With so many amazing places to choose from where I have lived, at first it seemed difficult to pick a particular one. But then I thought about my own heritage and what that means to me. There’s no shortage of British heraldic symbols, but for me personally it has to be the Thames. That river has literally and figuratively run through my life, as a child and young adult when I lived in London, and now whenever I have the opportunity to return. Here are a few favourite pictures of familiar and perhaps less familiar portions, and Mother Thames, m’dear, I’ll see you next month!
London Bridge –– Southwark –Bermondsey – South Bank – Waterloo- Westminster – Lambeth
If day one and day two were about a London riverside in development, day three was about a riverside that belongs to tourists, and the day started as it meant to go on with at least five different “river fun runs” underway. It didn’t help that it was a Sunday either. Crowds of tourists of all nationalities, strings and strings of riverside runners, and hustle and bustle. This wasn’t the Thames that we saw the day before. It took some negotiation to make our way along the riverside at this point. So many runners and tourists!
Like Greenwich, Southwark is steeped in history and you could easily spend half a day looking around. We hustled past the second of the historic ships that weekend. First the Cutty Sark in Greenwich, and here the Golden Hind.
We ended Day 3 in the area where tourist London also drops off. Further down the river, away from the main attractions, there will still be crowded riverside days at weekends, but it will mostly be Londoners, not tourists, that we will come across. However, when we pick the trail again from Lambeth Bridge, I imagine it won’t be until 2015. You never know, but I don’t think I can make it back to the UK next year, but I look forward to picking up the trail again…. watch this space!
Greenwich – Deptford – Surrey Docks – Butlers Wharf – Tower Bridge – London Bridge
Day two picked up where we left off at the Cutty Sark near Greenwich Pier. There’s so much to see and do in Greenwich, and its hard to walk through London and not stop at 101 different worthy distractions. The previous day’s planned distance was reduced considerably in reality, as it simply too much fun to stop and look at everything. It quickly became clear that the London section of the walk was going to be more about exploring riverside activities than truly hiking away the miles, which was just fine with me.
So, before we got very far along the Greenwich riverbank we stopped and explored the Greenwich Foot Tunnel that takes pedestrians underneath the Thames to the opposite bank. Its a pretty cool experience and tiring too if you decide to take the stairs rather the lift shaft.
As we were committed to the South Bank, we crossed back again and re-commenced our journey westward. Deptford came up on us quickly. Its a less developed, neglected part of the city, and the path took us away from the riverside and into 1960’s urban sprawl.
Although our walk took us down past some less attractive areas of town, Deptford isn’t without it history or charms. It was also a Saturday, and the first day of the annual London Open House weekend, which I learnt meant that participating private residences or places of interest not normally open to the public were opening their doors so the likes of us could come and have a quick poke around. I had forgotten all about it, but as we walked down the back streets of Deptford, this gate beckoned us forth:
We spent a good hour in there, but eventually returned to the riverside trail, heading westward towards a series of quays. If yesterday was about old industrial sites meeting new modern trendy London, today was about the quay. Small marinas and quays were strung out in successions for the next couple of miles.
The last one along this stretch was Surrey Quay, which unexpectedly hosted an organic garden and petting zoo, which seemed like a pleasant place to stop and grab some lunch. They are all set up for toddlers and finger food, but the adult organic restaurant was very good and we enjoyed the animals too! An unexpected find in London!
The rest of the day’s walk took us past the start of some upmarket housing developments, perched alongside some of London’s older abandoned jetties. Canary Wharf made a final appearance behind us as we turned the bend onto the final stretch towards Tower Bridge. Reaching Butler’s Wharf was the start of tourist London, fancy restaurants, and trendy shopping. Quite a change from just a mile or two up the river.
This day’s photo journal wouldn’t be complete without a picture of our penultimate destination – Tower Bridge – not to be confused with London Bridge our final stop on Day Two, and just a short half mile away.
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.