Day 001: Tower Bridge to Erith
Distance: 19.71 miles
Ascent: 664 feet
Weather: Overcast, WIth heavy showers in morning
Accommodation: Wild camp crayford ness
Well the day had finally arrived, and it was time to set off. I met my brother under Tower Bridge ready for a start photo but a swan turned up, started hissing and decided he didn’t want to move. We admitted defeat and moved on to take the photo elsewhere. I hope this was not an omen for the walk!
We set of from Tower Bridge through the Shad Thames area, these picturesque streets formed what was once known as the larder of London with the biggest framework of Victorian era warehouses in the whole of London, housing massive quantities of tea, coffee, spices and other commodities. As ships grew in size they began not to be able to get this far up the Thames and by the 1970’s the last warehouse had closed, since then the area has gone through significant (but sympathetic) development and is now a bustling area once again.
We continued along the Thames path and soon reached the Brunel Tunnel (Thames Tunnel), though from the outside you would hardly know as its exterior area & fencing has not been looked after or done sympathetically at all, this structure deserves better. It is a structure that most Londoners haven’t heard of and definitely don’t know the significance of its design. Marc Brunel (father of Isambard) came up with a revolutionary construction technique using a tunnelling shield. The likes of which, though modernised, are still used to this day, including on the Crossrail project. It was rightfully marketed as the eighth wonder of the world when it opened, and over a million Londoners (over 50% of population at that time) visited the tunnel in the first 3 months that it was open.
We continued along the Thames path around the Rotherhithe peninsula where it began to rain at first gently and then harder. This was my first test at how quick I could get the backpack off and into my waterproofs, all I can say is ‘needs improvement.’ We grabbed a quick coffee and then reached Greenwich, it is truly a gem wedged between the bustle of London to the West and the industrial zones to its East. We admired the Cutty Sark floating on its glass ocean, and then walked through the beautiful Royal Naval College with its stunning architecture.
From Greenwich we continued on the Thames Path where possible, but there were significant diversions sending us along the A107, which will likely be one of the least attractive parts of the walk with thousands of cars whizzing by, at the same time as dodging smashed glass bottles, whilst being rained on. We returned from the diversion back on to the Thames Path proper, I weirdly found this industrial part attractive especially with the juxtaposition to Canary Wharf on the other side of the river, and continued up to the Millennium Dome (or The 02 if anyone young enough to not know its original name!) There are some modern/alternative sculptures on the path around the dome that make up part of ‘The Line’ sculpture trail, and though to my mind some of them are pointless I actually liked Wilson’s ‘Slice of Reality’. I then passed the Thames Cable Car which I think is a great asset to London and makes for a lovely trip across the river, though I know many Londoners would disagree with me saying it was a waste of money.
This was the end of the line for my brother. He treated me to lunch in a restaurant, and by the time we finished it had almost stopped raining. He tubed back home and I carried on. It had been good starting with my brother, as it slightly took the edge of the enormity of the challenge and the panic that may have ensued. But weirdly it now felt like the walk had started a proper now that I was alone. I continued along the Thames path and passed the Thames Barrier, a monumental engineering project that keeps London save from tidal surge flooding. Continuing from here I finally reached the part of the Thames path that I have not gone beyond before, passed the Woolwich Ferry.
After Woolwich Arsenal the route became more rural, and the river seemed to noticeably widen. This stretch could be known as stink corner, as I passed various different sewage and sludge treatment works, most of which absolutely stank (though in a few days this may be useful to mask my own smell). At one in particular it was interesting to note literally thousands of different ducks, gulls and cormorants hanging around one of the outlets from the sewage works I do not know what they were eating
I finally reached Erith, and because of the slightly later start to accommodate my brother, the leisurely lunch and a bit too much bird watching, I was fast running out of light. I darted into Morrisons to grab dinner and breakfast, (I think it will take some getting used to the reaction you get walking into a shop with full hiking gear and a massive backpack) and headed out the other side of Erith towards Crayford Ness my endpoint of the day. Knowing that Storm Eleanor (with 50mph winds forecast for my location) was on her way later that evening I extended the day very slightly to find a more sheltered spot, I chose a spot behind a row of shipping containers so hopefully well protected from the wind, and was just putting the final pegs in as it got dark.
All in all a successful, and enjoyably first day if not the most scenic route. Now just got to hope I get though Storm Eleanor without getting wet!