The Thames Path

The Thames Barrier - Greenwich

The Thames Barrier - Greenwich
Upstream: Island Gardens to Embankment (North Bank) Back to Main Page Downstream: Thames Barrier to Crayford
Upstream: Greenwich to the London Eye (South Bank)

Introduction

The impressive Thames Barrier, opened in 1984 to protect London from flooding, marks the start of the Thames Path. From the barrier the walk passes the Millennium Dome, now lying vacant, then on through industrial sites to Greenwich. Greenwich is the home of world time, Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) and has lots to see and do, including the Cutty Sark, The National Maritime Museum, The Royal Observatory and the Queens House.

Getting to the Start

The nearest town to the Thames Barrier is Charlton, in South East London. Due to it's proximity to central London, public transport is the best way to reach Charlton. Charlton Station is around 3/4 of a mile from the Thames Barrier, and has frequent trains, operated by South Eastern, from central London (Charing Cross, Waterloo East, London Bridge and Cannon Street), Dartford and the Medway towns in Kent. The most frequent service is from London Bridge. Connections with London Underground are available at London Charing Cross, Waterloo East, London Bridge and London Cannon Street whilst there are also connections with the Docklands Light Railway at Greenwich.

If you do travel by car, be aware that parking in the area is limited and can be expensive. There is a car park at the Bugsbys Way retail park, but check whether it is valid for a longer stay. Otherwise, there may be limited on-street parking (but check for parking restrictions). Also be aware that if Charlton Athletic are playing, parking is likely to be scarce. Charlton is on the A2016 and the A205 (off the A2).

The Walk

This walk is little shorter than I'd planned, due to arriving later than planned (due to engineering works on the trains) and stopping in Greenwich for longer than planned, by which time the light was fading. So it makes a gentle introduction to the Thames Path, with a lot to see on the way.

From Charlton station, exit the station on the same side as the train arrives from London. From the station you come onto Charlton Church Lane. Turn left, crossing Woolwich Road at the traffic lights, into Anchor and Hope Lane. This passes a large retail park, where you come to a roundabout, cross Bugsby's Way and continue straight on into Anchor and Hope Lane. Continue along this road until you get to a pub (which you can probably guess, is called Anchor and Hope). Turn Right here, and you're on the Thames Path, heading towards the Barrier.

As soon as you reach the path, the gleaming metal flood barrier is obvious ahead. This impressive structure was built in 1984 to protect central London from flodding due to tidal surge. It is only used a few times a year and as you'll see further upstream it doesn't stop all flooding. Once you arrive at the barrier there is a small visitor centre, cafe and toilets, although don't be suprised to find it almost empty at weekends.

The Thames Flood Barrier The Thames Barrier
The Thames Flood Barrier The Thames Flood Barrier

The barrier was originally planned in 1972 to protect London from floods, and was opened in 1984. The gaps between the gates are as wide as Tower Bridge to allow boats to pass through. As you approach the barrier, the path goes through a concrete tunnel, which marks the start of the path. Inside the tunnel the wall shows the path of the Thames and it's height above sea level giving a good overview of the path ahead. Emerging on the other side you then get views down the river and of the other side of the flood barrier. Looking across the river, you have views of Canary Wharf and the dome. Interestingly, unless you look closely, it looks as if the Dome is on the North side of the river, rather than the south side, due to the way the river curves round.

The Thames Flood Barrier The Dome and Canary Wharf
The Thames Barrier The Dome and Canary Wharf

The next section of the path is not too pleasant, walking through some very industrial and run-downs areas. I walked this section of path at the weekend, when the industrial sites were fairly quiet, but the area probably has a very different character in the week. Many of the sites have cranes and high-level chutes to get material on to boats. The area can hardly be described as attractive, but it is interesting to see how the use of the land by the river changes along it's course. It will be interesting to see how this part of the river bank changes over the coming years.

Boats on the Thames
Boats on the Thames

Soon you approach the Dome, where there is a new path all the way around. Whatever you're thoughts on whether the Dome should have been built now that we have it, it seems such a waste that the site remains empty and fenced off. I cannot understand why the Dome has not been used for any exhibitions or shows whilst it's long term use is decided. From the path there are good views from this walkway across the river to Canary Wharf and docklands as you take the path round the dome.

The pier for access to the dome The Dome
The pier to access the dome The Dome
Canary Wharf Canary Wharf
Canary Wharf Canary Wharf
The Dome
The Dome

As you round the Dome, you are walking over one of the eastern most crossings of the river, the Blackwall Tunnel. To the east, the only other crossings are the Woolwich Free Ferry, and the Dartford Crossing at the M25. The next section of the path is again very industrial, at times going through large and often derelict industrial sites and so does not make for pleasant walking. There are however still views of Canary Wharf and Docklands across the river. These areas will surely not remain derelict however with the pressure for houses in the capital.

Another view of Canary Wharf
Another view of Canary Wharf

As you walk through the industrial area you'll see Greenwich approaching. About the first building you come to in the centre of Greenwich is the Trinity Hospital building, which dates from 1616 and is the oldest building in Greenwich.

Trinity Hospital The Yacht
Trinity Hospital The Yacht, time for a pint

Soon you come into Maritime Greenwich, a World Heritage Site. The old Royal Naval College is on the banks of the river and is now part of the University of Greenwich. Behind it is the National Maritime Museum, Queens House and beyond that, the Royal Observatory, where the meridian line is.

The Old Royal Naval College The Old Royal Naval College
The Old Royal Naval College The Old Royal Naval College, with the Queens House and Royal Observatory in the distance.
The Old Royal Naval College The Old Royal Naval College
The Old Royal Naval College The Old Royal Naval College

As you continue along the river you come to The Cutty Sark, the last of the Tea Clippers, it was launched in 1869. It is now in a dry dock and is open daily.

Cutty Sark Cutty Sark
Cutty Sark Cutty Sark

There really is a lot to see in Greenwich so it's worth spending some time exploring the various sites, or climbing to the top of the hill in the park to enjoy the excellent views. As well as the attractions previously mentioned, there are a wide range of shops and restaurants in the town, as well as a popular market. If you want to get a view from the other side of the river, there is a pedestrian tunnel under the river onto the Isle of Dogs. Through central London and out as far as Teddington, the Thames Path is on both the north and south banks of the river allowing you to see the river from a different perspective. I mostly followed the South Bank, primarirly because it appears to be less built up and follow next to the river for more of the time.

I spent too much time exploring Greenwich to continue the walk, as the light was already beginning to fade when I ras ready to walk on. Instead I took the DLR to Bank then followed the Thames Path from there back to Waterloo station.

Dusk at Blackfriars Bridge Charing Cross Station
Blackfriars Bridge at dusk Charing Cross station at dusk

Getting Back

If you're returning to Charlton, head to Greenwich station by following the signs. From Greenwich station, South Eastern Trains run trains approximately every 10 minutes to Charlton.

If you're travelling back into central London, you're spoilt for choice. First, there are regular trains from Greenwich station to London Bridge, (continuing onto either Waterloo East and London Charing Cross or London Cannon Street). Another options (and the best way in my opinion) is to return to London on the Docklands Light Railway from either Cutty Sark station or Island Gardens, on the north side of the river. This clean and modern light-rail system has driver-less, computer controlled trains running to either Bank or Tower Hill stations.

One of the more scenic ways to travel to central London is on a boat along the Thames. Boats run frequently to Tower, Bankside, Waterloo, Embankment, and Westminster piers. They also call, if pre-booked, at Barrier Gardens pier, by the Thames Flood Barrier in the summer.

Links

The following web sites provide information on the area.


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