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Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Thames path from Greenwich to the london Eye - 10.75 miles

We decided to go up to London for the day, and couple a ride on the London eye with a walk along the Thames path from Greenwich back to Westminster. As always we drove to Richmond and then tubbed it into Westminster, its a no direct route and cheaper than the whole journey by train, or trying to park in central London.

As the day was glorious and going to be hot, we decided to treat ourselves to a boat ride down the river to Greenwich first. We opted for the city cruise, slow boat, service and was rewarded by an entertaining and very informative talk by one of the skippers. The amount of history of the river, buildings and people who worked there made the £10 each one way ticket price defiantly worth it. Though it was a little worrying when we got off at Greenwich and mentioned to the boatsman that we would be walking back to the eye, he laughed and said no way!

You can see so much more from the river, the wharfs which helped build the city,
 the memorial to the great fire that burnt down the majority of the city,
and the regeneration of the area in all the new flats and apartments that have been built now. As well as all the users of the river today, which ranged from the commuting Natwest river clippers, to a canal narrow boat,and a sailing ship with a Dutch flag on it. There were also police crafts, speed boats and we even saw a dinghy being used to reach a capsize small sailing boat. If the Thames was once the heartbeat of the city, then today its at least a major artery still. It was great to hear about what goods used to come into each area of the docks, and i didn't know before the trip that the product or country of origin was where the dock names came from. We did enjoy the ride down to Greenwich.
A note of caution here though, the pontoon was very unstable as we disembarked and you need to be careful as you alight. When we had researched the walk the guidebook said there were various places to stop along the route, so we carried a minimal pack. Water, first aid kit, waterproof coats and some lunch.

As we walked off the river and around to the Thames path, we opened our lunch, which was fresh french stick and a slab of brie, apples and water and ate as we walked. If you had wanted too, you could have used the tunnel here at Greenwich to cross over the river and walk the opposite bank, we decided to stay on the south bank. There is some regeneration work around Greenwich at the moment, and although the path is marked the whole way, it got a little confusing around the works - we also noticed a few signs missing too - not so important on a walk like this as you can always take a bearing from the river.
Also, i wouldn't really want to walk this as a single women, you do go through two residential areas and back streets. The path does attempt to stay right on the river bank, and you benefit from being right across from the old piers, jetties and warehouses of which some remains are still visible today. We saw a coromot and a heron on such a industrial island - the heron really the spot of the day for me.
The walk is mainly level and on paths, though there are a few cobbled areas as you come into central London, and we found that the path took us past just one garage, just out of Greenwich and one cafe - the next water stop from there was back up past tower bridge and nearly at our destination - so we would recommend you carry your water rather than try to pick it up along the way unless you like to stop in a pub and then there were about 9 along the way.

We also saw an abundance of butterflies, a couple of red squirrels and surprisingly green spaces, in the form of gardens, parks and even a farm.
If like me you're a bit of a people watcher, walking past the apartments and waterside houses, you can sneak a peak into them and the communal courtyards. I was a teeny bit peeved that the path diverted twice back onto the road and then around a block of flats and back to the riverbank just because the direct path route was "private access"! The signs for the path get confusing as you walk into the car park for the Hilton, the signage directing you across the car park, but in fact you need to walk down onto the road and around the hotel before walking back up to the bank.

We also passed a Victorian hydraulic lock and sluice as a canal boat was entering in to it, we didn't really have time to stop and watch the mechanism do its job, but alwaking around it and over the bridge to the other side of the lock, you got to see most of the workings.

As you approach Tower Bridge the path starts to mingle a little more with the buildings around it, you start to walk through the buildings rather than along the river back. This area was a lot more busy than the path had been before, this was probably as it was a Saturday afternoon, and a sunny one at that. If you have time wander around the little shops here before you pass under the bridge itself, or even take a tour of the bridges workings, its definitely worth a short stop.

This last section of the walk was all about the city and its people, whereas the first part had been about the life and times of the river. Here the views were more concrete, or glass, and the variety of people and activities, the street entertainers, the free speakers, the tourists and the locals. The history was still all around, I knew that this area had been controlled long ago by the bishops of Winchester and that they had their hand in every pie from prostituition, to wharf  customs control to building but I  never knew that there was once a cathedral here built by the bishops of Winchester, and you walk straight past the remaining holding wall. Squished between the modern buildings its hard to imagine what this would have looked like in its time. As a side note, all the ill gotten pennies made by the bishops actually paid for the real Winchester Cathedral.
As we walked past the national theatre, the royal festival hall, the skateboard underground park, and southabnk which had been turned into a beach for the weekend, we saw the Eye close in quiet quickly and the end of our walk approached.
It's one i would highly recommend, the combination of the old and the right now is very appealing and if like us you enjoy a walk which isn't just about mountains and greenery and the obvious WOW factor, then you would enjoy it too.

Date: 13th August 2011
Total walk: 10.75 miles / 17 km
Descent: 400 ft
Ascent: 294 ft
Average pace:  25.43 mins a mile
Accompanied: Gary Bygrave

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