Monday, 20 February 2017

A Capital Idea - Part 3: Hackney Wick to Falconwood

Early February presented us with the opportunity for another London-based weekend. As far as the Sunday went, we had made arrangements to visit the Destinations travel show at Olympia, to meet with friends and divine inspiration for future trips. A quick count-back revealed it was 16 years since we had last attended such a show, so maybe it was time for another visit.

Anyway, that left a full day on the Saturday to continue with our Capital Ring project, picking up from Hackney Wick where we left off last time, round east London, to the Shooters Hill area on the south side of the Thames. 

After our now-traditional early train journey into the capital, we arrived at Hackney Wick at about 9.30am. Overnight rain had ceased, but the ground was still wet and I managed to drop the route information sheets into a puddle before we’d even left the station.

A work in progress ......

.... and we can't disagree, except perhaps in the use of the term "decorate" 

Re-joining the Ring, we followed the Lee Navigation for a short way, skirting round the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park (now home to West Ham United Football Club) and The Orbit.

Lee Navigation and Olympic Stadium

Information board showing the intricate network of waterways here

The Orbit is an unusual creation. At 114.5m tall, it claims to be Britain’s largest public sculpture, designed by Turner Prize-winner Anish Kapoor in response to London Mayor Boris Johnson’s request for “something special” for the Olympic Park. According to Wikipedia this radical combination of architecture, sculpture and structural engineering was the unanimous choice of the advisory panel, and has been both praised and criticised. 

The Orbit: daring sculpture project or
waste of £22.7 million? You decide.

We picked up the Greenway, a 6-mile-long pathway that runs on top of the Northern Outfall Sewage Embankment, part of the sewage system designed by Joseph Bazalgette in the 1860s. The occasional whiff acted as a reminder of the path’s origins.

After negotiating a diversion more by intuition than adequate signage, we crossed the Prime Meridian into the eastern hemisphere and sat on a wet bench for a brief break. The dull of the morning began to lift and hints of sunshine tried to break through, and although this may not be the prettiest section of the Ring, there is much of interest to see and we had enjoyed the walk so far.

Beckton Alps, look it says so on the road sign, with high-point on the horizon

Leaving the Greenway, the scenery began to change as we traversed the foothills of the Beckton Alps and descended into Beckton District Park, where this section of the Capital Ring finished. 

Beyond the parks, we cut through houses to emerge by the DLR stop at Cyprus, and took a bee-line through the modern-seeming campus of the University of East London to reach the Royal Albert Dock, with the busy City Airport beyond.

University of East London, Royal Albert Dock & City Airport

We walked beside the Dock, now used as an international rowing course, past the Sir Steve Redgrave Bridge, over Gallions Roundabout and on to Atlantis Avenue, and reached the Thames – the first time we have seen the river since leaving Richmond.

Sound political advice on offer

This urban fox was out in the
daytime and completely at ease
with our being so close

Carrying on beside the river, we crossed a couple of sets of lock gates (originally controlling access to the Royal Albert and King George V Docks) and stopped for a brief lunch break on some handy benches.

Looking into the King George V lock

Woolwich Ferry

As we continued towards the Woolwich Ferry, we fell in with a couple of other walkers who turned out to be Jeremy and Diana from the Week Walks website, a site dedicated to linear walks both in the UK and Europe, and whose enjoyment of longer, linear routes matches our own. Their site is full of lots of inspiration for multi-day hikes:

Section 15 of the Capital Ring ends here – in fact, this is the official end of the route if the walk is attempted sequentially. To connect to the next section, section 1, walkers can either take the Woolwich Ferry as a foot passenger or, more excitingly we think, actually walk beneath the Thames.

Entrance to the Woolwich Foot Tunnel

I must confess, when I first read about the Woolwich Foot Tunnel I imagined something dark and dank and much more akin to Bazalgette’s sewers than the clean, well-lit, underground-like tunnel that we found, the most disconcerting part of which being the faint dizziness caused by negotiating the 100+ circular steps up and down. 

Path beneath the Thames

Having safely reached the other side, we bade farewell to Jeremy and Diana and continued on our way. Immediately, we noticed two differences from the north side of the river – fewer signposts, several of which seemed to be incorrectly aligned, and reduced information in the route notes. The problem, I think, is that the Thames Path and a couple of other routes take precedence here, with Capital Ring signage demoted as a result.

Thames Barrier

Barrier viewpoint - playing "Titanic" optional

However, the weather seemed brighter, so once back on track we followed beside the river for a few minutes to a viewpoint over the river and the Thames Barrier. A slightly confusing course through housing, industrial estate and main road brought us to Maryon Park and Maryon Wilson Park, from where, from an elevated position, we could see across to The Valley, home of Charlton Athletic Football Club. 

Tea with The Queen

Although the afternoon was wearing on, we still felt good, so we stopped in Charlton Park for tea and scones at the The Old Cottage Café, a welcome rest that bolstered us for the final few miles. We crossed Hornfair Park and Woolwich Common, negotiated the road junction below Shooters Hill and climbed across Eltham Common to reach Severndroog Castle as dusk was falling.

Severdroog Castle at dusk

After descending the steps on the far side, the path led through woods to Oxleas Meadows, then on through the trees to reach the road at Rochester Way and the short walk to Falconwood station. We could have managed the loop through Shepherdleas Wood too, but the sun was setting and the light fading fast between the trees, so we will save that for next time.

On the way back, there was plenty of time to reflect on a diverse and enjoyable day spent on both the north and south side of the Thames, from the urban dereliction of Hackney Wick to the forested hillsides near Falconwood, the new of the DLR and the regeneration of East London to the history of the Royal Albert Dock and Woolwich, with its maritime connections, dockyards, military history and famous Royal Arsenal.