Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Weekday walk #8

For our walk this week we went back to the Thames, to continue where we left off at the end of walk number 6.  And yet again, we found ourselves delaying the start of our walk as we'd unwittingly turned up at low tide, and there was a vast stretch of muddy, rubbish-strewn foreshore to explore.

We were on the North Greenwich peninsula, just next to the Millennium Dome, and we clambered down as close to the edge of the water as we could get without falling in.  The rocks were very slippy with mud and seaweed, so we trod carefully.

Looking across the mud to the Isle of Dogs

With the tall towers of Canary Wharf looking over us we poked around in the mud and the pebbles, to see what we could find.

Marble and bottle ball from the mud on the Greenwich peninsula
A marble and a glass bottle stopper ball

Metal treasure on the beach
Part of an old spring
I found a wax crayon on the mudflats in North Greenwich
Not a toxic lump of sulphur, as I first thought - but a chunk of wax crayon

One of the strangest things was something we noticed gradually, as we explored.  Almost the whole beach was covered with a thick layer of old metal - mainly long nails, pieces of chain and chunky nuts and bolts.  What I first thought was a beach full of pebbles was in fact a beach full of eroded old bolts - worn by the tides to look like rounded pebbles.

Metal pebbles
Metal detritus on the beach

The bolts are so obviously from ships that I was quite alarmed at the apparent fragility of the boats that go up and down the Thames.  But then when I got home I discovered that this small stretch of the river used to be home to several shipyards, and that the shipbuilders were careless with their recycling, rather than shoddy in their workmanship.
Chains in the mud
Chains and old nails in the mud

Once we had filled our backpacks with too many rusty bits of old metal to be practical, we set off along the riverbank, towards the centre of town.

It turned out to be a walk of two distinct parts.  The whole length of our walk - nearly eight miles from the North Greenwich peninsula to Bermondsey - used to be part of the London Docklands.  The Docklands was once the teeming hub of a trade-fuelled empire, it declined rapidly and irrevocably after World War II, lay derelict for several decades and then was regenerated, starting in the late 1980s and continuing on into the late 1990s and up to the present day.

But the regeneration has been so varied, and I felt on this walk that we saw both the very good and the very disappointing.

Derelict land in front of the Millennium Dome

The first part of our walk - from the Millennium Dome to Deptford - has seen the most recent regeneration, at the time of the new millennium, just over ten years ago.  The regeneration here has been so patchy; huge buildings with bold architectural styles, interspersed with vast chunks of still-derelict wasteland.  There's no sense of community as you walk from one building to the next - people are kept apart by long stretches of security fencing or hoardings.

Gill taking photos in North Greenwich
Derelict quay in North Greenwich

Odd choice of cladding
Strangely clad office block next to the Millennium Dome

Derelict in Deptford
Derelict arches in Deptford

Poor colour choices
New tower blocks in North Greenwich

Mud and barges by the Greenwich peninsula
Mud and barges on the Greenwich peninsula

Wharf and aggregate plant on the Greenwich peninsula
Wharf and aggregate plant in North Greenwich

But when we got to Surrey Quays, Rotherhithe and Bermondsey the mood of the river, and our mood, changed.  The sun came out too, which helped.  These areas were regenerated back in the late 1980s and were done in a very different way.

More houses and fewer appartment blocks were built.  There were fewer grand 'statement' buildings erected, and more old pubs and gardens were kept.  There is a palpable sense of community here - with noticeboards, schools, posters for local events, prosperous looking pubs and more mature plants and trees.

Good windows in Rotherhithe
Terraced houses with funky windows in Rotherhithe

The Mayflower pub in Rotherhithe
Fancy a pint? The Mayflower in Rotherhithe

Modern sign - old name
Old name for a newish (1980s) building in Surrey Quays
Lunchtime marathon training
Lunchtime marathon training in Bermondsey

I hope that the difference is simply due to the extra time since Surrey Quays, Rotherhithe and Bermondsey were regenerated - twenty years or more compared to a mere decade or so for North Greenwich.  Perhaps North Greenwich will catch up.

We ended at Bermondsey with absolutely glorious views along the river to Tower Bridge, St Paul's Cathedral and the impressive buildings of the City.

The City, Tower Bridge and the Shard - seen from Bermondsey

Except, that wasn't quite the end.  We sloped off to a cafe on the busy Jamaica Road in Bermondsey and treated ourselves to a good strong cup of tea and a kitkat, before catching the tube home.

The end of the walk

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