There’s an urban myth that London cabbies often refuse to go south of the River, but this is clearly rubbish as based on my experience of walking around the southern ‘burbs, half the houses have a black cab on their drives anyway, so clearly south of the River is where they all live. So it must be some sort of double bluff to keep the riff raff away from where the cabbies live.
Me, well I suppose I’m from south of the River myself, although I hail (<<see what I did there?) from far enough outside London that I don’t consider the distinction applies to me. For me the Badlands was always Essex, where I now live. It’s all very confusing.
Why is this rambling diatribe about south of the River relevant ? Well, last time I paused the Jubilee Greenway at the north entrance to the Woolwich Tunnel, and so that can only mean one thing – it’s now time to go south of the River!!! Arrggghh!
The Plague has landed on our shores (well probably more correct to say landed on our runways), and you sense that people are more watchful as I ride the train back to West Ham. The sense that the slightest stray cough, will see you foully beaten to death with a rolled up Metro. In a town where people so studiously make a point of ignoring each other, there’s a lot more awareness of what people around you are doing.
I’m the only one alighting at King George V and I walk the couple of streets back to the Tunnel entrance. There are very few people about, and a few bits of rubbish blowing down the road make for a sort of urban tumbleweed. Everything is quiet, and verging on eerie, and then I arrive at the Tunnel.
Distorted shouts echo up from the bowels of the earth as I spiral down out of bright sunlight into the gloom of the subterranean world. I reach the tunnel which is a long tube of light, the shouts bouncing off the walls back to me. I note the time, as I’m subconsciously remembering the story of the Woolwich Tunnel Time Anomaly. It’s all a hoax of course, but a small part of the subconscious clings to the supernatural. The upset children ahead of me, the source of all the noise, clearly have other ideas though.
I emerge from the tunnel and my watch shows a time that’s consistent with how fast I was walking. That’s that then.
Here by the entrance lies a sign, and it’s one of those “how many signs can we hang on one post” affairs. The answer being quite a lot. For here we’re not just on the Jubilee Greenway, but also the Thames Path Extension, Thames Cycle Way and of course the Capital Ring. Indeed, this is actually the start of the Capital Ring. One for 3 walks time, then…
I turn west and set off with the river on my right, where it will stay for the whole walk, except for those bits where buildings, scrapyards and various industrial-looking yards seize hold of the shoreline.
The first vague point of interest is the former Woolwich Battery, two guns remaining and looking rather forlorn.
Further on is something I’ve never actually visited – the Thames Barrier. Here also is the official start (or end, depending if you’re a source to sea or sea to source sort of person) of the Thames Path National Trail. I disappear under the sign into a tunnel under the Barrier buildings.
Woolwich disappears into the start of the sprawl of Greenwich, and the o2 comes into view. Along the way is Gormley’s “Quantum Cloud”.
I can see Canary Wharf now as I near the tip of the Greenwich peninsula, and can even see the office. How much longer I’ll be physically going there, though, remains to be seen.
Suddenly the Prime Meridian is crossed and I’ve crossed into the new and strange world of the western hemisphere.
Greenwich proper comes soon as I really start flagging and craving caffeine. I don’t want to stray too far from the route though, so am basically looking out for the first place I can see that isn’t excessively busy. This doesn’t come until I’m past the Old Naval College and Cutty Sark, a Costa visible from the riverside meeting the need.
On my way again and it’s boringly residential for much of the time. It starts raining at Rotherhithe and I cower under a covered walkway to put on my Paramo windproof to provide the illusion of protection from the precipitation.
Soon I’m at the memorial that commemorates the departure of the Mayflower for the New World, and that’s the last thing really worth seeing. For now it’s a trudge into more central London. The City is in view and that particular state of walking where you know you’re nearly there coincides with a general slugishness, as though the body decides it can start shutting off the flow of energy.
Bermondsey is a jungle that I fail to penetrate efficiently, obviously losing a sign in a street where the way I head appears the only way, as I end up several hundred metres inland and well away from the river I should be on. A bit of following my nose gets me back and it’s a relief to see Tower Bridge looming ahead. I cross to the sanctuary of the north bank and head over to Fenchurch Street to head home – the end of walk pint I’d had in my mind for the last couple of miles, ditched in favour of a cup of Pasty Shop Earl Grey.
The next section should take me from Tower Bridge to Paddington, a shorter section of about 12km. But who knows when that will be. It certainly won’t be for the forseeable future…