Thames Barrier to London Bridge - January 29th
Depending on which direction you decide to walk the Thames Path in, the Thames Barrier on the south bank of the river marks either the start or end of the trail.
The Thames Path officially starts (or ends) at the entrance to a concrete subway under the main control building of the Thames Barrier. The path first makes its way round the Greenwich Peninsula - an area of land bounded on three sides by a loop of the Thames, between the Isle of Dogs to the west and Silvertown to the east.
South of the peninsula is Greenwich itself. From here the path closely follows another large loop of the river through Deptford, Rotherhithe and Bermondsey. Finally for this walk, the path passes under Tower Bridge before reaching London Bridge.
This section is meant to be about 10.5 miles.
Whilst my general intention was to walk from London to the source, there was no need to do each section in strict order. This was particularly the case for the stages in London, since I would be travelling to and from home for each walk. That said, I’ve no idea why I didn’t start with the Thames Barrier stage!
Anyway, by the time I did this walk, I'd already completed the 3 sections from London Bridge to Hampton Court. I set off from home on a sunny January morning, excited about seeing the Thames Barrier close up. I got the Jubilee Line out to North Greenwich and then a bus that dropped me about 5 minutes from the barrier.
With the sun shining on the shells that protect the hydraulic power packs, the Thames Barrier was certainly a very striking structure. Walking through the subway underneath the barrier’s control centre, the map of the river on the wall made me feel this was more than just a boring concrete subway I was walking through. I was therefore pretty disappointed that for the first mile of the path after the subway, I was actually walking through a rather unattractive area of industry.
However, once I was past this industry, the views ahead and across the river opened up. In common with much of the Greenwich Peninsula and Docklands in general, this area has been and continues to be regenerated with new residential developments everywhere, mainly of the high rise variety. Greenwich Millennium Village is an example and certainly looks a lot more attractive than the industry I walked through at the start.
The Emirates Air Line came up next. This cable car links the Greenwich Peninsula close to the O2, with the Royal Docks on the north bank. It was built in time for the London Olympics in 2012. It is actually a transport line of the TFL network but is much more of a tourist attraction than a serious transport option, since it is a more expensive and slower method of crossing the Thames than the nearby Jubilee Line.
The O2 came up next. This unique structure was only ever intended to be a temporary exhibition venue to celebrate the millennium in 2000. It is the 9th largest building in the world by usable volume. The O2 arena was built underneath the original structure, which was basically a very large, tax payer-funded tent! My walk continued round the O2 with the path sandwiched between the fences of the O2 and the barriers right by the riverside. About two thirds of the way round the O2, I got some really great views of Canary Wharf on the north bank.
After the O2, the path continued towards Greenwich with views in the distance of the Old Royal Naval College and the masts of the Cutty Sark. Nothing of any merit to see between here and Greenwich - ubiquitous old, derelict industry is being replaced with new residential developments – mainly high rise.
Greenwich is a beautiful area of London and I took a break from the Thames Path to walk through Greenwich Park up to the Royal Observatory. From up here there are great views of the Old Royal Naval College, National Maritime Museum and East London in general. I took the opportunity to sit on a bench, admire the views and eat my sandwich. Returning to the walk, the path passes the famous Cutty Sark. Right next to the Cutty Sark there is the southern entrance to the Greenwich foot tunnel that crosses beneath the river and exits opposite at Island Gardens.
From Greenwich I continued alongside the river through Deptford, Rotherhithe and Bermondsey, passing South Dock & Greenland Dock on my way. Once again, there is a huge amount of modern, residential development all along this section. Despite saying how good the Thames Path signage is, I have to confess to managing to going a little off piste for a short distance, almost certainly my fault! Once back on track, the City came into view, with The Shard and Tower Bridge being the two standout landmarks. In Bermondsey, many of the old wharves have been saved and redeveloped for attractive housing, offices and retail, in particular Butler’s Wharf.
At Tower Bridge, the path got understandably busier with many tourists. Passing under Tower Bridge, I walked past HMS Belfast before reaching London Bridge, which marked the end of my walk for that day.