Island Gardens to Bow Creek - September 22nd 2021
This very short 2.5 mile walk on the north bank starts at Island Gardens at the bottom of the Isle of Dogs. Instead of turning right towards the City along the official Thames Path, you turn left and keep walking until you reach the point where Bow Creek flows into the Thames at Trinity Buoy Wharf. Google Maps refers to this path as the Thames Path North East Extension.
So, on a really pleasant sunny day, I caught various trains to Island Gardens DLR station and then headed towards the 3 acre parkland that is Island Gardens. Having admired the Old Royal Navy College buildings across the river at Greenwich, I turned left and followed the riverside path. To my left, the path was dominated by apartment blocks, whereas to my right, on the opposite bank, it was dominated by Morden Wharf, the O2 and plenty of new construction. Morden Wharf is set to become the last part of the Greenwich Peninsular to be regenerated, with amongst other things, 1500 new homes and a large area of parkland – see www.mordenwharf.com . The Thames Path itself will be widened and made much more appealing; this won’t be difficult as it’s absolutely awful at the moment!
About halfway into my walk, it was necessary to cross the entrance to South Dock – one of the 3 docks comprising West India Docks. The main road around the Isle of Dogs (A1206) crosses this entrance, so to allow craft of a certain height to navigate into and out of the dock, an opening bridge is required. The current bridge is the 5th one at this crossing and was opened in 1969. It is known locally as the “Blue Bridge” for an obvious reason – it is very blue! As luck would have it, at the time of my walk the bridge was being raised and then lowered. It was quite a sight for a nerd like me! Almost immediately after the bridge, the path passed The Gun. This is an 18th century Grade II listed pub that got its current name from the cannon that was fired when the West India Docks first opened in 1802. Lord Nelson, who lived locally, would frequent The Gun and regularly meet Lady Emma Hamilton in an upstairs room for their not so secret affair!
The path took to the streets for a short distance, taking in the glorious sight of a huge ventilation shaft for the southbound Blackwall Tunnel running beneath. I feel a bit sorry for the residents of the apartment blocks right by this shaft but believe it or not, it was Grade II listed in 2000! I’ve read that the architect was Sir Terry Farrell whilst he was working briefly for the GLC in the 1960s. He was also responsible for a similar shaft for the southbound tunnel south of the river at the spot where the Millennium Dome (subsequently renamed O2 Arena) would be built in 1998/1999! This explains the hole in the canopy of the O2, visible from the north bank of the river; the O2 was built around the shaft that like the one on the north side of the river, is Grade II listed. Farrell went on to design a whole host of well known buildings including the MI6 Building at Vauxhall and the new Charing Cross Station; from humble beginnings come great things as they say!
After this brief excitement, the path eventually returned to the waterfront at the Virginia Quay development – “yes” more apartment blocks. After Virginia Quay, the path passed through a gate into East India Dock Basin. This small area of water is all that remains of the East India Docks. Until they were filled in there were 2 docks feeding off the basin – an Export Dock and an Import Dock. The docks closed in August 1967. The basin is now a nature reserve owned by Lea Valley Regional Park Authority. There are long term plans to enhance the basin.
After crossing the opening of the basin from the river, the path continued across the basin exiting through a strange looking brown gate. This gate is actually a modern sculpture called The Salome Gates! The path I was following finished here but it was still possible to continue to Bow Creek by walking through a former industrial area on a tiny spit of land – Orchard Place. At the end of Orchard Place was and still is Trinity Buoy Wharf. The wharf was the location of Trinity House’s workshops where they made buoys, lightships and even lighthouses. Today London’s only lighthouse still stands here and the original Longplayer installation, running since the 31st December 1999, is situated in the lamp room of the lighthouse – see longplayer.org . The wharf is now a centre for creativity and is brilliantly quirky – trinitybuoywharf.com .
As I’d reached the end of my walk, it was such a nice day and it was only 13:30, I decided I’d go to Greenwich for an hour or so. I walked through the park up to the Observatory and along with lots of other people, took in the iconic views of historic Greenwich with the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf in the background.