South and North Circular Roads, carrying up to 20,000 vehicles annually. It has survived many closure threats over its long life and is still under threat if proposed new crossings of the river nearby go ahead. We headed straight for it, or so we thought, but took a wrong turning. By the time we found the pedestrian gate, it was just closing and we had to wait for the next crossing. It does not take very long, though, and fifteen minutes later we were on board. The only place for foot passengers is inside and the view is not wonderful but it is very quick and soon we were back on the south side of the river.
The final crossing for the day belonged to the Docklands Light Railway and to reach the station we had to walk up Woolwich High Street. We were still looking out for a café but the only option was a Starbucks which was uncomfortably crowded. Instead we opted to continue the journey and easily found Woolwich Arsenal Station. From there it was a quick ride back under the river to Canning Town where we changed for a train to Tower Gateway. Outside the Tower of London was a coffee stall so we stopped for a quick refreshment and people-watching stop. Finally the last leg of the journey back to Paddington (and finally a loo) meant a Circle Line train. From there it was easy to journey back to Reading and then North Camp after a very enjoyable day exploring London and enjoying the luxury of multiple travel options.