On Tuesday night, as the evening rush hour got underway, I walked along the river from Greenwich foot tunnel to the Millenium Dome. Noted Canadian Shania Twain was playing a pop concert at the latter, but that wasn’t the point of the walk. The only point of the walk was to get out of the house.
It was approaching high tide as I intermingled with the last of the tourists by Cutty Sark. The strangest thing about Greenwich riverside – not pictured – is the extremely ugly buildings blocking the view of the venerable ol’ tea clipper from the water. They were built in 2011 and house a Nando’s, a Byron burger joint, and the remains of a Frankie & Benny. It’s baffling to guess how they got planning permission in what’s supposed to be a unesco world heritage site.
I then passed in front of the old naval college, pausing to enjoy the sight of the tide lapping the old stone steps. The sun was plotting its death dive below the horizon, and the water was speckled with red and yellow light. Two joggers passed.
From here, I walked past the Trinity Hospital alms houses – still operating as housing for people in “reduced financial circumstances”, though still charging £800 a month for some of its apartments – and Greenwich Power Station, still used as a standby power generator by TFL, though via oil and gas powered turbines rather than the coal of yore. The jetty out front has not been required for many years.
I then hit new development armageddon. The river path stops abruptly with a new Bellway apartment block, built in the noughties vernacular – that is to say, buildings you’ve seen a million times before, are profoundly depressing, and give you that feeling of being somewhere utterly anonymous.
The new developments behind me, the river immediately became more interesting. Warehouses, CCTV cameras suffering erectile dysfunction hosted on high poles. Old wharves, yards filled with building materials and signs warning you about non-existent dogs. A large concrete plant. A gasometer.
After heading through some trees hugging the river line, the path took me inland between high fences guarding wasteland and yards full of rubbish. There was one business that still seemed to be operating: a dry dock for thames river cruisers. I hadn’t seen a jogger or a fellow pedestrian since leaving the new development: here, I saw my first sign of human life in half an hour, a portacabin perched by the side of the dock bled artificial light; a kettle boiling. The shadow of a man shuffling around inside.
After passing between the concrete plant and the dry dock, the path – now grandly calling itself Olympian Way – reunited with the river. The path was wide but unpaved, with rough gravel and dirt, and entirely unlit. There was a barge moored up, and I thought about climbing aboard, but was distracted by a pedestrian heading the other way. He looked drunk in the darkness, but maybe he thought the same thing about me.
At this point, a moment of genuine excitement: the sound of a paddle steamer on the river. I would love to say I recognised it immediately, like I’m a horse whisperer but for sea-going paddle steamers. But I twigged it was the Waverley very quickly, and got very excited. The Waverley exists in this part of my brain reserved for holidays in Illfracombe in the 1980s, for the excitement of being in the bar in the back, with its portholes just above the waterline, eating crisps, and being eight years old. It must have been on a trip out to Gravesend and to the Medway, and back. I must return to the Waverley one day.
After this excitement and beauty, the most banal part of my journey had arrived in the form of the Millenium Dome. My first proper view of it was suitably naff: through the fence of a driving range filled with guffawing gammons on a ball-whacking jolly.
After some adventures trapped in the car park of the InterContinental hotel, I doubled back to take some photos of a circular concrete structure that must be in some way related to the Blackwall Tunnel – an air vent, perhaps?
From here, I had to walk on the road past the taxi rank in front of north Greenwich station, as the pedestrian walkway was out of action. Here, with its piped muzak and armies of young men in high-vis, was the Millenium Dome. I went in to have a look, and was politely hassled by security who realised I probably wasn’t going either to the pop concert or to enjoy the Harvester restaurant. I took some pictures, wandered around in a daze, and left to get the bus back to where I started from.