|Day 1 – April 22||Thames Barrier to Pimlico|
|Weather: Sun, Cloud, Wind, Rain||B&B: Kathy’s B&B|
|Departed: 10:00 Arrived: 16:30||Distance Today: 13.5 (+2) mi / 21.75 (+3.2) km|
|Total Distance: 13.5 mi / 21.75 km||Pint of the Day: Sharps Cornish Coaster Ale|
I’m sat in a little local pub called the Grosvenor, enjoying a pint of Sharps Cornish Coaster while an eclectic mix of music and banter fill the air. The fact that it took me 23 years to discover this pub, located a 10 minute walk from the B&B I’ve used as my London home for nearly a quarter of century, is mystifying but it’s one of many discoveries I made on the first day of my Thames Path walk.
This is the first time I’ve started a long-distance walk in London and the first time I’ve begun a walk in the middle a marathon. I learned about the London Marathon, and its 37,000 participants, only yesterday but decided to stick to my original plan. I therefore found myself on a jam-packed tube at 10:00 on a Sunday morning, a train was so stuffed that someone got jammed in the doors at London Bridge station. Apparently I was dealing with the crowd better than the London Transport employee who screamed “get out of the F’ing door!”. It seemed to do the trick because we were shortly on our way, but not before the train driver apologized for his colleagues strong language.
The majority of the mob de-trained at Canada Water and Canary Wharf and so when I got out at North Greenwich station I was almost on my own. I had planned to catch a bus from here to the Thames Barrier but with the race related road closures I decided it might be easier to walk the 2 miles to the starting point. I was wrong.
Generally speaking this part of the Thames Path is ridiculously well signed. Unfortunately the path diversion just outside the tube station is not. It took me 20 minutes of backtracking before I found the Thames path and a sign telling me this section was closed and that I would have to backtrack to location I had just returned from. In the end it took me an hour of brisk walking to reach the barrier where I would turn around and retrace my steps. To be honest if the weather not been as beautiful as it was I might have begun my walk from the tube station. As it is my blog followers get full value for their money (and I get a second pint of Sharps).
The section between the barrier and North Greenwich station is a fascinating mix of industrial wasteland, yacht clubs and shiny new builds. The flood barriers began operating in 1982 and took 8 years to construct. Although the idea of engineering some form of flood defences for the Capitol had been around a long time it was the devastating Floods of 1953 that forced the city to act.
The Thames is a tidal river all the way up to Teddington Lock and it was just beginning to flow when I began walking west at just after 11am. This afforded me the opportunity to do some mud larking, or at least look for stuff I could have salvaged had I been packing some Wellingtons. I can now confirm that there are at least 36 mud-bound shopping carts between the barrier and the Greenwich Yacht Club. No doubt there are many more but not all parts of the path run next to the river.
I passed an interesting old pub called the Anchor & Hope, a 19th century building marooned in a modern day industrial park. I also walked through a very active aggregate yard, likely some sort of concrete business. These areas were punctuated by large open spaces, the former home to the massive warehouses and docks that dominated what was once the largest port in the world. Had I been here 120 years ago I would be gazing out on a forest of masts from the hundreds of ships loading and unloading their wares.
Passing the O2 stadium I found myself covering new ground. It continued to be very interesting, especially the ship, or should I say the section cut out of a ship, that was propped up on pylons next to shoreline. It became an even more bizarre sight when I spotted the pool table on the lower deck.
The walk became less interesting once I happened upon the second path diversion, neither of which I found on the National Trails website (although they do exist). I spent 20 minutes or so wandering next to a motorway and the sort of industrial wasteland I imagine MI6 would use to meet their foreign counterparts. Fortunately it wasn’t long before I found myself in the far more interesting surroundings of Greenwich.
Crews were removing the barriers near the newly refurbished Cutty Sark, the first real evidence that a marathon had just taken place. In fact it was still going strong, a fact I would soon discover after crossing the Thames by way of the Victorian foot tunnel. I chose to follow the path along the northern side of the river after having read several recommendations online. It was a good decision because not only did it provide some excellent riverside walking but it also on several occasions put me in direct contact with the marathon.
The Thames loops its way through London and on this particular loop I was tracing the edge of the Isle of Dogs. Once the home to a series of massive dock complexes it is now the new home to tens of thousands of east Enders. The trendy waterside condos remind me of Vancouver’s False Creek, albeit on a much larger scale. That said I much preferred wandering along characterful Wapping High Street and past the original 19th century warehouses that have also been converted for housing.
The soundtrack for my walk was provided by the thousands of Londoners who lined the marathon route to cheer the runners on. Many of the runners were in costume, including two guys dressed as City bankers (complete with Bowler hats, brief cases and umbrellas) and someone dressed as a Rhino. However 1st place goes to the kilted Scotsman on stilts.
I enjoyed some fantastic views of Tower Bridge and decided to take my second break of the day just before London Bridge. I was basking in the beautiful sunshine when I noticed very dark clouds on the western horizon. I was still 3 or 4 miles from my b&b in Pimlico and with the weather deteriorating quickly I decided it was time to pick up my pace.This was easier said than done because I was now surrounded by thousands of people.
I crossed the Millennium Bridge as I had decided to follow the southern bank of the river until I reached Lambeth Bridge. I tried to move quickly but often found myself boxed in by families, meandering tourists or those out for their Sunday walk, all apparently oblivious to the storm that was quickly approaching. I made it to Waterloo Bridge just as the first raindrops fell. The wind was now really strong and so I stopped to put on my rain jacket and pack cover. At first the rain was sporadic but halfway between Westminster and Lambeth Bridges the skies opened up. The last mile or so were spent staring at my shoes as I put my head down and marched quickly to my final destination.
Note: embedding photos within the text is tricky on the iPad so for now the images will appear below the text.