One of the really good things about the Reminiscence Group is that you have the opportunity to discover new things about London through the eyes of its dwellers. For example, last Monday Ted brought me a newspaper cutting of an article by Will Self. The famous writer talked about his lifelong obsession with the Thames, which had led him to walk on the foreshore of the river until he found himself immersed thigh-deep in the muddy water. What Ted suggested was not so extreme: there is a Thames path you can take along the river, from Monument to the Isle of Dogs on the northern shore and from Greenwich to London Bridge in the south.
Living so near Greenwich, we had already experienced the lively activity on the river. In fact, not so many weeks ago, Pam and I discovered a very ancient boat, one hundred years older than the Cutty Sark, anchored in front of the Royal Naval College. It was going to stay there for three days before being towed all the way to Australia. Also, when you walk along the river at night, you can see the lights of the boats that cross it and, on a sunny day, you can choose to travel to Central London by boat instead of taking the underground.
So taking a long walk along the river seemed like a good opportunity to see London from a new perspective, and this is what Lorenzo and I decided to do last Sunday, following Ted’s advice.
We opted to walk along the south bank from Greenwich to London Bridge. I must say that the experience was quite disappointing. We started following the riverbank, but soon were diverted inland and we stopped seeing the water. There were signals that read “Thames Path”, but they just took us along streets full of ugly buildings, and whenever we got to the river, the sights were pretty depressing. So, we decided to return to Greenwich and cross the underwater tunnel that leads to the Isle of Dogs.
This 70-metre foot tunnel was built in 1902 and is now being repaired, although you can still use it. It’s quite an experience, especially if you are a little bit claustrophobic, because you can’t avoid thinking that you are under the river. I used to cross this tunnel a lot when I lived in London twenty years ago, and it hasn’t changed so much. The only difference is that now we can use the original lifts, which were being repaired in 1992, so I had to go up and down the long spiral staircase every time I wanted to visit Greenwich market.
Once you get to the Isle of Dogs, you can see in front of you the Canary Wharf building, one of the landmarks of the Docklands area. If you turn towards the river in Island Gardens, the views are impressive: you can see the Royal Naval College and, to the left, the old power station with its four majestic chimneys.
We decided to walk eastwards and reach the Thames Barriers. Here the path follows the river almost constantly and you can see old and newly renovated buildings with a view to the river. It’s a really pleasant walk where you can meet people with their dogs or riding their bikes.
From time to time you can reach a concrete slipway full of pebbles and moss that leads to the muddy shore. Every time a boat goes past, the waves lap the concrete and you must be careful not to get your feet wet.
As you walk, you can see new landmarks on the opposite bank, like the huge dome of the O2 Arena.
Eventually, the path took us back to the road and, to our surprise, we saw the Canary Wharf in front of us again.
We decided to go on and eventually we reached the futuristic-looking barriers.
These amazing works of engineering were built in the 1970s with the purpose of controlling the floods of the river. Jason, the caretaker of the university building in Woolwich, told Lorenzo that he used to swim from one barrier to the other when he was a kid, which is something he wouldn’t recommend now. Looking at the barriers you have the feeling of having been teleported in time and space; they would fit perfectly into the sets of Mad Max or Planet of the Apes.
Once you pass this part of the river, you can take the ferry that takes you to Woolwich, in the south bank. From there you can take the bus back to Greenwich.
The day was cold and grey but the light was perfect to enhance the beauty of the Thames.
Photos: Lorenzo Hernandez www.photolorenzohernandez.com