Walking Back To Happiness
“For reasons best known to myself I’m planning to use a free day coming up to walk from Greenwich into the West End, something I’ve wanted to for a long time. However, I’m stuck on which is the best route.
Taking the Thames Path on the north side of the Thames seems the most obvious route. It takes in a number of classic sites – Canary Wharf, Wapping, The Prospect of Whitby etc. However, my loyalty to South London makes me wonder about the mysteries of the southern route – I know far less about the areas I’ll be going through.
Can anyone recommend one path over the other (I won’t have time to do both, alas)? Or is there perhaps a third way – Evelyn St, Jamaica Road? I’m looking for history, sights I haven’t seen before, a chance to experience a different side of London.”
The Phantom rubs spectral hands with glee. This is the sort of question I live for…
At first sight, yes, the Thames Path to the north does seem to offer delights – and I’m not pretending for a moment that it’s not an extremely pleasant affair, especially if you’re into the ancient pubs of Wapping. A walk through Canary Wharf will yield all kinds of hidden joys – I love the new glass city, but the history and old architecture isn’t completely gone – in fact its hidden nature makes it even more fun to find. And short deviations later in the route take you to wonders such as Wiltons Music Hall and St Georges in the East (who have got our cast-off church tower…) not to mention St Katherine’s Dock and the Tower.
But the path isn’t always distinct, and while I can’t claim perfection on the southern route either, let me be a cheerleader for the south in this post (as opposed to all the others, ahem) and tell you a few of the highlights I enjoy most about the walk between Greenwich and Tower Bridge (after that I’m guessing you’re already familiar with the South Bank, though maybe it would be worth another post sometime to deal with that. I’m a Greenwich-oholic but I’m not beyond spending far too much time wandering round the rest of the capital…)
The first thing I would recommend is the Thames Path National Trail Guide, by David Sharp. I got mine from the Visitors Centre in Greenwich but I’m sure Waterstones have it too. If memory serves it’s about twelve quid – but it may have been updated to include the new bit east of the barrier. I like it because it covers both sides of the river on the same page when it gets to London, and it tells you good things to look out for along the way.
I can’t put my hands on it at the moment, so I’ll have to talk about the Southern side from memory – I’m sure other people will chip in with things you shouldn’t miss too.
You can walk up past, on one side, new build flats, on the other side some old piers, then fiddle your way up a small cobbled street behind old warehouses. Planning permissions currently being haggled over for the site, so see it now before it all changes (again.)
Continue until you get to Watergate Street, where the walls for the old wharves get in the way of the path. Still – it will give you a good excuse to see the wartime stretcher railings around the flats there.
If you get the opportunity to divert and pop to St Nicholas Church, it’s a fantastic sight inside, with a famous wood carving by local-ish boy Grinling Gibbons, but even if it’s not open, it’s worth the detour just for the gateposts with the sinister skull and crossbones. Legend has it they were the models for pirate flags; I don’t know if it’s true, but I don’t really care. It’s a good story. Just round from there is the Dog & Bell pub, a bit of a Mecca for real ale enthusiasts round here.
From now on, it gets really interesting – and frustrating – in equal measures. I keep meaning to log all the gates onto bits of path by the Thames that have been gated and locked outside new-build flats to find out whether or not it’s been done illegally. I’m willing to bet developers have been forced to create access, but when no one’s looking they’ve just locked the gates – there seem to be an awful lot of restricted access places in builds that are too young not to have had a Section 106 access order stamped on them. A project for the future – and perhaps one for the Ramblers Association.
Hmm. What else? Oh, yes. The old Custom Houses are fun, and further on, I take great delight in arrogantly marching straight through the Hilton Hotel which has annoyingly plonked itself in the way of the Thames Path (though I’ve never had the gall to traipse the bike through too.)
By now, you’ll be coming up towards Rotherhithe, which, frankly, is worth a trip in itself. The ventilator houses for the Rotherthithe tunnel are curious, one each side – at least I’m assuming that’s what they are.
Just before you get to the villagey part of Rotherhithe, don’t miss one of the saddest sculptures in town, Dr Salter’s Dream, depicting Doctor Alfred Salter, who stayed in Bermondsey at a time of serious contagious illness to tend the sick at the cost of his own family – his daughter died, aged 8, from scarlet fever. Dr Salter now sits on a bench in perpetuity, fondly watching his daughter play with a pet cat by the river wall.
Moving onto Rotherhithe, if you have an opportunity to nip into the Brunel Engine House Museum, it’s worth it. It will take about 20 minutes to see the exhibits and another hour and a half to talk to the passionate curator there. They do nice cake.
The Sands Film Studios almost certainly won’t be open to the public on your visit, but they occasionally have guided tours and I would highly recommend joining one if you can. The also have a very eccentric film club, where you can see extremely obscure movies for free – just put a donation in the film cannister at the end.
Also in Rotherhithe, the Mayflower pub (the esteemed Dame was unimpressed with the fare last time she visited, but a pal visited the other night and reckons it’s improved. On the plus side you can fulfil your US postage stamp requirements at the bar…
Oh – and look out for the Charity Children on St Mary’s, a classic riverside church.
Right. Where are we… Ah, yes. More sundry Bermondsey new-builds with the odd bit of Tudor ruins and curious stuff (that’s where the guide comes in handy, telling you what the hell it all is – and where to go when the path runs out) before reaching the area around Shad Thames street/ Butler’s Wharf, Tower Bridge etc.
I could go on, but I’m really out of the blog’s area now. Besides, this post is indecently long. Tony – whichever path you choose, you’ll get a great view of the other bank of the river as you walk. And let’s face it – unless you’re planning emigrating to Mars anytime soon, presumably you’ll have other days off when you can explore different routes. Take the Clipper home afterwards to see yet another view of the Thames.
Ahhh. I almost wish I was coming with you. But I think I’ll leave the weather to warm up first…