Riding the river
I have always enjoyed escaping the city to ride country roads, or more usually sweeping singletrack in woods. However, I still find a great deal of pleasure in riding through the city and exploring it on two wheels.
The daily commute in London provides ample road time as well as a much-needed area of head space travelling from north to south. Occasionally I set aside some time and make the trip from SE1 as far east as I can go, following the Thames Path at a more leisurely pace than my commute.
I usually start this ride at the Design Museum. As you first set out eastwards you are surrounded by well-restored warehouses along with a few new housing developments. You are then taken away from the Thames via the backs of these buildings, and this area of relative wealth soon gives way as you approach the site where Chambers Wharf once stood, now cleared with only a blue hoarding surrounding the empty site.
The large-scale development quickly gives way to smaller, two-storey, suburban-style housing. At this point you’re able to rejoin the Thames Path along the fronts of these developments, to a raised platform of sorts which affords some great views back to Tower Bridge. These platforms are interrupted by the original grain warehouses or by newer developments which have been planned hard up against the river. You end up catching glimpses of the river as you move east along the path and ride up on the raised areas. The pattern and scale vary wildly as the miles go by, with the smaller end being beautifully covered by the Mayflower pub on the intersection of St Marychurch Street and Rotherhithe Street.
There are various references to the area’s industrial past, mainly through the presence of cranes and other industrial remnants as well as the details on the original buildings. Some of these remnants have even been made into public art installations, such the one at Customs House Reach; while other light industry still remains, such as the boatyard at South Dock Marina. The beautiful brickwork rotunda vent to the Rotherhithe Tunnel and the red roller bridge at Old Salt Quay are also both worth viewing.
As you continue east to Deptford, the looming presence of Canary Wharf starts to make itself known over the rooftops and at the ends of the streets. The tower at Deptford Wharf is also a particularly odd change of scale among the generous path to the Thames and suburban-sized houses that surround it. The scale of development also gets larger and less articulate, often turning its back on the surrounding streets within gated communities. Once you round the corner of Glaisher Street, the massive new housing schemes of Greenwich reveal themselves.
Passing these new housing schemes, you finally make it to Greenwich and the Cutty Sark — where I usually stop for a breather and to people-watch the tourists. It’s well worth pushing on further east to see Greenwich Power Station and its impressive industrial-scale jetty (with a quick pint at the Cutty Sark Tavern). The context gets even more gritty past this point, with the occasional insertion of a large housing development among the derelict factories. The junk shipyard and the Victoria Deep Water Terminal are also worth cycling past… being careful of the working machinery, of course.
After this you round the corner to the edge of the Millennium Dome and past Richard Wilson’s Slice of Reality sculpture, sat in the Thames. The path is wide here, with plenty of room to cycle and take in the view of the Millennium Housing as well as the view back to Greenwich. If you’ve got the energy it’s well worth pressing on to the Thames Barrier and then the Woolwich Ferry to the north side, and cycle back west from there. If not then you can simply turn around and either cycle back or get the River Taxi back to the centre.
By Andy Matthews
Andy Matthews is a UK-registered architect and architectural photographer