London Borough of Greenwich
Wednesday August 29th 2018
Back to the river and a very special landmark walk today. Although only short, we had the added joy of walking with my grandson and Jen’s nephew Sam, who at the age of seven had agreed to walk with us for the first time. We had long promised him a ride on the cable car across the Thames so this walk was planned with him in mind to end at the cable car station.
Sam was staying with me for the week so we travelled into London and on to Woolwich together. My plan for a comfort stop at Woolwich Arsenal Station was scuppered because the station toilets were closed due to vandalism. However, once outside on the road, the sight of a huge Tesco Extra soon cheered us up. We bought food for lunch, used their facilities and set off for the riverbank.
We followed a sign for Woolwich Dockyard and the river which took us through the old waterfront area and out by the statues. That was fortunate as Sam was fascinated by
them and took lots of photos.
A few minute’s walk brought us to our previous stopping point at the entrance to the Woolwich Ferry. We paused for a while to watch the lorries loading and see the two ferries perform their dance across the river, swapping places half way through.
The path from here was easy to follow along the edge of the river in front of some new flats along with the sites for building even more. We passed old docks now just mucky rubbish-filled overflow inlets but presumably used to accommodate the water at high tide when the Thames Barrier is closed.
We were still walking along the edge of Woolwich Dockyard
and Sam was interested in a raised area containing a cannon looking out over the river.
On the opposite bank was the Tate and Lyle Sugar Refinery, the largest sugar factory in Europe and one of the largest in the world. Opened in 1878 by Henry Tate, just down the road from the plant of Abram Lyle which, as well as refining sugar, also made golden syrup. They were great rivals until 1921 when they merged, forming a company that produces nearly half the world’s sugar exporting to many countries via huge ships which dock outside. There were no ships in sight as we walked past although the plant was busy working
From behind it every now and then a tremendous roar heralded the take-off of a plane from London City Airport heading to one of the forty two cities in the UK and Europe served by this new and exciting airport.
We passed a building with a clock tower just as the clock truck twelve. The building was once the customs house for the docks and was built in the late 1700s. It is now used as a community centre
The path marked on the map took various detours slightly inland but we found some new footbridges linking sections which, presumably, had not been passable in the past.
That made our route much easier and as we walked along, the Thames Barrier became more and more visible.
Soon the path sloped up onto a metal bridge, which then turned inland and deposited us in an industrial area and then behind a large building fronting the river. The building appeared to house a variety of artist’s studios and small businesses including a martial arts centre, a furniture maker, a circus academy and an art gallery.
At the end of this road we came out into a small park housing the Thames Barrier Visitor Centre and Café. There was a landscaped area with benches which was a perfect location for our lunch stop. Unfortunately the visitor centre was closed as we had picked the wrong day to walk but there were plenty of signboards to read. Sam had a ten minute play in the playground and I chatted to a man who was emptying the bins.
After our break we stopped for photographs at the entrance to a tunnel under the works for the barrier, which marks the beginning of the Thames Path proper.
We have been walking along the Thames from its mouth and picked up the path extension at Erith but from here we will be on the official path. Only 180 miles to go!
Under the tunnel was a carving depicting the river which we all enjoyed looking at.
When we emerged we were back into industrial London as we passed through a huge concrete works which occupies a very historic site on the riverbank. Angerstein Wharf, from the name of the man who built it, was built in the 1820s and has safeguarded wharf status. The wharf once had a railway line, which connected to the main line near Charlton Station, bringing goods in and out to the river.
Over the years various industries have been based here; a steel maker, a glass bottle manufacturer, a company making railway sleepers and the London County Council’s tram repair depot while the whole area ahead of us was occupied by a huge gasworks. Now the wharf is used for unloading sea-dredged aggregates for use in the concrete works and the path is covered with cement dust.
Eventually we left the works behind and were intrigued by a strange looking building on stilts in the river. This turned out to be the Greenwich Yacht Club and we had to pass behind the gates to the slipway before re-joining the river bank at the Greenwich Peninsula Ecology Park.
Sam was complaining that his feet hurt so we didn’t stop at the park but pushed on past some rather colourful and lovely new flats. All the time, we could see the cable car getting bigger and bigger until we were almost underneath.
It was tricky walking the last few hundred yards as improvements to the path were underway and half of it was fenced off, so that we had to share the cycle path with bikes and it was quite busy.
Suddenly we came to a wide grassed space and the northern station of the cable car. It was time to stop for today but we had enjoyed an interesting walk and it lovely to have Sam walking with us.
The final part of the day was to keep up with the river crossings and at this point there are two crossings; the cable car and the Jubilee line tube tunnel. I was not particularly looking forward to the cable car but Sam was very excited and in the interests of completing the challenge, I had to do it.
We queued for quite a while but eventually climbed into a car, just the three of us and off we soared. It was every bit as terrifying as I had expected but Sam and Jen loved it. We could see down river to the Thames Barrier and beyond, enjoyed the sight of people wakeboarding in Albert Dock and had a very good view of the airport runways as we descended on the other side. The crossing only takes seven minutes and soon we were climbing out again on the northern side of the river. We then found our way to Royal Victoria DLR station to catch a train to Canning Town where we changed onto the Jubilee Line. The tube took us directly back to Waterloo where we began our journey home.