It struck me these balmy October weekends that since everyone has two legs, and not all have two wheels, that it might be worth encouraging you all to take advantage of a local walk. Yes.. that's correct.. a walk! Surprisingly, perhaps, there are now some pleasant walks that you can take from the Westcombe Park area, other than to Greenwich Park. Either do the whole thing on foot, or catch a 422 or 108 to the Dome (if you are from outside the Greenwich area and reading this, catch a Jubilee Line Tube to North Greenwich station instead). From the station it is now possible to enjoy a pleasant walk and take in a mixture of industrial heritage, straddle 'the line', view some modern art, if the tide is out enjoy a spell of amateur 'twitching', get spooked and view a wide range of modern architecture and finally sup a pleasant pint or even snatch a bite to eat in a 'country' garden.
On September 18th, 2001, the Dome section of the Thames Path opened. First off, how do you join it from the station? Well, that bit is quite difficult to explain! When you get off the bus, wait for it to depart. Where you want to go is just across the entry road, the bus lay-by, and approach road to the terminus. Err to the right, rather than the left, and you will find the way. There are some signs, but they are difficult to spot. Follow them through the fence bounding Ordnance Way and turn to the right, sticking as close to the Dome as possible.
Take a right turn in to Drawdock Road. There are still lifting
barriers here, but pedestrian and bike access in uninhibited. Bear
left with the road and to your left is one of the Ventilation
Shaft No. 4 of the original (now north-bound only) Blackwall
Blackwall Old Tunnel, Ventilation Shaft No. 4
This is a somewhat smaller structure than the relatively enormous
equivalent belonging to the new tunnel to your right which was
incorporated in to the structure of the Dome. A slight incline takes
you to the start of the new Path. If you were to turn left it is now
possible to 'walk the river' all the way to Greenwich Town
Centre. Instead, take the path to the right that initially runs
parallel with the old 'drawdock' slipway down to the river
(actually occupied by a large barge on the 27th). Straight ahead is
one of the best views of the original Canary Wharf tower, its
two newly completed cousins, and three smaller towers still under
The Triple Towers... + two new ones.. or is it three??
The Path turns to the right at the end of the slipway and after 50
yards or so you will enter the perimeter of what used to be the
Dome compound. This is now separated off from the Dome itself
by the standard-issue 10ft high blue fencing, lighting and CCTV
Canary Wharf + Tower Hamlets 'Waste Disposal Facility'
To the right is a second ventilation shaft of the original
tunnel. The mysterious 'timeline' plaques on it (removed by the
27/10/01 photo-shoot) are the remains of one of the Dome's many
original art installations that originally played sounds
related to the places referenced from concealed loudspeakers in the
Blackwall Old Tunnel - Ventilation Shaft No. 3 - 'Time Piece' Art Installation
Just beyond this point you will find yourself walking over some 'tramlines' in the tarmac, and then a single 'rail'. Bizarrely there is no representation of the 'line' across the path itself, but where it should lie is slightly extended out over the river.
A similar extension is located on the nearby jetty, while turning
through 180 degrees and following the 'line' south hits a 'mirror
wall' with the line going through it. This is the Greenwich Prime
Meridian, one of the few locations where one can encounter a
physical representation of what is, after all, a purely artificial
creation. Here, as in Greenwich Park, kids can have fun placing one
foot in the 'East' and one in the 'West'.
Shoot the 'Line'
The nearby jetty is unusual to say the least. Although
originally scheduled for renovation, and then by Dome visitors, it
was only used during the construction phase of the Dome. Too
expensive to demolish, it has been planted with a variety of
native riverside grasses, shrubs and small
Moving on, the building to the right, just inside the Dome
perimeter is the Greenwich Pavilion. This was paid for and
built by Greenwich Council as a combination of
restaurant and exhibition area with large models and
plans of the whole of the Peninsula site. The original idea was to
use it as a 'watering hole' once the Thames Path was open to the
public, but whether this will now happen is doubtful. Although there
were a surprising number of people taking advantage of the new Path
on what was admittedly a wonderful Saturday afternoon, whether it
would ever make economic sense to open this up until the Dome itself
has new tenants is debatable. Winter days with the wind in the east
would make this location less desirable!
I see no ships
but yes.. you do! Another piece of
artwork. This time it's a 25ft long section through the
bridge of a small coaster, just sitting there on the mud
offering perches to the gulls at high water. Called, appropriately
enough, A Slice of Reality there's not much more to say about
Captain to Bridge: "Hello...... are you still there?"
Some comfortable seating is available near here, so if you
are feeling tired already, take an early break. When the tide is out
there are huge expanses of both mud and something that is closer to
sand than mud in colour, but hardly Camber Sands. Nevertheless,
mudflats are much better at attracting wildlife than
expanses of sand, and here you should be in for a treat. Gulls of
various types, terns, cormorants, shag, grey herons, rooks, Canada
Geese, mallard.. all were present on my visit.. and not just in one
and twos. I counted 30 Canada Geese alone.
Over on the other side of the river are three things to note. The
hi-techy building with the satellite dish on the roof is the
relatively new Reuters building. To the right of that, and
still under construction, are the new offices for Global
Switch, and to the right of that is the Telehouse. Both
are used by Internet Service Providers as their satellite link points
to the global Internet.
Reuters, Global Switch & the Telehouse
Immediately downstream (that's to the right) is a large Barrett's
development called Virginia Quay. This occupies the site of
the newly restored First Settlers Monument, dedicated to those
who left these shores in the 18th century to colonise the 'New
World'. At the extreme downstream end of this site is a small and
still active fuel wharf. In the area behind this and to the
right, currently not developed on the river front, is East India
Dock Basin, an ecology park that is open to the public,
and which can be accessed from the road system that feeds the
River Lea Bridge.
Barrett's Virginia Quay development & Virginia Settlers Monument
Time to move on now. In order to maintain a constant level, the
new Path at this point has made some inroads on an ecology
area that incorporates a series of flood terraces open to the
high tides from the River. Inside the perimeter fence at this point
is a small pond and an area of grass and sedges. Hopefully this will
be allowed to recover, but at present it is looking rather
Graded River Terracing
Close by there is also an interesting set of information
panels on the wildlife of this area and the nearby mudflats
Looking across the River once more you will be in for something of
a shock. Yes.. that's correct.. it's a lighthouse! Although
now disused, located at the mouth of the River Lea, this is
the only inland lighthouse in the country. This is located at the
premises of Trinity House, the organisation responsible for
all the buoys and lighthouses around our coasts. This was their
training centre, and the lighthouse was used to explain the
operations of these structures to future Eddystoners. With the demise
of all our offshore lighthouses and their replacement with boring
automatic beacons, Trinity House sold off the site, and it now
occupied by artist's studios and performance spaces. In addition,
there are usually a number of craft in various stages of repair by
Trinity Buoy Wharf & Lighthouse
A fourty foot high, bright yellow, warning sign hoves in to
view inside the perimeter fence. What is it for? This is the very tip
of the Greenwich Peninsula, so for ships proceeding downstream it is
the first opportunity to spot the fact that there is a potential
hazard up ahead at the far end of Bugsby's Reach. The
Thames Barrier has special radar and radio channels that can
be used by both pleasure craft and commercial shipping to check the
status of the Barrier. The sole purpose of the sign is to encourage
mariners to use them!
Thames Barrier WARNING! Notice
If you think you've been walking for a while then let me warn you
that you're probably less than half way round the circumference in
relation to where you got off the bus. Not a lot of special interest
in the next couple of hundred yards or so, although from here on the
vast majority of the northern embankment is occupied by
warehouses and still-active wharves. One of these was
refurbished last year and is occupied by Abel-Nobel the parent
company of International Paints organisation.
A working wharf... tug and barge repairs
This is probably the best point to peer in to the vacated Dome and to see.. absolutely nothing! Although it took some nine months to reach this state, there is now nothing left inside the huge envelope that last year housed the MEX.
It would be interesting to know whether any of the workmen who
roam the vacant structure have ever witnessed the ghost of George
Livesey, the 'Godfather of Gas' in S.E. London. Dr. Mary Mills
reported sightings of his ghostly
presence while the original construction was in progress.
Possibly the most interesting thing left is an integral part of the Dome itself, and that is the drains or to be more precise, the structures that collect the water from the huge expanse of the Dome roof. It is worth being there in a thunderstorm, or simply in very heavy rain to witness the racket this makes on the roof covering, and the spectacular torrents of water that pour from the funnel-like structures spaced at intervals around the roof. All this water disappears into very elaborate soakaways surrounded with huge boulders. The sumps feed a huge rainwater 'sewer' that follows the perimeter of the Dome and is large enough to drive a Land Rover round to check for possible blockages. This water in turn is/was collected and stored for use in the site toilets.
A short way on, right by the path is a towering Thames
Wildlife information piece. This provides information on the huge
range of animal life that has been found in recent years in the
adjacent tidal Thames. Now rated as the cleanest 'industrial river'
in Europe, the list is certainly impressive and includes some
'exotics' such as goldfish and Chinese Mitten Crabs.
Long view of information pillar, Millennium Pier and Richard Gormley's sculpture
The last feature of note on the Dome side, sadly no longer
available to those beginning to gasp by now, is the Dome's own Pub,
The Red Boot. Quite why this has so far survived the
destruction whereas the site of what was, for a year, the largest
Macdonalds in Europe lies in tidy ruins is anyone's guess
although it is quite an attractive structure along with the
semi-protected performance area outside and another sculpture. The
foundations of SkyScape on the other hand are far from tidy
and are in use for rubble collection. The children's play area
next to the Boot and associated equipment has also gone, although the
soft surface remains.
The Red Boot and Performance Area
Back on the riverfront, the Millennium Pier, now unused,
will hopefully find some new purpose once a new occupier is found for
the Dome. Adjacent to the Pier, is the third item of Dome art. This
is an elaborate sculpture some 75 feet high that looks like a huge
Christmas tree made out of stainless steel tubes. Designed by
Antony Gormley, a Goldsmiths College alumnus, who created the
spectacular 'Angel of the North' figure at Gateshead, it has been
constructed on one of the original triangular 'Doric'-style support
columns of the old Gas Works jetty, Phoenix Wharf. An
interesting feature of this structure is that if viewed from the
correct angle, a human figure can be visualised within it
(look back over your shoulder at the 'turn' *).
The Gormley Sculpture & Millennium Pier (spot the figure inside!)
From here on is a very long straight stretch of Thames Path, here clearly divided into a wide pedestrian and standard green tarmac cycle path, with some additional gravel areas on the river side of the path at its northern end which are planted with grasses and other ground-hugging plants.
On the nearby riverside railings an elaborate historical
timeline of the Greenwich Peninsula is displayed on one
continuous information panel some 150ft in length. There is some more
seating here. At this point, looking straight down below the
safety rail, and assuming it's not high tide, it is possible to get a
good look at the new river terracing that has been put in
place on the river frontage to provide new reed-bed habitat and
opportunities for wildlife (including those crabs). Across the river
rising above the rooftops of the wharves are the white-painted
triangular roof-trusses of the new ExCel Exhibition
Long view of Time Line and the Thames Barrier
Now heading away from the Dome you are currently prevented from
making a short cut back to the station via the road alongside the old
coach park. Instead you are forced to make a 200 yard detour
and to take a right turn* at the first opportunity and join the
original sign-posted Thames Path that prevailed prior to
September 18th 2001. This effectively chopped off the tip of the
Peninsula and the Dome altogether and cut across the new Central
Park to link with the pedestrian footbridge over the A102 by the
Turn right for the return leg...
When you reach Central Park you have two options. If you fancy a
drink and/or something to eat, then turn to your left and you will
spot the only collection of 'old' buildings left on the Peninsula,
the Pilot Inn and Ceylon Cottages, now with their own
courtyard/car park. Highly recommended!
Look left... The Pilot Public House and Ceylon Cottages
However, if you want to get back home, turn to your right and walk down the length of the Park if it's dry, or down either of the roadside paths if not, pointing yourself at the, now distant, Dome.
Look right... Central Park and the Dome
The last feature of note that you will encounter is a marble-lined multi-jet fountain that has been created at the northern end of Central Park. This has a series of metre-high computer-controlled jets that play various sequences. Unfortunately, this is now rarely operational.
All that remains is to head off across the red tarmac towards the old Dome ticket booths, and then bear left towards North Greenwich Station and the start of your journey. Make sure you find the correct bus stop for your return journey, especially if you plan to catch the 108, otherwise you will end up in that den of iniquity otherwise known as... Stratford!
Time for a nice cup of tea and a nap!
Space courtesy of David Riddle