Thames Path: Day 1: Woolwich Arsenal to Greenwich


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!DSC00498

File:London River Services map.svg

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.

Thames Path

It many places the walk is well signposted. If you thought that that signage for a route that follows the river isn’t really important, you’d be wrong. The Thames Path at this stage of the journey and this point in time is a area in flux. There were plenty of clues that the path was constantly being diverted as construction affected the banks of the Thames. Or sometimes long established riverside property meant that the path would turn inland for a while and the way through the industrial backroads wasn’t always clear. I wouldn’t always have felt safe doing this part of the journey alone.

Woolwich Market

Woolwich Market near the start of the walk

Royal Woolwich Arsenal

Nikki on a call amid a sculpture at the Royal Arsenal. Walking through the Arsenal was an interesting mix of history, military heritage and funky art!

Woolwich Pier

Near Woolwich Pier. London through barbed wire. A grey prickly start to a very long walk….

Woolwich

Woolwich Thames Path. Canary Wharf in the far distance

Woolwich Ferry

Watching the Woolwich Ferry load up and depart…

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First major landmark of the walk here is the Thames Barrier…


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…and in the distance the next landmark… The Millenium Dome

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.

The Emirates Airline Cable Car

The Emirates Airline Cable Car across the Thames. A pretty new addition that I had no idea existed. Apparently originally designed as a commuter option for crossing the Thames, since the end of Olympic traffic use has dropped considerably. Most of the cars looked empty to us.

Canary Wharf

Canary Wharf

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.

boat

Nikki’s excellent photo of an old, creaky barge moored along that stretch of the river.

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…and, yes, we had to walk along this stretch..under the arm of the bulldozer…after we got the ok from the driver. This stretch was definitely not quite ready for us!

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.

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The Royal Greenwich Observatory

Cutty Sark

At the Cutty Sark. Our last stop for the day


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