Woolwich Arsenal – Thames Barrier – Millenium Dome – Greenwich
I haven’t been on one of my beloved hiking trails this year, and the prospect of hiking in Nepal seems a long ways off right now…at least at the moment as we try and settle into our new lives. In the middle of everything else this summer, I planned the possibility of starting a new UK trail, something I could do with family, in increments when I’m visiting. The Thames Path National Trail seemed perfect for that. Its 180-200+ miles longs (depending on where you start) and follows the Thames from its source in Oxfordshire to the mouth of the river in London. Also, almost half of it is easily accessible as a day trip from my family’s London home, which cuts down the cost and logistics. So with only a few precious family days here and there to grab over the years….this seemed like a very doable journey…even if it takes us forever!
Day one of the walk started at Woolwich Arsenal, home to Arsenal Football Club and the historic Royal Arsenal on the South bank of the Thames. At this point in the journey, the Thames Paths offers a choice of North or South Bank and, for various reasons, we chose to follow the South Bank path. Choosing to do the path in reverse (most people do it from the source out to the sea) meant that we were starting in the least developed part of the Thames. In fact, parts of the path were still being finished, and as London starts to move Eastward and develop the its far Eastern Boroughs, previously long neglected, we walked through much construction and development, abandoned industrial sites and spanking new luxury apartments.
If you glance at the earlier green map, this section of the walk could be shortened considerably by crossing inland across the large bend in the river. Of course, that would totally be against the rules! But it is relevant because the bend causes distortions in the perceived location and distance of landmarks. At the Thames Barrier, the Millennium Dome seemed closer than it did a few kilometers further along the river. And once we approached the Dome, we seemed forever in its shadow. It was perpetually just around the corner, upon us, or just behind us for what felt like most of the walk that day.
A second large loop in the Thames around the Isle of Dogs made for another windy detour towards our second omnipresent landmark: Canary Wharf. Canary Wharf is a new major financial district in London, its tall skyscrapers visible from a long way off. Like the Millenium Dome they stayed with us all day and into the nex,t until we were far along enough for even the tall towers to disappear.
The last stretch of the day was along a neglected strip of riverside towards Greenwich. It was run down, a little spooky, and full of reminders of an older industrial London port of times gone by.
Finally after this neglected section, we were suddenly in beautiful kept, historic Greenwich with its charming restored houses, quaint village pubs, historic sites and tourists. It was quite a change of scene.