Weekend Walks - April 2015
11th / 12th April
There are a couple of weekend walks in the middle of April, that I haven't mentioned. Beginning with the morning walk from Trafalgar Square to St Paul's cathedral there were a couple of people returning for their second walk with me. Lindsay, a student from the States studying in London was one, and another was Lilach from Israel, who brought her son along. I took the photo of the group standing outside Apothecaries Hall in the City of London.
Next up was a group of four, consisting of Tracey and Paul, Greg and Andrea for the walk tat takes in Bankside and Borough to the south of London Bridge. They are standing in the courtyard of the George Inn, a 17th century National Trust owned pub just off Borough High Street.
For the Sunday east London walk, there was another group of four (one of them declined to be in the photo) and I took their photo on Princelet Street in Spitalfields.
18th / 19th April
The morning walk on Saturday 18th April was an all English affair, with Sally and Rob in London for the day from Cambridgeshire and Paul, Jo and Andrew who were whiling away a few hours before going to watch their home team Reading play Arsenal at Wembley Stadium in the semi final of the FA Cup (unfortunately, Reading lost). I took their photo at the end of the walk outside St Paul's cathedral.
Talking of St Paul's cathedral, that's exactly where I took the photo of Michael & Susy that afternoon before heading over the Millennium Bridge.
Finally, Annie and Pete contacted me about joining the east London walk. They had actually already done the walk before and as it happened, it was just them, so we mixed it up a bit and headed up to Hoxton and popped in to the Geffrye Museum, a museum of the home. It's a unique museum housed in an old 18th century almshouses, that allows you to walk through the living rooms of London homes from the 1600s to the present day. They currently have an exhibition which is on until 12th July entitled 'Homes of the Homeless: Seeking Shelter in Victorian London'.
After a brief wander around Greenwich and a spot of lunch, sitting on the steps of Nicholas Hawksmoor’s St Alfege Church in the relative tranquillity of the churchyard, I continued on my journey to the Thames Barrier and threaded my way back towards the river. A dome with a red-bricked base sits by the waters edge; the southern entrance to the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, which as the name would suggest is a pedestrian tunnel (opened in 1902) that burrows beneath the river to link Greenwich with the Isle of Dogs on the north side. I remember the first time I ever walked through the tunnel. Maybe it’s just me, but the fact that you’re wandering through a 1,215 ft long cast iron tunnel glazed with over 200,000 tiles that feel like they could pop out and let the river come crushing through at any moment is quite exciting. There’s definitely an air of danger in the stagnant air and etched on to the faces of everyone you pass by.
Aside from Nandos, the main dominating feature of the riverside at Greenwich is the Cutty Sark, a 19th century tea clipper, which has been resting there in a dry dock since the 1950s. It is a effectively a maritime equivalent of a listed building and was one of the last and not to mention fastest sail ships to travel all around the world before finally being usurped by the much less romantic steam boats. During restoration in 2007, the Cutty Sark was badly damaged by a fire and was not reopened to the public again until 2012.
I turned right across the front of the National Maritime Museum and the Old Royal Navy College, which built by Christopher Wren is now a World Heritage Site and as far as I can tell, seems to act as the back drop for every period drama … ever. The Trafalgar Tavern with its wonderful riverside views was as busy as expected with drinkers lining the walkway outside. Turning left and walking to the end of the next street I discovered two quite astoundingly different buildings next to each other. Trinity Hospital, originally a 17th century Mercers company almshouses (and still is today), was rebuilt in 1812 and is a Grade II listed building. It stands tantalising beyond a locked gate, all pristine whitewashed walls amongst flowers and shrubs, but directly in the shadow of a vast early 20th century coal-fired power station. It’s quite an incredible architectural juxtaposition.
For the last stretch of the walk, it all gets a bit industrial, with a huge Tate & Lyle sugar refinery on the opposite bank and on my stretch, almost post apocalyptic scenery (which I always find a strange way of describing something as know one actually knows what such a scene would look like), through fenced off areas, beneath what I think was a cement works and around a massive building site that looks like it will be populated by super expensive flats in the not too distant future. I passed the Millennium Dome, or the O2 Arena as I believe it is now called and watched a posse of intrepid explorers making their way over the roof.
Next up was the Emirates Cable Car, which I had never visited before and probably never will, then gleaming in the late afternoon sun, a short distance ahead and stretching across the river like a series of giant alien water beetles was the Thames Barrier, London’s flood defence. It has been operational since 1982 and the idea is that the barrier stops London from flooding during heavy tides or storm surges. And here was the final stage of the walk, strung out like a finishing line. As I made my way through the Thames Barrier car park to find some form of public transport back to my bike, I found it quite amusing to notice that they actually have an ‘overflow car park’.
Last Monday (Easter Monday Bank holiday) I didn’t have walk booked in, so just by way of a change, decided to go on a walk; the difference being that I wasn’t planning on saying anything to anyone apart from myself. It was also threatening to be the most clement day of the year. Quite remarkably I’d never been to the Thames Barrier (central London’s flood defence), so struck upon the idea of walking from Tower Bridge to the Thames Barrier along the river Thames; a walk of about 11 miles.
I parked my bike by the Tower of London and headed down past St Katharine Docks, up the stairs by Dead Man’s Hole and across Tower Bridge to the south side of the Thames. The old riverside warehouses, wharfs and docks of Shad Thames have been turned in to flats, apartments, shops and restaurants, but as you wander through you can still very much imagine the area as it was when Charles Dickens described it as “the filthiest, strangest and most extraordinary of the many localities that are hidden in London”. Because the tide was out, the river bed at St Saviour’s Dock was a field of silty mud, much as it was when Bill Sykes fell in to it an died in this very place, in Dickens’ ‘Oliver Twist’. St Saviour’s Dock marks the place where the River Neckinger (a subterranean river) meets the Thames, dividing the surrounding areas in to Shad Thames and Jacob’s Island. The name ‘Neckinger’ apparently derives from “Devil’s Neckinger” or “Neckerchief”, a reference to the noose used to hang the pirates at the mouth of the dock, an area notorious in the 18th century for moored vessels being attacked and robbed.
Continuing towards Rotherhithe I came across a tableau of bronze statues; an elder gentleman seated on a bench, a woman resting on a spade to his left, their gaze drawn towards a young girl leaning on the riverside wall on which perches a bronze cat. The ensemble is called ‘Dr Salter’s Daydream’ and references Dr Alfred Salter and his wife Ada who towards the end of the Victorian period dedicated their lives to caring for London’s poor through social work or in the case of Dr Salter (an early pioneer of the NHS), free medical care for the poor of Bermondsey. It would seem that their tireless dedication to their chosen cause ultimately cost them their only child Joyce, who died in 1910 of Scarlet Fever.
After passing through narrow walkways that combine modern housing with converted warehouses I found myself in what felt rather like a rural country churchyard. It is in fact what could be called ‘historic Rotherhithe’, dominated by St Mary’s Church. There are a number of beautiful, if not slightly dilapidated Georgian buildings surrounding the church, some of which are obviously being restored. A little café nestled inside the old Watch Tower, it’s customers basking in the sun in the adjoining park. My guess is that the main draw to this particular enclave on the river is The Mayflower, a sure fire hit of a pub with Londoners and tourists a like (assuming they can find it). In 1620 a group of Protestants (known as the Pilgrim Fathers) set sail from Rotherhithe to Plymouth to pick up more passengers before embarking on a journey to the New World. The original mid 16th century pub, which the crew and passengers of The Mayflower would have known had variously been called ‘The Shippe’ and ‘The Spread Eagle’. The name of the famous ship passed to the pub in 1957 after it had been restored following a direct hit from a doodlebug in World War II. I’d never actually been in to The Mayflower, so took the liberty of stopping for a quick drink. I can imagine that American tourists (especially those with ancestors who were aboard the original ship) start salivating upon entering the cramped and atmospheric boozer positively festooned with all sorts of paraphernalia. They even sell American stamps.
After leaving the pub, I immediately found myself outside The Brunel Museum, marking the southern side of the Thames Tunnel. The Brunel’s are quite a famous family, you could perhaps say, an engineering dynasty. Opened in 1843, the Thames Tunnel was the first tunnel to be built underneath a river anywhere in the world. On its first public day of opening, it is said that 50,000 people each paid a penny to walk beneath the river. Three months later, half the population of London had descended the steps to marvel at what was being described as ‘the 8th wonder of the world’. The museum itself with its prominent chimney resides in the Engine House, built by Sir Marc Brunel to house the engines that drove the pumps that in turn kept the Thames Tunnel dry. As well as a permanent exhibition about the construction of the tunnel, there is, as you would expect, much information about Marc Brunel and his son, the extravagantly named, Isambard Kingdom Brunel. The Brunel Museum hosts regular concerts, gigs, events, guided walks and trips down in to the tunnel, so keep an eye on their website to see what’s occurring.
Continuing eastwards, the imposing financial structures sprouting out of Canary Wharf dominate the skyline. The site was a hugely important dockland area that was basically obliterated during World War II. If you do happen to find yourself in that area, then you should definitely pop in to the Docklands Museum, which as part of the Museum of London will give you a fascinating insight in to the area before it became a purpose built finance district. Canary Wharf is situated on the north end of an area known as the Isle Of Dogs and due to the huge curve of the river at this point, the imposing array of financial buildings seemed to follow me for most of the remainder of the day, like the eyes of portrait painting following you across a room.
I passed the Surrey Docks farm, one of London’s numerous city farms, built on the site of an 18th century shipyard. Outside in a display case they had a great collection of porcelain and ceramics found on the Thames foreshore next to the farm. This stretch of the river is littered with the occasional remnants of an industrial and shipping past, as well as the odd canon towards Deptford on the site of the old Tudor docks where Sir Francis Drake was knighted by Queen Elizabeth I for circumnavigating the world and stealing lots of loot from the Spanish. I also noticed references to the 17th century diarist and Naval administrator Samuel Pepys and fellow diarist and enthusiastic gardener John Evelyn, remembered in Pepys Park and Evelyn Street.
At this point I had to go off piste through the council blocks of Deptford and what the writer Russell Hoban would have described as ‘low budget drinking clubs’ as a vast swathe of riverside land is being developed or at least turned in to a building site. Before I knew it, I was approaching the throngs of bank holidayers swarming like seagulls around the base of the Cutty Sark. The transition from Deptford to Greenwich was really quite startling, as if someone had flung back a curtain and pushed me in to the midst of what my mother might call ‘Paddy’s Market’, full of ice creams, tourists and Morris Dancers.
Here, I shall end 'Part 1' of this minor stroll along the Thames from Tower Bridge to the Thames Barrier, and resume again, beginning in Greenwich in 'Part 2'.
It was the first weekend of walks for April and Easter weekend as well. I began it on Saturday by getting in trouble. A couple of reasons really, but the main one being that Sam, Boon, George and Karen (and their friend Mark) who had been on a walk with me at the end of last year were back for their second (repeat offenders). It would appear that I never did my 'weekend roundup' when they came previously, never mentioned them, never put the photo on the website. Nothing. It was as if the whole thing never happened. I think that Sam particularly had been checking to see whether I'd mentioned their walk. I had always assumed that if I didn't mention a particular walk, people would feel a sense of relief, that they had escaped unscathed from their experience, rather than the profound disappointment obviously harboured by Sam (only kidding Sam). Maybe that's a bit strong, but I apologise and to make up for it, I shall include both the photo from Saturday and the previous one taken on the East London walk last year. They were joined on Saturday morning by Denise and Venetia.
And ... just for the record, here are Sam, Boon, George and Karen last December in Shoreditch.
For Saturday afternoons walk, there were only two people; Frank and Lisa from Canada. They had spent the week in London doing various tours, visiting the must see sights and wot not and I think wanted to get more of an insider perspective and for me to maybe point out and talk about some of the stuff they'd perhaps walked past, but not noticed. I took their photo at the end of the walk beneath The Monument, built by Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke in the 1670's to commemorate the Great Fire of London.
Easter Sunday brought a mighty group, an international conglomeration of first timers, second timers and also 9 month old Mali, which was really quite special. A really excellent young lady called Beth had come on the same east London walk a few years ago with some colleagues (yes, you Paul), but returned on Sunday with her husband (I think they're married) Owain and their baby daughter Mali which was great. Tagging along with them were friends Phil & Lexi. A guy called Joe who I'd met doing a walk around Soho last year for him and his work people came along with Britt, Verena and Katrina. We also had Sharyn and her family from New Zealand, Chris and Sophie from Germany, Elsie from Kenya and Dale and Rachel from Americaland. Here they are on Rivington Street in Shoreditch.
Youngest - Mali
Best Moustache - No Winners
Tallest - Boon & Mark (joint winners)
Most beardy - Mark
Special Award for no particular reason - Sam
Only person to wear shorts - Matt
Most German person with an un German sounding last name - Chris Black
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.