Sunday 19 January: Isle of Dogs/Becton/Thamesmead
It was a dull damp Sunday morning but eleven of us met at Cutty Sark Gardens at 10am. The plan was to look at both ends of the possible new Thames bridge.
We headed under the Greenwich foot tunnel and up the middle of the Isle of Dogs on East Ferry Road and round Millwall Dock and down Marsh Wall and onto the Thames riverside by the lock gates of West Dock. A sneaky right took us past a Limehouse Link tunnel entrance and up Hertsmere Road and the various dock entrance offices and the fine range of 1820s warehouses along the northern edge of West India Quay...will the new Museum in Docklands finally open this summer. (The UCI multiplex there is perhaps my favourite in London). The drizzle stopped and blue sky crept over.
Then we crossed huge Aspen Way onto the quiet bike path along Ming Street (shades of the almost vanished chinatown that flourished here from the 1860s) and the faded glories of Poplar High Street and Naval Row, and onto the hidden remnant of East India Dock. We left the big roundabout at the western end of the Lower Lea crossing alongside the Lea itself and followed the scruffy pavement north...and crossed the river on the pavement of East India Dock Road. I really wanted to find how to head north up the Lea from this side. A few hundred metres north up thundering Manor Road, Stephenson Street doubled back but felt right. It led us to Cody Road and a barriered industrial estate. We tried it. Some huge new sheds, any a lot of rusty gasometers. Here were the remnants of the Becton Gas and Coke Company, what must have been a vast gasworks. In a tiny wood were several well-kept memorials to hundreds of gas-workers who were killed in various wars.
We pushed through the site and emerged onto Twelve Trees Crescent, and crossed the Lea again, and onto the Blackwall Tunnel Northern Approach Road, the A12. 100 metres down the pavement and we were at Bow Locks where the Limehouse Cut (from Limehouse Basin) joins the Lea. The really good new wood-boarded towpath extension under the A12 is finished except for a small gap. We spoke to some Lea Rivers Trust volunteers who were making some floating reed-bed platforms. Those puzzling thatched tubes on stilts in the Lea that wed wondered about on earlier rides turned out to be net-holes for ducks....but theyve all been installed much to high and need to be dropped. Over the footbridge and onto the Lea towpath, we went up to that huge tide-mill Three Mills, now in mix use and with paths all round it. At the back of the mill we came across two men and a van and a dozen or so bucketfuls of Lea mud. Their ladder went right down into it. The younger bloke explained that dad had been shovelling mud hereabouts for 30 years. Its full of tiny tubifex worms aka sludge or blood worms) that are quite closely related to earthworms. (They live in large colonies, with their heads stuck in the mud and their tails waving around. This waving creates a current to draw in fresh oxygen and are red in colour due to haemoglobin, the same blood pigment that carries oxygen in our own bodies, which helps them make the most of limited oxygen. They pass mud through their bodies and extract anything digestible from it). The mud-shovellers we met take the buckets of mud home, wash the worms out, and sell them to tropical fish shops as food. According to the Lea Rivers Trust (020 7515 3337), there are thousands of worms in every bucketful....and at low tide the worms sometims make the mud look red...and the digger does it for a living, but its dangerous work, he told us how a mate died when the water came in over the top of his waders and pulled him down.
And then round the edge of the Channelsea River into real Lea delta lands and up past the very ornate Abbey Mills Pumping Station and onto the Greenway. There are five parallel streams of water flowing south here...the old Lea is on the west side and Three Mills Wall River, Prescott Channel and the two branches of Channelsea river are all man-made. Abbey Mills (and the elegant new 1997 stainless steel shed next door by Allies and Morrison) is very like its south of the river equivalent at Crossness...a huge Victorian sewage pumping works with modern adjacent replacement. Abbey Mills was built to pump north Londons sewage to Beckton about 4 miles away. The huge sewer pipe is buried in a viaduct called the Greenway...its a fascinating traffic free ride all the way to Beckton sewage works in the east. Well, not quite traffic free, it crosses several roads. The Greenway gives big raised views over east London, and the vast East London Cemetry, and the odd Docklands Equestrian Centre, and skirts round the foothills of the now defunct Beckton Alps dry-ski slope. And it ends abruptly at big fence by Beckton sewage works.
Then south to the bridge that goes nowhere, yet, at the east end of Cyprus Way. We dropped into the University of East London campus on the north edge of Royal Albert Dock for much-needed coffee at around midday. The sign on Eds Place said 8.30-3.30, but it was closed. (Later: a phone call found out that the campus, despite the live-in students, is very much closed at weekends...no cafe, no bar). We rode over bridge at the end o the City Airport runway (no planes sadly) and had a look round North Woolwich, nothing. The one pub that did food did not invite.
So we got the Woolwich Ferry south and had lunch in the Earl of Chatham on Thomas Street. They do a restricted Sunday food service but it was ok.
We were then due to ride to Thamesmead, but it was 2pmish and no one wanted too. We rode slowly back along the Thames path. Linda gave us high tea up in the Millennium Village. The last 4 of us got back to Cutty Sark Gardens just as it was getting dark. (And on the way home on Creekside two of us stumbled across a brand new shiney white gallery with huge photos of naked trans-sexuals).
A full day, not one of our most exciting rides but good to explore and see more of the Lea. About 22 miles.
20 January 2003