Wandsworth to Rotherhithe.
There is a long list of sights today as the Thames Path weaves in and out of central London so it could make for slow progress and a long post. Iconic bridges cross the Thames at frequent intervals and new developments are everywhere.
The tide was out as I left Wandsworth Bridge this morning, all seemed peaceful and the streets were virtually empty of joggers and cyclists. The new apartment developments on Brixton Reach took some navigating, signage was out of date and the river could be accessed more than was first obvious. One hopes that eventually it will be complete and that the developers don’t create ‘private’ frontages. Have planning controls been put in place and is anybody watching? In the middle of all this I found a Georgian Church, St. Mary’s. Inside a small choir were practicing and along with the organ filled the church with uplifting music.
The graceful Battersea Bridge is on a sharp bend and has been the scene of many nautical collisions. After Albert Bridge… …Battersea Park was an oasis of green and joggers, cyclists and dogs reappeared from nowhere. Good to see all the children cycling in this large traffic free area. My pit stop was at Pier Point Cafe next to the cycle hire depot.
I thought things were going well when I could continue under the railway bridge into land of the old Battersea power station but I didn’t get far before diversions around it had me in a maze of new apartments and cranes. It was a mile or so before I saw the river again on the Tideway Walk, even this had diversions in place. This is BIG development and I spent a lot of time looking up. Across the river was the more stately Chelsea, I might have been better crossing over to the North bank for a change.
Once past the new ‘unfinished’ American Embassy [eat your heart out Mr Trump] access is improved and after Vauxhall Bridge the Albert Embankment can be enjoyed with its Dolphin [actually sturgeons] lampposts. You squeeze past the austere MI 6 building and then see the headquarters of the International Maritime Organisation which has the bow of a ship bursting out of its frontage – a dramatic piece of art. The big open-top bus stops at Lambeth Palace. Historic St. Thomas’s Hospital brings back many memories and now I’m at Westminster Bridge with the Abbey, Parliament and Big Ben [still under scaffolding] across the water. I used to cycle over here every morning on my way to college. A lot of this walk is now becoming a trip down memory lane so please forgive any indulgence.
The London Eye looms ahead and distant views down river reveal the changing skyline of London. Tourists have replaced joggers, the pavement is packed and hardly a word of English is heard. I keep bumping into people fixated on their phones. The Eye is extremely popular this morning but what have they done to the adjacent County Hall? MacDonald’s, Shrek, Horror Dungeon and other paltry amusements – commercialism gone mad since the GLC moved out. Surely some better use could have been found for this stately building.
The next bridge Hungerford leading to Charing Cross now looks spectacular with adjacent cantilevered footbridges.
By Waterloo Bridge is the concrete jungle of Royal Festival Hall, the National Theatre and National Film Theatre.The latter was almost a daily pilgrimage for me to view the old and new classics of cinema. I wonder if they still show ‘allnighters’ Colourful skate boarding has taken over the under belly of the area. ITV’s London Television Centre was new to me and the nearby Art Deco OXO Tower seems to be more difficult to see amongst all the new development, in fact I can’t find my photo of it. The Millennium Footbridge brings hoard of tourists over from the city and St. Pauls and deposits them on the doorstep of Tate Modern. Do you remember shortly after the bridge opened Health and Safety had a fit with its swaying. Popping into the Tate I only had time for a brief look in the great Turbine Hall which was exhibition-less – where is Louise Bourgeois’ Giant Spider?
The out of place Globe Theatre was thronged with visitors. The underground world of streets, tunnels and warehouses near the original Clink are still atmospheric, try them at night. The Anchor [from Shakespeare’s time] was a favourite lunchtime drinking venue of ours but that was in the days when the dockers and market workers still visited it. We used to have a good knees up there in the evenings. Just doesn’t look the same today and I couldn’t even get in the crowded door.Looking up there is a new kid on the block – The Shard – a 95-storey skyscraper designed by the Italian architect Renzo Piano. 309.7 metres (1,016 ft) high, the Shard is at present the tallest in the country.
I’ve never been enthused by the replica – yes it is only a replica dear tourists – of The Golden Hind sat in an old dock on Bankside. The original Golden Hind galleon was sailed by Sir Francis Drake, sponsored by Queen Elizabeth 1st, around the globe between 1577 and 1580. Actually to give it its due the replica has achieved a similar modern voyage. Passing past Southwark Cathedral and Market onto Borough High Street. forgive me for diverting up St. Thomas Street to look into Guy’s Medical School. What a disappointment, there was construction work in the courtyard, even the statue of the founder Sir Thomas Guy has been removed. I walked in here most mornings for 6 years, I suppose I didn’t tell them I was coming today. Inside the colonnades a statue of John Keats has been installed and I was able to sit alongside him. The alcove he sits in was from the Old London Bridge demolished in 1831. Keats trained at Guy’s in that early 19th century period. There is a blue plaque for him but I couldn’t find mine.
Escaping through London Bridge Station and Tooley Street I was back besides the Thames wharves and warehouses but they have all been gentrified, mostly successfully, into apartments and coffee shops.
The new City Hall has taken over from County Hall as headquarters for GLA. Designed by Norman Foster, former mayor Ken Livingstone referred to it as a “glass testicle” – but he had a grudge to bear.What was Bermondsy, an area of east end dockers, is now mainly converted warehouse apartments – I wonder whether the legendary camaraderie still exists across the balconies. The local pubs will have disappeared and I didn’t see many corner shops, plenty of coffee shops though. On the other side of the river were more wharves looking like they’ve also been apartmentalised.
There is a museum, housed in the pumping house, dedicated to Brunel who helped to create the first tunnel under the Thames which today is still used by the rail network. Further exploration will have to wait until tomorrow.