Olympic & Royal Docks Regeneration Walk

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Did I want to go on this walk? I wasn’t sure to start with (I make an art of dithering), but the area looked interesting and I did want to have a look at some of the Olympic venues. My partner sealed the decision by showing great enthusiasm so off we went.

One of the brilliant features of this tour is the price! If you have an Oyster Card (you will be familiar with these if you live in and around the London area) or a Freedom Pass, it works out 2-4-1 so you pay £5 for both of you. Bargain. At the end of the tour (approximately 2 hours) you can take a trip over on the Emirates Cable car. With an Oyster card or a Freedom pass it costs £3.20 (full price £4.80). The cable car ride is not included in the walk.

We met the group and the tour guide (Ian Kirby) at 11am at Pontoon Dock station on the DLR railway (Docklands Light Railway). The station is one stop before City Airport on the Woolwich branch. There is a cafe and toilets within the station complex.

First stop was the Thames Barrier Park, right next to the station. It’s a long narrow strip of land leading down to the Thames. The park was designed by Allain Provost and opened in November 2000. It has been beautifully planted and the topiary shaped into waves to link with the Thames. Inspirational in my humble view. I could have stayed there for ages. At the Thames-end of the park you are afforded a spectacular view of the Thames Barrier. The sun came out suddenly and it made the Barrier glisten. We stood under a Pavilion of Remembrance, dedicated to local people who died in WWII, while Ian explained some of the history of the area. There is a round hole in the roof of the Pavilion which represents a searchlight. It looks a bit like a giant car-port as it is open on all sides (no disrespect intended!).

If you lean out slightly and look to your left (as you are facing the Barrier) you will see the white chimneys of the Tate and Lyle Sugar factory and, indeed, there was a slight smell of molasses emanating from the factory. There is a book out called ‘The Sugar Girls’ relating to this factory and I’ve put it on my ever lengthening book list as it sounds fascinating. (For anyone who’s interested, the full title is The Sugar Girls: Tales of Hardship, Love and Happiness in Tate & Lyle’s East End, by Duncan Barrett & Nuala Calvi).

We turned and walked back through the park. There were pavement fountains at the other end of the park, but they weren’t in operation that day. We walked out of the park area and along the busy North Woolwich Road, but not for long. We stopped to hear a little more history concerning the hushed-up Silvertown factory explosion in January 1917 during the Great War which could, evidently, be heard in Southampton. There is a memorial plaque to all the people who lost their lives in the explosion – 70,000 homes were destroyed. Then we crossed the road and walking towards the Royal Docks, which were strangely deserted. I say strange as it is a wonderful piece of London, like a best kept secret. I just couldn’t understand why there was no-one about. Perhaps because there were no shopping opportunities and not a café in sight.

Ian pointed out the SS Robin which is the oldest working steamship in the world and it did look resplendent in the Royal Docks. We walked along to the Britannia footbridge that crosses the Royal Docks (completed in 1998). I must admit that I had never heard of the Britannia footbridge but what a find. The bridge provides a direct link from Eastern Quay and Britannia village, to the ExCel exhibition centre and Custom House Station – both situated to the north of the dock.

The bridge looks rather shark-like as you look up (my partner gave me a slightly odd look when I said this out loud), or maybe a yacht with the sails down. We had to walk up the stairs as the lift was out of order but the panting and puffing were worth it. I have never seen a view of East London like it. Stunning. Out came the camera again, click click click. On one side you could see where the river Lea joined the Thames and then right across to the Orbit tower next to the Stratford Olympic site. On the other side you had a clear view of City Airport and the impossibly small runway. There is also a lovely view of the Siemen’s ‘Diamond’ building (at the foot of the entrance to the cable car), the O2 Arena and beyond to Docklands and the City of London.

Off we went across the bridge and gradually cafes appeared and so did the people; not enough to make it crowded though. We took in the architecture of the ExCel Centre, which is unusually held up from the outside to create more room inside. After that it was on to the cable car and over to North Greenwich station (on the jubilee line). As you approach the cable car you can see ant-like figures walking across the top of the O2 Arena. You can book to walk across the top for about £25 a pop I think. The brave ones were securely strapped and wearing special clothing. It isn’t for me as I need help on a step ladder, but I’m sure there are lots of you who would like to give it a go and I will happily come along and waive if you like.

The Emirates cable car was superb, even if you are only on it for 3-4 minutes! To see the East London skyline from 295ft up is jaw-dropping. Our guide came on the cable car with us and pointed out various places of interest which we wouldn’t have noticed otherwise, including a lighthouse and an Antony Gormley sculpture (if you look closely at the picture I have taken of this sculpture, you will see a man inside). As I said, the ride is only a short one but wow, what a view! I will definitely be doing the cable car again, just to take in the breathtaking beauty of London. Maybe I will try it again in the autumn or perhaps at dusk.

This isn’t a long walk. The two hours are mostly spent soaking up the surroundings and listening to a wealth of fascinating background/history and plans for further regeneration of the area, by a guide who knows his stuff. It isn’t a difficult walk either but, because the lift was out of order on the Britannia Bridge, it would make it impossible for wheelchair users or those who find steps a problem. The DLR trains are wonderful as they line up beautifully with the platform; flush in fact. However, there are steps everywhere else in the station.

The next tour is on Tuesday 11 September. However, do check this first! I don’t know the dates after that but you can check by either emailing [email protected] or visiting the website

Or, you could do the tour under your own steam!

Once the tour is finished, if you felt up for it, you could take the river-bus from North Greenwich Pier to the London Eye and beyond. The service seems to run ever half hour but you can check times/destinations and prices by logging on to www.thamesclippers.com

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