A Walk in the (new) Park…??

All text and images, copyright David Riddle, January 2000 (known changes by 2016 in italics)

A lot of people put up with living in a large city purely to enjoy the convenience it offers even if, as residents, we probably rarely venture further than the local shops at the week-end and only hit the ‘smoke’ during the week. Although the London Borough of Greenwich already has a relatively high acreage of parkland and public open space, it’s not the same as a walk in the country. Additionally, few of those spaces offer the official right to cycle, or even have suitable paths for cycling, particularly if you have young children.

Well, things have changed. Visit the Greenwich Peninsula!

Walk, cycle, catch a bus (or Jubilee Line tube if not a ‘local’) to North Greenwich Station and then walk home. If you really must drive, although the area around the Dome is an ‘exclusion’ zone, there are some two hour limit parking bays ((now no more), not part of any of the GMCPZ zones, so you can’t stay any longer than this) available both in John Harrison Way (straight on at the main access roundabout if approaching from Blackwall Lane, or in the continuation of Peartree Way (straight on from the ‘Sainsbury’s’ roundabout at Bugsby’s Way). However you choose to arrive you will find a whole new series of riverside walkways, cycle paths and parklands were open to the public just after Christmas 1999. A huge amount of work had been done even since early December on these as well as on the planted formal park areas.

Starting from the area just south of the Dome, the first feature you will encounter is a multi-jet fountain that has been created at the northern end of the new Central Park. This has a series of metre high computer-controlled jets that play various sequences. As a Dome ‘Host’ said on a recent visit, “how we are going to keep the kids out of this in the summer when the water is only a couple of inches deep is anyone’s guess”!

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View from the Pilot across Central Park towards the Dome

Alongside the road leading to the old Pilot Inn is the ‘guideway’ dedicated to the new gas-powered Millennium Transit buses. There are two services. One (M1) runs from Charlton Station to the Dome with just one intermediate stop at the site of the Millennium Village and the other (M2) from Greenwich Town Centre to the Dome via Blackwall Lane. Although vehicles have been observed under test on the guideway, the public service is currently still using Bugsby’s Way and Millenium Way and and not this final route, although in quite what way the buses are ‘guided’ is obscure to say the least.

Making a move towards the river as soon as possible, either through Central Park and the Dome coach park, or via one of two pedestrian/cycle-only routes running E-W across the Peninsula, one arrives on the new pathway at the river front, now part of the Thames Path. While the MEX is underway during 2000, it is will not be possible to ‘circumnavigate’ the Dome using this path, so the furthest north you can go is close to the Skyscape Cinema/performance arena and the Millennium Pier, both of which are inside the Dome perimeter fence.

Adjacent to the Pier, is an elaborate ‘sculpture’, Quantum Cloud, some 75 feet high and looking rather like a huge Christmas tree made out of stainless steel tubes. Designed by Antony Gormley (an alumnus of nearby Goldsmiths College in New Cross) who created the spectacular Angel of the North figure near the A1 at Gateshead, this has been constructed on one of the original Doric support columns of the old South Metropolitan Gas Works jetty and received almost zero publicity, possibly since it will only be those who arrive by river that will easily see it.

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New Millennium Pier & Quantum Cloud sculpture
mounted on original Gas Works jetty column

On the nearby riverside railings an elaborate history of the Greenwich Peninsula is displayed on one continuous information panel some 150ft in length.

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Descriptive tableau of the history of the Greenwich Peninsula alongside walkway

Looking straight down below the safety rail, assuming it’s not high tide, it is possible to get a good look at the river terracing that has been put in place on the river frontage to provide new opportunities for wildlife (including the recently much-publicised Chinese Mitten Crab!) in the area immediately in front of the original plain sheet steel piling.

The path itself is clearly divided into wide pedestrian and cycle paths, with some additional gravel areas in blocks at intervals on the river side of the path at its northern end which are planted with grasses and other ground-hugging plants.

Proceeding south, the path passes a new radar aerial that keeps river traffic in contact with the situation at the Thames Barrier of which this is probably now the best view in London.

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Thames Path/cycleway and new Thames Barrier Radar

This point also marks the end of the old River Way and the slipway that was a Thames Watermen’s historic point of access to the river. Even the lower part of this slip has now been removed, and there have been noises that legal action may be taken to reinstate this in some way. This was also the previous location of the Greenwich Yacht Club and Thames Barrier Yacht Club. The latter is still looking for a new home, although a breakaway group has been allowed access to the nearby pier. The former has moved south to occupy impressive new premises built for them by English Partnerships at Peartree Wharf at the extreme southern end of the new path. The path actually diverts inland very slightly to pass around the back of the new Yacht Club at what remains of the famous shingle ‘beach’ that, according to a newspaper article, John Prescott once apparently threatened to turn into the Costa S.E. London!

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Sundial adjacent to Thames Path and gravel beach

It then returns to the river at the boundary of the extensive sand & gravel works, and proceeds downstream as far as the Thames Barrier.

The land-based facilities of the Greenwich Yacht Club premises are at the dead-end of a new road, Peartree Way, that proceeds from the roundabout behind Sainsbury’s. These are now fully occupied, and the main club house on the old pier is now also complete.

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Greenwich Yacht Club clubhouse on Peartree Wharf jetty

The premises are immediately to the south of the beach, and currently offer the only official access to that area. It is to be hoped that English Partnerships might be persuaded to make a suitable access point from the Thames Path itself.

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Greenwich Yacht Club shore-based facilities and new slipway

Adjacent to the beach and inland from the path, behind a sturdy wooden-faced barrier, is an intentionally secluded area, the Ecology Park. This consists of a lake, wetlands areas and a series of boardwalks allowing access for study groups. A large Warden’s Hut and Information Centre is complete and lies immediately adjacent to the path,although these facilities are not yet in use (5/2000).

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Ecology Park and first piling for the Millennium Village Phase I

From behind the Yacht Club, another path can be followed to a more readily accessible lake that has been created adjacent to what is to be known as Southern Park, which is at the core of the area to be occupied by the new Millennium Village. Piling work on the first phase of construction for this project began in December, and it is hoped that the first premises will be available for occupation by the late summer 2000.

Approaching the road along this path, one of the few buildings that is complete is the Millennium Village Information Centre. This overlooks the western side of the lake. Across the road towards the Blackwall Tunnel Approach, work on the site of the new Millennium Village School and Health Centre is well under way. This will be a new location for the pupils of the existing Annandale School beginning in September 2000, as well as accomodating primary age children from the Village.

If you’re feeling a little thirsty or peckish after your exertions, there are now two options.

Heading once again in the general direction of the Dome will take you past one of the few remaining structures remaining from the old Peninsula. The WW II Memorial, previously located near the one remaining gasometer has been re-dedicated on a new site at the extreme southern end of Central Park.

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WWII Memorial to workers of the South Metropolitan Gas Works
Moved and re-consecrated in new parkland to the south of The Pilot & Ceylon Cottages

If you prefer traditional old ale and pub grub, keep going for about a quarter of a mile on either of the roads that run towards the Dome from the Memorial. Any regulars who have had to tramp through mud over the past year or so, will be grateful for the fact that the historic Pilot Inn and adjacent Ceylon Cottages now sport a brand new forecourt car park.

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The Pilot Inn and Ceylon Cottages
New car park & barrier. Cottages renovated

These are now the only original buildings remaining on the Peninsula to the east of Bugsby’s Way and Millennium Way. The old electricity sub-station/Barrier radar building, the Riverside Industrial Estate and Greenwich Yacht Club’s premises, originally part of the Redpath Brown steel works until the early 1970s, were all flattened in early December 1999. Although for a number of years in possession of a prize-winning and pleasantly secluded back garden, the Pilot Inn, previously of River Way, SE10, might effectively have been uprooted bodily and put down in a different part of the country as far as the view from its front door is concerned. Instead of looking out over a derelict Power Station, chain link fencing, or more recently blue hoardings, the premises now enjoys an unobstructed view over grass and between trees across Central Park to the Dome and Skyscape.

If you prefer to go Oriental, try the new. Head towards the only multi-storey building on the Peninsula. Built in under 10 months, the Holiday Express at the junction of Blackwall Lane and Bugsby’s Way offers not just badly needed accomodation for visitors to the tourist attractions of Greenwich, and soon, the revamped Royal Arsenal site Museum in Woolwich, but it also sports what has been billed as the largest Chinese restaurant in London (unfortunately now closed). Seating over 500, it occupies the entire ground floor of the Hotel and is open to both residents and non-residents. The venue is regularly jammed solid with Chinese from London’s Chinatown district in Soho, surely a good recommendation? The hotel also happens to look out over a interesting new 3-D advertising sculpture that appeared in a matter of days (and disappeared just as quickly) on the main roundabout at the above named junction.

If you feel like extending your walk or cycle ride, make your way over to the west side of the A102 (no longer designated a ‘motorway’), either using the pedestrian/cycle bridge by the old Dorringtons (now Meridian) nightclub, or by going under the flyover outside the hotel, and turning right down Tunnel Avenue. Go past Amylum UK‘s main entrance and that of the Hays Chemical works and then watch out for the Thames Path sign and take a left down to the river. You can then take a pleasant and relatively unpolluted trip, with a couple of newly created old jetty seating areas, all the way back to the centre of Greenwich via the Cutty Sark pub, the delightful Trinity Hospital and in front of or, alternatively, now through the old Royal Naval College grounds, recently occupied by the University of Greenwich, and soon to also house the Trinity School of Music. The Old Squash Courts, last year the home of the MEX Exhibition Centre has now been converted into a new Greenwich Tourist Information Centre, also worth a visit.

As they say…. ENJOY!!

© David Riddle, January 2000
Updated May 9th, 2001
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