Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Travel Tuesday : the Thames Path, day 16 - Thames Barrier to Dartford Creek Barrier

Walked June 10, 2002

I felt pretty nervous before this stretch of my walk. I was going to be walking without a guidebook, with just a map and some hopefully decent (existing?) signage. 

I wasn't even going to walk ... I got up and put on my gym clothes, and then opened the curtains to find a bright blue sky in Fulham. Given the wet, stormy forecast for the weekend, I decided to seize the day. I bustled round, throwing stuff in my rucksack while listening to the radio. Got the news I had been listening for... France lost to Denmark 201 in their final World Cup game. Une trag├ędie nationale.

I headed out to the Thames Barrier again, via tube and then bus. I walked back from the road to the barrier to ty to figure out the pathmarker signs. After much wandering around, I reluctantly accepted that I needed to go back up the Green Chain walk and up to the road where I had gotten off the bus. I got a sick, scared feeling, compounded by the fact that the skies were suddenly filled with black clouds and an icy breeze started to blow. I actually toyed with the idea of just going back to the road and getting on a bus headed back to the Dome. Perhaps a stop at the eco-friendly Sainsburys that looked like where the Teletubbies live (now, apparently the eco-friendly store has been demolished...).

As I trudged up the path I went around a corner and saw a flash of red: a fox stood in the path only a few feet away and we both froze. I imagine we both looked like cartoon characters, rearing back, eyes popped out of our heads. The fox recovered first and leapt into the high grass, disappearing in an instant. 

I took this as a good sign, and went on with my walk. Arriving back at the road, I saw the Thames Path Extension marker about 10 feet from the bus stop where I had alighted. Grumble grumble. But as the rain held off, I went on my way.

As I meandered along a busy road and past a roundabout, I noticed that the arrows on the fingerposts had been replaced with ships. Perhaps an admission that oaks are few and far between on this stretch of the river. Then again, masted sailing vessels are pretty rare here too.  

Wandering through a housing estate (left, left, right, right, left, right, left, right) I finally regained the river in Charlton.

A few hundred yards along I came to an elaborate, modern footbridge -- named "Linkbridge 2000" according to its sign -- which crossed not a stream or a canal but a brick and concrete wall. Why they couldn't just put a doorway through the brick wall I can't say... At least it's a handsome and interesting structure.

Shortly thereafter the path was signed away from the river -- but the fingerpost was somewhat ambiguous. did it really want me to go through the old housing estate? Or did it want me to go to the main road? Given my horror of doubling back, I decided to go to the main road where I knew I could get through. Oh, me of little faith. But, umm, I did get to experience a main road in downtown Woolwich:

As traffic sped past me, I notice a path --- so close, yet so far -- on the other side of a fence. Sure, it wound through an old brownfield site full of litter, but it was a bit more peaceful.

I made my way to the tiny Woolwich ferry -- that yellow tower is the MIDDLE of the boat. This is the only vehicle ferry on the Thames, and I'm sad I didn't realize that pedestrians could use it too! While writing this up for the blog I found a fascinating article about the ferry from Reuters | The Wider Image with glorious photos and some good history. (There has been a river crossing here since Saxon times!)

The good thing is that I was able to rejoin the path at the loading dock. I suddenly realized just where Luton Airport is when I saw this plane landing!

These little ferries cross the river constantly throughout the day -- cheaper than a bridge, eh? Coming as I do from Seattle, where some of our ferries are large enough to span the Thames at Woolwich, I found these fat little ones sweetly amusing. They load and unload pretty quickly at either end, though the process took longer than the short trip across the river. The two boats -- the James Newman and the Ernest Bevin on my day; the third, John Burns, must have had the day off -- changed places in about 10 minutes.

I also regret that I hadn't realized there was a TUNNEL under the Thames at Woolwich. I never saw this handsome entrance, even:

Image from thames-path.org.uk

Note that the fingerposts are legion! I would love to take a little round trip of the ferry and bath through the foot tunnel. Next time, next time...

The fingerposts on my walk had been messed with and turned the wrong way, but the path continued along the river until it reached the former Royal Woolwich Arsenal:

The old Royal Woolwich Arsenal was in the process of being turned into yuppie housing.... still, if it preserves part of the building, then it's a good thing.

Tilfen, the folks doing conversion, built a fine new stretch of path: 

Soon the path became more rural along Galleons Reach--built on a former landfill. It reminded me of a conversation I had in a pub a few days before, where I was informed that the only new greenspace anymore was old landfills, now grassed over. You get it where you can, I suppose.


I could see the Barking Barrier in the distance:

Walking along Barking Reach I passed this WW2 pillbox guarding the Thames: 

And I had a good view of the Barking Barrier across the river:

On a strange little viewing platform in Barking Reach, one suspects opened with much fanfare by a local politician, I looked downstream:

I was a bit nervous, as my map indicated that I would have to make a lengthy detour around the new sewage works at crossness. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the "Crossness Path" was open -- a stretch of river front that had been closed to the public for some 150 years and reopened in 2000. First up was one of my favorite buildings in the world: Bazalgette's Crossness Pumping Station, which still houses its mighty beam engines. I'm thrilled to discover that it's now a museum, and has a beautiful website full of interior and exterior images: http://www.crossness.org.uk/

It's not as elaborate externally as its glorious counterpoint at Abbey Mills, its handsome brickwork and gothic touches elevate the structure from its onerous task. (Note: I wrote this in 2002. I was a bit more sonorous then!) Seriously, it's gorgeous inside: 

photo by Peter Scrimshaw, from crossness.org.uk
Bazalgette, I should note, was the savior of London when he designed the London sewers. He's a marvellous engineer. 

As I walked past the enormous tanks of sewage, I thanked my lucky stars that a fresh breeze was blowing in off the river and that, obviously, sewage treatment technology had improved so much that even these gazillion-gallon tanks emitted no odors. 

The wind changed suddenly, blowing full force over the tanks and into my nostrils. It was like the worst outhouse I'd ever smelled -- and then made more intense. I felt like a stablehand in the Augean stables, or as if I had my head inside a sewer; the stench made me retch and it was only my empty stomach that kept me from actually vomiting. 

Unsurprisingly, the path ahead was completely deserted so no one got to witness my mad dash to get away from the tanks, hands clapped over my face while I breathed shallowly through my mouth. I was only about 100 yards away from the end of the tanks, but it seemed like miles. Finally, the tanks just behind me, the wind changed back and I could slacken my pace. 

I looked up and noticed a strange, metal-clad building -- all swoops and curves, like a more restrained Guggenheim Bilbao. Later I learned that it was the new sludge-powered sewage treatment plant. I like that they built a stylish modern building rather than just an ugly box.

Sludge power! 

From there the path wandered pas more industrial land -- vast warehouses, rusting metal sheds, gravel conveyors (who knew there was such a big market for gravel?), mysterious tanks and silos. Across the river I could see the massive Ford Motor Factory, and the ferries that cross the river with its workforce:

As I approached Erith everything was super industrial. I like the built environment -- even factories -- but it's pretty clear why I was the only person on the path here.

I could also see an enormous landfill across the river in Coldharbour -- mainly evident by the swarms of seagulls following the dumptrucks. Part of it still looked -- at that distance, anyway -- like a field of flowers... an illusion aided, I'm sure, by the millions of brightly colored plastic shopping bags waving in the breeze.

This sign, near Erith, made me chuckle. If the razor wire isn't enough to keep out trespassers, perhaps this friendly sign will help... 

I the path essentially disappeared here, so I had to turn away from the river and into the streets. This did take me to the pretty Erith Riverside Gardens, so it wasn't so bad:

I also spotted the White Hart, Erith, where I decided it was time to take a break... just in time to catch the end of the Ireland game. Ireland made it to the knockout rounds, having just defeated Saudi Arabia 3-0. In my hopeful mood, I noted that an England - Ireland final was still possible. (Sigh.)

The crowd in the pub was happy and chatty, and being the only female in the place I attracted a lot of attention. "Come watch the footie, darling" and so on. But I sat, wrote, sipped a pint, and then moved on.

My notes refer to this as the "deep water jetty, Erith", but I think it's Erith Pier. Which may be a new name for the older structure? 

I walked out on to it and could see Queen Elizabeth II Bridge far in the distance:

I also saw some graffiti written by one Hanna Downey. "Ben Smith is a gay wanker." Perhaps this is the result of a lover's quarrel, because Hanna also <3s Damien M. 

Looking back along the pier toward Erith:

I left the town of Erith and returned to a nice path through Crayford Ness:

Before long I reached the end of the Thames Path Extension:

I continued along the Cray Riverway to the mouth of the Darent River, seeing QE2 bridge in the distance. 

I turned up the muddy Darent at low tide, walking toward the Darent Flood Barrier.

You'd think this would make a good spot for a footbriddge... but really the Darent Flood Barrier (also known as the Dartford Creek Barrier) doesn't have one. From the side it's just a giant wall, blocking my path. At the time I wrote that a footbridge was envisioned in 2005 or so. An article from Remote London from 2019 says that there's still no pedestrian access, but "Instead, the river path heads inland, along the Darent and Cray rivers. This creates a lengthy, but interesting detour for walkers of the Thames Path." 

So I walked up the Darent, feeling a million miles away from London. Here's a look back:

according to RemoteLondon.com
The Darent here is one of the last remaining natural tidal creeks in London. Silting and reduced flow mean that very few boats now disturb the wildlife, but this was once an important trade artery for industry, with river traffic recorded as far back as pre-Roman times.
I passed these sweet and friendly horses on Dartford Marshes:

And an old moated building on Howbury Farm:

I love how England is dotted with ancient structures. In writing up this post I did a little research; this medieval site is listed as a "scheduled monument" and contains a moated structure, walls, and inside a ruined house known as Howbury, dati.g from the 16th or 17th century.

Here's the site as seen on Google Maps:

I'd walked 11-ish miles, so decided to call it a day, walking up "Moat Lane" (hee hee) to Slade Green station and heading home. 

Next up: Darent to Gravesend

Friday, June 26, 2020

June OMG Complete : Smokey Bear Quilt

Hi everyone! Perhaps I should have quit while I was ahead...

In May I made a simple lap quilt for my husband -- the first quilt I had made in years and years -- and it turned out better than I expected. So then I decided to use a cute Smokey Bear panel and two coordinating fabrics I bought earlier this year at the Sleepy Valley Quilt Company.

Well, I made a top with some simple edging, and then pinned it together for the quilting. And, well... I didn't know what to do. I mean, I'm a simple "stitch in the ditch" sort of quilter -- I don't know any allover patterns or even how I would stitch them. So I tried to quilt around some of the shapes in the panel -- around the sign, around the trees, along the fence, across some of the grass, and of course around Smokey and the cubs. There's a big space in the upper left corner that didn't have anything, so I decided to stitch concentric quarter circles ... but that felt weird. And I think looks weird. 

But I added binding and finished the darn thing. And my husband -- now spoiled for lap quilts as he has TWO -- likes to sit under it with the cats on his lap. So he's happy with it. 

What have I learned from this project? I won't buy another big panel unless it has really really obvious things to stitch. Heck, let's be honest. I won't buy another big panel, period. It has also reminded me how much I hate the pinning process. I do plan on making one, maybe even TWO big quilt tops this year ... so I'll be looking for a longarm quilter to do the hard work. 

The One Monthly Goal link-up is organized by Elm Street Quilts with the idea that we can just focus on one task and make progress. You can see how everyone did on their June projects on the Finish Party page. Or choose an OMG project of your own and join us in July. I have a couple of thoughts for what do pick up as my July project -- an embroidery project? Maybe a new tapestry? Or maybe get my fabric organized and cut for another quilt? Time will tell! 

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Travel Tuesday : the Thames Path, day 15 - Tower Bridge to the Thames Barrier

Walked June 8, 2002

Today was my last day on the official Thames Path, and I'd be walking to the Thames Barrier, something I had never seen. 

I got up early-ish and took the Tube to Tower Hill. I glimpsed the "Glass Testicle" (or Greater London Authority / Mayor's Office) across the river:

Then I crossed pretty Tower Bridge, still happily quiet on a Sunday morning. The hordes would come later, but most were still tucking into their full English breakfasts at their B&Bs.

You get a nice view of the Tower of London from the bridge -- look how quiet it is!

I also love that they have labeled the bridge -- maybe so idiots in Arizona don't get confused again...

 I do love Tower Bridge, with its fairy tale turrets and robins egg blue trim (Queen Victoria's favorite color, it's said). But the path beckoned, so I didn't linger. 

Once across, I turned down cobbled Shad Thames, Butler's Wharf. Shad Thames is a corruption of "St. John at Thames", after the Templar Knights who once controlled the area. I love this street. But I would turn down the alley glimpsed to the left, Maggie Blake's Cause, and go through an arch to the riverside. 

The path opened up shortly thereafter, passing the amazing Design Museum -- seriously, if you are at all interested in the design of things, go to this museum! I had walked this stretch of the riverside on a number of occasions -- once trying to go further along the river but getting hopelessly lost.

The path crossed a new drawbridge to run behind China Wharf, with its poppy red arches. Its rear facade, however, is muuch less showy -- more in keeping with its neighbors, many of whom are converted warehouses. In the Victorian Era, this area was known as Jacob's Island, a notorious slum. 

A little farther along I crossed a footbridge for a view of old St. Saviour's Dock, still lined with (now converted) warehouses. I wonder if people can use the cranes to move their Agas in to their new flats?

A few more (thankfully well signposted!) twists and turns later and I emerged into Rotherhithe at Cherry Garden Pier, and, just beyond, Angel Wharf. I noticed this cute cat sculpture by Diane Gorvin, part of the "Dr. Salter's Daydream" artwork. You can see Tower Bridge in the background. 

Looking at the new-built housing around the ruins of Edward III's moated manor house, I instantly fell in love with the area and bemoaned the fact that I had let friends talk me out of looking for lodging here. Sigh.

I also spotted an adorable pub -- the Angel at Rotherhithe -- and decided to end my day back there with a pint. 

Nearby I passed the Mayflower Pub, Rotherhithe -- which stands on the site of The Shippe, from where the Pilgrim Fathers set out in 1620. Another Mayflower Pub factoid: they are the only pub licensed to sell stamps. A pint and postage, please!

I was much more interested in Brunel's engine house. Being something of an engineering nerd, I paid my £2 and visited the little exhibit. The achievements of Isambard Kingdom Brunel are justly celebrated -- he was one of the greatest and most versatile engineers ever -- from his Paddington Station and the Great Western Railway, to the Avon Gorge bridge in Bristol and the Great Eastern -- his giant steamship that had to be launched sideways into the Thames from its shipyard near Burrell's Wharf on the north band as a conventional launch would have run the ship aground on the opposite bank.

Less celebrated, however, is his father, Marc Isambard Brunel. The elder Brunel made his name as an engineer in the US -- he built many things for the city of New York, and submitted a plan that was praised albeit rejected for the US Capitol building. 

His greatest achievement however is the Thames Tunnel -- the first tunnel beneath a navigable river anywhere in the world. It took 18 years, £468,250 in Victorian money, and 7 lives to finish the Great Bore. After the 1828 breach in the tunnel work was suspended for 7 years -- during which time the company directors ordered the end of the tunnel against the tunneling shield to be bricked up and a large mirror placed against the wall so they didn't lose the tourist revenue! There wasn't enough money to build the approaches to allow horses and coaches, so it remained a pedestrian tunnel, filled with souvenir sellers by day, and vagrants by night, who were allowed to bed down in the tunnel for a penny per night. 22 years later, when the London Underground was built, the tunnel sold to the railway. The East London Line still runs through the tunnel -- which was extensively renovated -- in accordance with English Heritage guidelines to protect the vistas and the general look of Brunel's original brickwork.

These airshafts vented the tunnel:

nice grillwork in the windows of the airshaft:

Back on path, I wound in and out of new developments, sometimes along the river, sometimes not. I could see the entry to Limehouse Basin from across the river -- it was built to service Regent's Canal. From here, believe it or not, you could follow the Lea Valley Walk to Birmingham. 

As we rounded the bend in the river, I got a great view of Canary Wharf in the distance.

A bit farther downriver I found this obelisk in search on an honoree, at Pageant Steps. I recently read it has something to do with the estate being laid out on an axis with Canary Wharf, and this obelisk would like on the westward axis. Or something. 

Then a pleasant surprise: Surrey Docks Farm -- a working farm in London. They grow vegetables, raise chickens, have donkeys, and a farm shop and cafe. 

I fed goats and sheep, and had a little wander around and spotted a bored donkey and a sleepy pig. As I approached the pig, a goose and a gander hurried along the path ahead of me. I stopped to chat with the pig ("Hello Mr. Pig -- good heavens, look at the size of you!") when  suddenly I noticed the gander hurrying toward me. I said, "I don't have any food" but apparently he didn't want bread -- he wanted MEAT. He then proceeded to attach me -- nipping at my legs and making enough contact to raise more than one bruised lump.

I felt silly -- I didn't want to hurt the goose, especially with kids around, so I didn't kick him -- though he deserved it! I just stood there backing away and saying "Stop that! Shoo! You horrid goose!" Eventually he realized he wasn't going to be able to tear through my trousers and gave up. Moments later a tiny child -- seriously, 3 or 4 years old -- ushered the geese into a pen. I swear -- later I passed the gander, who glared at me with his bizarrely blue eyes. 15 days of walking, staring down young bulls and climbing over stills and my only injury on the path was a goose attack.

While standing on the riverfront again, I saw a dozen or more speedboats zipping along the river in some kind of race. Those in the front were having a pretty easy time of it, but those towards the back were hampered by the wakes of the boats ahead, having to speed up and slow down as they bounced over the waves. Later I read that it was a powerboat grand prix. 

Soon I came to Greenland Dock, the only large water-filled dock that remains on the river. An old swing bridge guards the entry, where once huge ships unloaded their contents. Its at places such as these that the size of the ships -- and of the trade in general -- is appreciable.

I passed the aptly named Wibbley Wobbley floating pub in Greenland Dock. It was owned by comedian Malcolm Hardee, who drowned in 2005 while rowing between the pub and his houseboat.

Further along the Thames is the Pepys Estate -- named for noted diarist Samuel Pepys, who was secretary of the Admiralty from 1685 - 1688. He lived nearby, but the estate is on the site of Henry VIII's Great Storehouse, which later became the Royal Naval Dockyard or the King's Yard. Between 1545-1865 some 350 naval ships were built here, including HMS Neptune, Nelson's flagship at the Battle of the Nile, when he defeated Napoleon's fleet. 

This "wall of the ancestors" artwork on the tower block at the Pepys Estate depicts the following people, left to right, starting at the top:

Top row: Catherine of Aragon, Tsar Peter the Great, Debra Lee
Middle row: Sir Francis Drake, Queen Elizabeth I
Bottom row: Michael Hamilton, Metrina, Phineas Pell

Looks as if this artwork has been moved and some new heads have been added. Some of the buildings in the estate are converted warehouses, including this enormous rum storehouse, where that essential lubricant was kept. 

The path turns away from the river at this point, and I found myself about 10 yards behind a young couple. Wanting to increase the distance between us, I showed down and even stopped to look at things ... but they did too. I then tried to speed up, only to have them speed up too. Finally they turned off the path, though I did glimpse them again in the churchyard of St. Nicholas, Deptford, famous for its 18th-century charnel house and skulls on the gate pillars. 

I got back to the riverside and looked upstream towards the former Burrell's Wharf--where the Great Eastern was launched. I read that the new Brunel Museum offers boat trips to the site. This is seriously the #1 thing on my "next time we're in London" list. 

A few more twists and turns and suddenly the path arrives in Greenwich, near the Cutty Sark.

I managed to resist the siren song of Greenwich and its market (I was worried about getting the stuff I  already owned home!) and walked along the river frontage of the Royal Naval College, built as a hospital for injured sailors, spying the Queens House and the Royal Observatory between the wings.

I also caught my first glimpse of the Millennium Dome ... but I would pass it later. 

Once past the college I saw the Trafalgar Tavern, home of the famous "whitebait dinners".  (Bella Wilfer takes her father to dinner in Greenwich; when I read "Our Mutual Friend" I imagined they ate here.) I was on new ground from this point on.

The path passed Trinity Hospital and the disused Greenwich Power Station...

... before entering a long stretch of non-touristy, industrial riverfront of silos, cranes, smokestacks and mountains of gravel being unloaded from ships. This is the London that most tourists wouldn't see.

Oddly enough -- or perhaps because I wasn't distracted -- I moved quickly through this stretch and could look back at downtown Greenwich:

It's a terrible photo, but there's a glimpse of John Outram's postmodern "crayola egyptian" pumping station across the river:

Here's a better view, from an article highlighting that the building had received a Grade II* listing:

The big hairpin bend in the river curls around the site of the then empty Dome. In November 2000 Suz and I visited it to see the Millennium exhibition. Hardly anyone was there and everything was heavily discounted in the gift shop. #winning.

Then I skirted an industrial estate that was all about gravel. Here's a ship uploading (or loading?) gravel. 

And some huge gravel stores. What is it all for???

Soon I caught my first glimpse of the Thames Barrier ... such an odd sight! The river here is a third of a mile wide. 

When I arrived at the Thames Barrier, one gate was turned upwards. If the tide from the North Sea was in flood, all the gates would turn up and protect London.

I always feel like the barrier looks like a line of hooded metal figures ... guardian monks or something. 

I saw these Thames Path signs at end of established path, but as there was still some path, I carried on donwstream. 

Looking upstream to the Thames Barrier;

And then I reached this sign noting the end -- or beginning? -- of the Thames Path.

I was pretty hungry by this point, so stopped into the cafe for a celebratory lunch of Diet Coke, sandwich-in-a-box, and crisps. But apparently didn't photograph them or the cafe!

I then made my way back -- let's be honest, probably via bus or the Tube -- to the Angel. 

I have a few "favorite pubs / bars" here and there in the world. And I never really know why a particular place is a favorite. But the minute I got my pint and settled in, I knew the Angel would be on the list. It's a friendly riverside pub, with decent food, tide tables on the wall, the Beatles on the stereo. Oh, and there's a view of Tower Bridge in the distance:

Oh, and my pint of cider cost £2.16. When pints in a lot of places were more than £4. Sure, this was 2002, but that was still super cheap!

After finishing my pint -- and noticing that it stopped raining -- I went for another little walk to see St. Mary's:

and the cute school kids on the facade of St. Mary's charity school:

When I got to the riverside again and looked downstream, I saw that the tide was out:

I walked along -- loving the weird sky and the quiet and the neighborhood.

The view of Tower Bridge from Rotherhithe with that moody sky:

Then, because the tide was out, I walked down the stairs onto the tidal foreshore, near King's Stairs Block. It was fun to be there, though I wish I knew then what I know now about "mudlarking" and looking for pipes and pottery. Next time. 

I saw this derelict building on the riverside and imagined a world where I could buy and renovate it. I'm sure that between 2002 and 2020, someone has. 

It's amazing to see the waterline on the embankments ... and how low this tide was.

This had been a very good day. Cool technology, engineering marvels, a big ship, industrial London, and a new favorite pub. 

Next up: Thames Barrier to the Dartford Creek Barrier