Saturday, 14 April 2012

Capital Ring

Highgate → Woolwich

ugly-stadium.png Distance: 18.3 miles
Ascent: 51 metres
Duration: 5 hours 30 minutes

« Not walked | Not walked »

Bracketed by tunnels and pumping stations, the centre point of today's walk was walking past the main site for the London 2012 Olympic Games.

highgate-tunnels.pngFrom Highgate to Finsbury Park we followed the course of an old railway, joining it just after the tunnel leading to Highgate station.

abney-park-cemetery.pngFrom Finsbury we followed a water course, past a pumping station built like a Gothic castle, then through parks to Stoke Newington with another fine display of gothic beauty in the form of the Abney Park Cemetery. Finally we dropped to the River Lea, and as we approached Hackney Marshes, evidence of this summer's games began.

The first sight was of Heras fencing, police and bulldozers. In the past few days a protest has been cleared on the edge of Hackney Marsh where construction of a training facility was about to get underway.

stratford-cctv.pngSoon the fences grew. In places we saw fragments of the blue fence which has surrounded this site for the past three years. Elsewhere the fence was a good ten or twelve feet of rigid lattice, topped with razor wire and decorated with CCTV cameras and peppered with bored security guards. This is the back of the site; visitors won't see it. It doesn't need to say "Welcome to London", but it hardly thanks the neighbours for their patience either. Their response was summed up in a graffiti arrow, simply stating "Ugly Stadium".

By the end of this month you won't be able to see any of this. The footpaths here are being closed in the interests of security until the games are over. It's a real shame.

In the meantime the Greenway walk (built atop the Victorian Outfall Sewer), which provides such an interesting vantage point for the site, has become a tourist attraction. As we reached Pudding Mill Lane an elderly couple asked to be pointed in the right direction. You can be sure they didn't get tickets.

abbey-mills.pngImmediately after Stratford High Street, the Greenway continues, this time beautifully finished in wide concrete with landscaped fringes. This will form one of the main entrances to the site. I don't think visitors will be told what's beneath the embankment they're walking on. Even if they notice the Byzantine pumping station at Abbey Mills, there's nothing obvious to give the game away.

Eventually signs of the site petered out, and with it the funding for path improvements. The final stretch along the riverside downstream from North Woolwich is amongst the most overgrown, insecure paths I've ever walked.

woolwich-tunnel.pngAnd then: the end. Our original plan to complete the Capital Ring last year was scuppered with the delayed reopening of the final transport link: the foot tunnel under the Thames at Woolwich. One hundred years old, little used, but still a magnificent piece of engineering and a worthy finish to this eighty mile walk around the capital.

Posted by pab at 20:37 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!