This weekend we have a guest post from Paul Billington who has walked the Thames path capturing ongoing changes in the area.
Glide gently, thus forever glide,
O Thames! that other bards may see,
As lovely visions by thy side
As now, fair river! come to me.
Oh glide, fair stream! for ever so;
Thy quiet soul on all bestowing,
‘Till all our minds forever flow,
As thy deep waters now are flowing.
It is some 219 years ago since William Wordsworth composed that poem whilst sitting beside the River Thames one evening near Richmond. Over the last three years, I have walked in the region of 150 miles along the Thames Path, which officially starts at the Thames Barrier in Charlton to the south east of London down, all the way to the source of the Thames in Kemble.
My own endeavours have seen me walk from Woolwich – an extension of the Thames Path, but not officially part of the main National Trust Trail – to Tower Bridge via Deptford, Rotherhithe & Bermondsey (as well as the “north side” from the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, over to Island Gardens via Canary Wharf, Shadwell, Wapping & St Katherine’s Dock), all the way to Henley on Thames (about 80 miles of the 180 mile total length); the stretch between Fulham & Henley-on-Thames I covered in 27 hours non-stop back in 2016 and I will be foolishly doing it again this September for charity. It extends a further 100 miles down to Tilehurst, Wallingford, Abingdon, Oxford, the Cotswold towns of Cricklade & Lechlade-on-Thames through to the source in Kemble.
The path is flat, which makes it good to walk or cycle along for people of all ages and athletic ability, the atmosphere along it is anything but flat. It is a hive of activity and there is always something happening on the Thames, as well as sights to see. This leads me onto what I consider its fascinating part, the stretch between Woolwich Pier & Tower Bridge on the south side bank.
Change is part of life. For the better or for the worst, it is inevitable. The sights and sounds of those that William Wordsworth encountered all those years ago have changed immeasurably up to this juncture.
No doubt the sights of tall ships or paddleboats he would have seen back then, have been replaced by container ships, hybrid Thames Clipper commuter boats whizzing up and down between Woolwich and Battersea. Even the odd “Party Boat” taking jovial groups of people listening to cheesy tunes of the 70’s and 80’s or even, a bit of “grime”, depending on its clientele of the evening. Wordsworth on a “Poet’s Boat”, now there’s a thought….
However, the one main constant that remains is The Thames itself. That does not change. People are naturally drawn to it. So too are developers; it is incredibly enticing and affords opportunities. It has been fascinating to notice these changes and documenting these initially on my Twitter feed over primarily the last three years.
Let’s start at Woolwich. The Woolwich Royal Arsenal development is one such area where change has taken place and will continue to do so over the coming years, with the advent of the forthcoming Creative District. The Elizabeth Line, more commonly known as Crossrail which was supposed to be in operation from the end of last year, creates those opportunities I mention. Sadly, it is a huge contrast to the town centre across the road, which pails in comparison to the opportunities that have been afforded to the Royal Arsenal development. Chalk & cheese.
The picture on top was taken in May last year, in front of the former Royal Arsenal Military Centre and where the Greenwich Heritage Centre used to be situated to the far end of the building to its right. The development in the background has been completed, with the addition of some trees & Riverside House – the building to the left in the distance, cannot now be seen due to the new block built to the left of the centre. The farmers market can be seen in the foreground.
“Assembly” by the sculpture Peter Burke with the Con Gusto restaurant situated in one of the Grade II listed former guardshouses, first built in 1815, in the background. At this point, start your Garmins/fitbits/oddbits/pedometers, as it is from this point all our steps will count. Just the 12.3 miles to go. Ready?!
The walk begins
Parts of the Berkeley Homes development were still having more greenery placed adjacent to the Thames Path last May, as denoted in the picture to the left. These have been completed and are a nice addition…
….there are though – as you might expect – more to be finished off, such as this staircase leading down to the Thames Path. Signs of further developments taking place, adjacent to what is Maribor Park and formerly the car park of the Waterfront Leisure Centre.
The Waterfront Leisure Centre with its famous waterslide – well, down to Woolwich Pigeon on Twitter – extending out from the side, is planned to close at some point over the next few years with the council planning to relocate the leisure centre into the centre of Woolwich. In the background, the progress of the Callis Yard development is evident.
The shared Thames Path with distinct ones for pedestrians and cyclists becomes more prominent here; more on that later.
The Woolwich Foot Tunnel which crosses under the River Thames from Old Woolwich to North Woolwich and is the oldest remaining building in the riverside area of Old Woolwich; it opened on 26 October 1912.
Also, it is worth noting the excellent signage along the Thames Path and in wider context, the Green Chain/Capital Ring in Greenwich; much better than that on the north side & other parts of the Thames Path in London.
It is clear, a great use of colour coding & should be more widely adopted. These kinds of things are often missed but should be appreciated. It is also the most easterly point in south east London to have a Jubilee Greenway marker (in the foreground), which marks the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and London 2012 Games, a walk that is 60km long to denote each year of the Queen’s reign.
Part Two follows shortly looking at the ferry and heading via Charlotn, Greenwich and Rotherhithe towards central London.