Don't Let Them Touch Your Vibrations (Jubilee Greenway Part 1)

A grey Sunday morning at the start of February, and as if I can’t get enough of the place, I’m taking my usual walk to work, or at least the first part of it, around the corner to The Narrow pub. Here set into the pavement opposite, and lying unnoticed by me for several years, lies the first waymark – a green crown on a white(ish) background – pointing at the Thames. How I’ve not seen this before, really escapes me.

I’m here to begin walking the Jubilee Greenway, a 60km (1km for each year of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign) waymarked trail in London. The year of the Diamond Jubilee itself, 2012, was of course also the year of the London Olympics, and the Greenway combines both concepts in its route, taking in as it does several of the venues from the fondly remembered Games.

This is not the sort of long distance path that I generally seek to walk, having little of the countryside about it, but it is a necessary first stage in a project to walk all of the London circular trails, working from the innermost to the outermost. The Jubilee Greenway’s four (for me), or 10 (official), sections will be followed by the Capital Ring, the LOOP and the much lesser known Countryway. There are other motivations to this project, which I’ll get onto in due course in a future post, but for now it’s one stage at a time.

At this point I should also point out that the Greenway is technically not a circle as it has a loose end inside the circle, which is an optional additional section (10). As I want to walk the whole thing in a continuous path this means this loose end at Limehouse makes an obvious and natural place to start, rather than the official start at Buckingham Palace.

I skirt Limehouse Basin, and head north along Regent’s Canal, a narrowboat entering the lock as I pass. The towpath is busy with people out and about, a large proportion of these being runners, dodging around me as I weave side to side to avoid puddles from the overnight rain.

Sights seen previously only from the train are now at eye level and up close, as I enter Mile End Park, a not especially thrilling urban park, but I guess if you live there you’ll take whatever green space you can get. The park’s ambiguous Greenway signage has me heading off in all sorts of directions of misadventure before I finally return to the towpath. Why these routes feel they have to leave a perfectly good canal in search of indifferent terrain just to provide variety, beats me. (The LOOP does this, as I recall, and when I get back to there I’ll be sticking with the canal)

A short further stretch of canal and I’m at Victoria Park, and the canal is finished with. I enter the park and am reminded of grander parks like Hyde, although Victoria Park is a significant enough park in its own right. A wide tarmac path liberally spread with all manner of folk on the move takes me along the southern edge of the park to the point I need to turn off. A short stretch along Wick Lane gets me under the A12 and then I’m on familiar ground at last.

The Greenway takes me alongside the Olympic Stadium ( I still refuse to call it by its new name of the London Stadium), where I perch on a large stone for a breather. A sign close by now includes the Capital Ring, and I will now be sharing the route with the Ring for most of the rest of today’s walk. What’s more I’m going to have to do this whole bit again when I do the Ring itself.

Soon I am crossing Stratford High Street and along that part of the Greenway that I walked several times during that Olympic year. Memories of the ebullient folk making their way excitedly from West Ham up to the stadium (and in my case to the velodrome and aquatics centre too), are never far from my mind when passing this way.

On the right lies quite a sight – a masterpiece of Victorian public works in the form of the Abbey Lane Pumping Station, also an abiding memory of that first day’s walk.

A little further along, I spy an inscription on a wall at the side of the path…..

I’m not entirely sure the author’s precise meaning, but the general sense of it strikes a chord.

The rest of the Greenway to the A13 is pretty samey with little of interest, apart from the oft-repeated warnings to cyclists about avoiding getting attacked. It’s easy walking, but I’m glad when it’s done. I cross the A13 by a huge edifice of a footbridge and half way across am arrested by the sight of the Beckton Alps rising majestically on the horizon.

Beckton itself yields a surprise in the form of a string of bits of parkland loosely connected, with enough undergrowth and trees that in places you could if you try really hard forget you’re in the middle of a major city.

I emerge at Cyprus DLR station and cross over into the campus of UEL, separating the DLR from the dockside. Here, for the first time I’m exposed to a chill breeze that could almost be called bracing. On the other side of the dock, planes land and take off at City Airport – a sight which is difficult to avoid stopping to watch for a few minutes.

I cross over directly under the flight path and am soon on the bank of the Thames itself, where it is but a short walk along to the Woolwich Ferry and Foot Tunnel, the end point for today’s walk.

Next time, I’ll return to Woolwich, walk under the Thames and head along the south bank to Tower Bridge.

Total: 18.3 km, including links to / from Limehouse and King George V stations. Approx 100m of ascent. The walk took about 4 hours of actual walking.

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