Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Wednesday walk #1

Today was the first of what I hope will be many Wednesday Walks with Miss Moss Stitch, around London.

For our inaugural walk we picked a good, long, local yomp that incorporated:
  • one of London's finest public parks
  • the 2012 Olympic site
  • the sewage system of East London
  • the Meridian line
  • one of Joseph Bazalgette's elaborate, high Victorian municipal buildings
  • a dockside airport
We set off from Bethnal Green tube station at 9:30am and the first landmark we came to was Victoria Park.

Victoria Park is one of my favourite London parks, and really it is quite eclectic and delightful.  Today it was very quiet and empty, with just a few gardeners from the council trimming trees and clearing flower beds.  But on a warm sunny afternoon it is full of local people - walking dogs, running, riding bikes, reading the paper, stopping for a fag break, taking their children to the deer enclosure or the playground, sitting at one of the pubs around the edge or strolling along the canal.

We walked around the southern edge of the park to Hackney Wick, where we weaved through a few residential streets and joined the Greenway.

On a dreary winter's day, the Greenway is emphatically not a green way.

A rather grim start to the Greenway at Hackney Wick

It got us off to a very uninspiring start after the pretty landscapes of Victoria Park, but we knew that in less than a mile would be the sight we had based this whole walk around.  The new 2012 Olympic stadium at Stratford.  And when we got there, we were not disappointed.

The main Olympic stadium, Stratford, East London

The footpaths around the Olympic village are starting to be marked out

The Greenway runs right alongside the Olympic stadium

A wet information board, in front of the stadium

Cranes and diggers everywhere. The building in the centre of the picture, with the yellow grandstands, is the Aquatic Centre

Diggers, lorries and bollards outside the Olympic stadium

I took all these pictures from The View Tube - a cafe and Olympic viewing area at Pudding Mill Lane, at the western end of Stratford.  The stadium is very beautiful, but also very difficult to photograph with a little camera on such a grey day.  The inner struts of the stadium are jet black, and the outer struts and the lighting rigs are pure white - it looks dramatic, impressive and inspiring.  Everything it should do.

The Olympic Park as a whole still has the appearance of a construction site, but all the major structures are in fact complete and are now being fitted out.  The beautiful, timber-clad velodrome is my favourite building, but was sadly about the only one we couldn't spot from The View Tube.  The velodrome is on the other side of the Olympic Park, a short walking distance from our house, and it is the venue which I am most excited about using once the games are over.

After we had taken all our photos and admired all the buildings, we carried on along the Greenway towards Stratford and Plaistow.

Old Ford Lock, near Bow

We passed Old Ford Lock (former home of The Big Breakfast on Channel 4 - remember that?) and then discovered that we were crossing the Meridian Line, just a few miles north of its Greenwich home.

One foot east, one foot west

The Greenway is an elevated walkway, because it is actually built right on top of East London's sewage pipes! That sounds appalling, but for most of the time you forget - the pipes are buried deep underground, and you are too busy enjoying the contrasting views of modern Olympic buildings and beautiful old Victorian warehouses. But every now and then there are reminders of the municipal pipes under your feet.

An old sewage pipe - displayed on top of the Greenway to remind you what lies beneath

And then south of Stratford, close to West Ham station and the Jubilee Line depots, we had our strongest reminder of what we were walking over. The incredibly beautiful and impressive Abbey Mills Pumping Station, and a strong accompanying stench of sewage from the modern water works that lie alongside.

Abbey Mills Pumping Station

The Abbey Mills Pumping Station was built by Joseph Bazalgette in the 1860s as part of his practical but ambitious solution to London's grim sewage problems (I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in finding out more about this most Victorian and intriguing of civil engineering projects). Today his pumping station is a rather unloved, but nevertheless listed, building, with a modern sewage works tucked in behind it (hence the smell). I would have loved to explore the building more closely but sadly it is hidden behind three layers of metal fencing. Gill and I had to stand on tiptoe and stretch as high as we could to take our photos!

Abbey Mills Pumping Station and multiple layers of fencing

Gill, stretching high with her camera

We saw a good sculpture made from more old sewage pipes, that had been given some much needed colour with graffiti.

And then we looked over the bridge to see the Channelsea Creek and the Abbey Creek - both part of the complicated Bow Back River network - gushing past underneath us.

Bow Back Rivers

The very unlovely Channelsea Creek emerging from the bridge

I knew logically that this was river water, not sewage, but the sight of the creekside mud combined with the pungent sewage smell wafting around, still left me a little unnerved.  We picked up our pace, left the smells behind us and continued along the Greenway for a few more miles towards Plaistow and Beckton.  We passed more excellent graffiti as we walked.

Winter-themed graffiti near Newham General Hospital

We ended our walk a few miles further on, overlooking City Airport at the Royal Albert Dock in Beckton. We ate our well-earned sandwiches sitting on a bench on the north side of the dock.  As we ate, we had a fantastic view of all the aeroplanes taking off and landing at the airport across the water.  Next to the airport is the large Tate & Lyle refinery - home of the magnificent Lyle's golden syrup.

Planes at City Airport, with the Tate & Lyle refinery in the background

Twin-prop plane taking off from City Airport
And then we lolloped, really quite slowly, a few hundred yards to the Royal Albert DLR station (we even got the lift up to the elevated station!) and thence back home.

A DLR train pulling into Royal Albert station

We walked just shy of eight miles altogether (actually possibly a little over, as I confidently directed us completely the wrong way in Victoria Park), and my legs know about it this evening!

We both also know there will be more of these Wednesday walks, because there are so many great London walks out there for us to explore.  Today we made use of the excellent Walk London website, and followed all of Section 4 and part of Section 5 of the Jubilee Greenway.  The Jubilee Greenway is a long circular walk around London which is being set up over the next two years and will incorporate all the London Olympic venues and begin and end at Buckingham Palace.  It is being set up to commemorate both the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, and the Olympics in 2012.  The East London Greenway existed already, and is being absorbed into the larger Jubilee Greenway over the next year or so.

This was a great start to the new year, and a great start to our Wednesday walks.  Next week we're heading to London's biggest and best map shop to stock up on inspiration, and then we'll be doing a shorter, but more glamorous walk than this week - right through the centre of London from Covent Garden to the City.


  1. Blimey! I'm worn out just reading about it! So good to learn more about the city I've lived in my entire life.

  2. What a great way to spend a day. My colleague’s partner is a site manager down at Stratford and I can report all is going to plan. Another excellent and inspiring blog, I will tell Garden Girl to prepare her walking apparel for the weekend.

  3. My walks tend to be shorter and muddier than yours - and probably not nearly so interesting!

  4. That's some walk! I've just about managed down to their school and back this week! If you're not too exhausted I'd like to invite you to a little blog event over at fraise! Maybe you could do a list inspired by Mole/Ratty/rivers/holes on 25th???

  5. I really enjoyed this post. My husband and I lived in Twickenham for 3 years 20+ years ago before we moved to Texas and we used to enjoy walks in Richmond Park and along the river. We go back to the UK most summers and last year got to use City Airport for the first time. Thanks for the link to the bookstore - I shall definitely plan to go there and my husband who loves maps will be thrilled.


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