In which the Phantom starts the day exploring the joys of the Isle of Dogs and accidentally ends up as part of the Crystal Palace Triathalon…
So. It was going to be a fabulous day – just the sort of day I’d choose to take a stroll along the Thames Path by the peninsula. Not, of course, that that was going to happen thanks to sundry closures, so instead, I thought I’d check out the one bit of local(ish) Thames Path I’d not been along before – the North-West. After all, a Phantom needs a little variety from time to time.
The plan was to start at Island Gardens and make our way west as far as, say, St Katherines Dock, then get the boat home, and it all started out normal-enough. Both lifts were working at the foot tunnel. The tide was high and I got some nice ’classic’ pics of the Old Royal Naval College. The sun wasn’t too hot.
I enjoyed the north west path very much - the four threads along the Thames from Greenwich are so very different, and the Isle of Dogs having been a bit of a free-for-all architecturally in the 80s and 90s has a really wild collection of modern buildings. I don’t love it all, but I do love the variety and the odd bits of ancient warehouse, abandoned dock machinery and re-invented church make it a brilliant walk or cycle ride.
Probably because they started from scratch, the path’s much less broken than the Southern (or even North-Eastern) version – though there are some places that look like they’re lock-gated (which of course they would rather be) and actually aren’t. I feel that its’ up to me as a rambler-at-heart if not actually paid-up-member to deliberately walk through these fake gated ‘communities’ and keep them public.
My plan was to visit Wapping Stairs as, to my shame, I’ve never actually seen them, but I didn’t make it that far. We were about to go past Wapping tube when a jolly chap with orange and white balloons and a clipboard, gave us a free travelcard each. I’d totally forgotten that it was the first (free) official day of the East London Line. Also included was a little cardboard souvenir ticket, which is, apparently, collectible. I’m going to keep mine in a bank vault, as my pension…
It would be churlish not to test out a new line on its first day, so we Phantom-handled our bikes down the rather narrow steps (not all the stations have step-free access, and, as anyone who went to see the Thames Tunnel will know, the platforms at Wapping just aren’t wide enough to take a lift ) and determined to get the first train south as far as it went.
I like the new trains. They don’t have closed-in compartments, which means they can take more passengers (I guess the fire hazard issue has been dealt with; there isn’t that much to burn, and humans don’t catch easily either…) and they’re air-conditioned. Yesssss. I particularly like the seats – they’ve got that stripey-squarey upholstery I remember from my childhood, albeit slightly less itchy. All they need is the traditional chewing-gum ornamentation and they’ll be totally retro.
Of course the closest these trains get to Greenwich is New Cross, but it does hook up with the Jubilee Line and for cyclists it’s not that far to Canada Water (step free access…) and there’s almost enough (but not quite) room to get your bike in without really annoying the people round you.
Our train went to Crystal Palace – and came into the old main station with wide, imposingly Victorian steps, which I would have appreciated much more if it wasn’t so hot and I wasn’t carrying several kilos of metal.
I have a great fondness for the park - the dinosaurs are wonderful and the sphinxes are well-worth looking out. Some pals who live there were out, so I had the genius idea of cycling across the park, then taking the train back from Penge West.
As we got to the path, I confess I thought the cyclists all looked a bit more serious than us. It was the solid tyres, pointy helmets and lycra on a baking hot day that did it. But there was nothing to stop us going on the nice, leafy road too, with happy picnickers and kiddie footballs by the side, so we joined them, keeping well to the right.
I wasn’t expecting to turn the corner and find myself in a concrete-sided flagged-out road race with very scary, sinewy chaps whizzing past at ridiculous speed.
We stopped in mild panic at the side of the giant concrete bunker we’d found ourselves in and looked – well – bloody stupid actually. We were rescued by a surprisingly friendly steward, given what we’d just gatecrashed, who flagged us out - straight into the main stadium.
Red-faced, we trudged off the track, and made that loooooong climb up the concrete steps to the bit where we should have gone in the first place, the steward gabbling into her walkie talkie that there was a whole section of the track that ‘anyone’ could just join.
Somehow the dinosaurs just didn’t appeal any more. We needed to get back to home ground, somewhere nice, where we wouldn’t be ambushed by scary bicycles. We got on at Penge West, got off at Canada Water, cycled the lovely, familiar Southern Thames Path, past lovely familiar Deptford, back to lovely, familiar Greenwich for lunch at the lovely familiar Brewery.
The moral of the story? Don’t leave Greenwich.