The Thames Path from the Barrier to Westminster, a route that takes in the highs and lows of London in one go.

Starting point: Maryon Park or the Thames Barrier

Finishing point: Westminster Bridge

Length: 15 miles (24.2 kilometres)

Ordnance Survey Maps app link here

Download the GPX file for this route here Woolwich to Westminster Bridge

It’s a stunner and I was lucky enough to walk 16.3 miles on an amazingly beautiful day.

I originally planned to catch buses from home to Woolwich Road, where the start of the Thames Path is only a few metres away.  However, when I was on the bus I suddenly noticed ‘Maryon Park’, of previous Capital Ring/Green Chain walks fame, on the LED signage.  I rang the bell too late to be dropped at this stop so I had a third of a mile walk back up the hill to the park’s entrance.  I stepped in with one thing in on my mind – visiting Tumour Goose.

This fellow was in the petting zoo when we passed through in 2010 and amazed us with his lumpy and dangly neck folds.  It did look like he had some horrific disease but on reflection it’s probably just an ugly species as I think this might be a different one to last time – it doesn’t look so nasty.  I bid Tumour Goose Mk.II adieu and descended the hill towards the park’s exit.

I already regretted bringing my Regatta 35l pack as I’ve come to recognise that the back isn’t long enough for me.  No matter what I adjust I can’t get the waist belt to sit comfortably and the chest strap is practically around my collarbones.  Whereas I don’t even notice the Go-lite Jam pack, even when crammed with tent and sleeping bag, I rarely forgot the Regatta for the whole trek.  This pack is being donated to my future wife.  I hope she appreciates this great little rucksack…

After crossing Woolwich Road there’s a short and unremarkable path taking you to the river.  The Thames Barrier appears quickly and I was very impressed by it.  Having never seen it this close, or in daylight, it was very pretty twinkling in the sun.

There’s a tunnel under the control station with a scale map on the wall documenting all the sights of the Thames from source to sea.  That drives home how much of note there was going to be on this walk – exciting!  I took many photos of the Barrier before turning back towards the Path and the jumble of rusting iron and tumbledown wood that lines this southern shore.

Immediately beyond the huge conveyor belts designed to carry aggregates from Thames barges to Tarmac plants I entered a stretch of bitty industria (is that even a word?) with small workshops and a weirdly arty region.  Two old men painted oil sketches of the decaying jetties and a sculpture constructed from flotsam rose from the sludge.  That didn’t last long and soon I approached the extraordinarily expensive spires of the Millennium Dome.

I pretty much despise this next part of London.  The sterile blocks of flats that gaze out over the Thames have an aura of isolation, of being abandoned without any infrastructure besides the single decker buses that connect them to the local supermarket and cinema complex.  North Greenwich is bereft of soul and lacks any kind of warmth.  The towers at Docklands dominate the Greenwich peninsular like Barad-dûr and Orthanc watching over barren Mordor or Rohan.

Just south of the Dome the Thames Path is blocked at the moment, whilst work continues on the new Emirates cable car.  The towers on the north side of the river are already standing but the southern ones aren’t up yet, just the early stages of the station.  As a result I had to leave the sole upside of this area, the river, and head inland for a few depressing minutes beside roads, eventually rejoining beyond the River Taxi jetty.

I took my first break at the northern tip of the peninsular, sitting next to the smaller than expected Millennium Dome.  From here I could see Anish Kapoor’s huge sculpture at the Olympic Park, it reminds me of something The Tripods would have built.  It’s strangely sinister and I’m not quite sure that I approve…

I watched a dinosaur eating from bins behind the Dome and then proceeded through a region of tractors and towers of aggregates.  The Path here is not pretty, despite it being part of the Jubilee ‘Greenway’.

Finally I could glimpse Greenwich with the Observatory, Royal Naval College, National Maritime Museum, and the Cutty Sark all plonked in close proximity.  I quickened my pace to escape the North Greenwich peninsular and as the sun began to get hotter I stripped off my coat – T-shirt only from now on.

Greenwich was bustling and pretty, apart from the building work around the newly renovated Cutty Sark.  It was badly damaged by fire a couple of years ago and now it has a nice glass surround that looks like water.  Very nifty.  About half a mile on I stopped for lunch near a statue of Russia’s Peter The Great who visited London to steal ideas on how to modernise his crap navy and spank the Swedes (Oo-er!).  Two children played on the cannons flanking him, they were shooting jellyfish.  Glad someone’s doing it.

Next up – Deptford.  What a dump.  Not in the willfully awful way that North Greenwich is, rather its just terribly depressed and abandoned.  Businesses boarded up all over the place, gangs of drunks swilling the nastiness that is Holsten Piss.  One drunk across the road suddenly started barking very loudly, and very realistically.  I glanced over furtively as I wasn’t sure if he was barking at me, and there was certainly no dog accompanying him.  He was grinning maniacally in his grubby trenchcoat and swinging his own can of Pils merrily.  I sped up and tried to get Deptford behind me super quick-sharp.  There’s a lot going on in Deptford, it is undeniably a vibrant, arty, area but it looks bloody awful.  Such a shame.

The day was getting hotter all the time, hard to believe it was only early March.  I’m expecting blizzards next week, just to set things back as they should be.

I crossed into Rotherhithe and a long parade of new-build homes which actually weren’t too offensive to look at.  Across the river you can see Wapping with all its waterfront pubs.  It was quite a nice area really.  I stopped for a very well-earned beer in The Mayflower pub, seated out the back on the terrace over the water which sloshed noisily below.  After reading another chapter of Captain Scott’s Journals I rose and tackled the final leg from Rotherhithe to Westminster.  First up I got superb views of Tower Bridge, which framed St. Paul’s Cathedral under its top-most span.  This is the kind of view that London is world famous for.  At this point the Thames really comes into its own with more and more restaurants and bars, people milling around and just enjoying a nice day in the sun.

The Gherkin and it's City of London tower chums, including a church

And so the great and good of London’s landmarks scrolled past; Tower Bridge, Hays Galleria, HMS Belfast, The Gherkin, The Tower of London, The Shard, Southwark Cathedral, The Golden Hind, The Globe Theatre, Tate Modern, St. Paul’s Cathedral, The Millennium Bridge, The London Eye, County Hall, and finally the Palace of Westminster.

Beyond here the Thames Path continues to Battersea, Wandsworth town, and Putney before the leafy outer London reaches. But that was for another day.

On this day the thronging crowds all along this embankment went about with massive smiles on their faces. It was pretty much a perfect day to be here.  Even with half the pavement cordoned off, presumably for some Olympic shenanigans, the crowds were amiable and stopped to admire artists, musicians and the cursed living statues. By now my feet were beginning to feel the hotspots that pre-empt blisters so I was quite glad to be at the end of my walk. Had I worn my 1000 mile socks and stopped for another beer I reckon I could have easily done another 5 miles or so, but for now I was sated.

A hazy and sunny afternoon view of the bustling Southbank of the Thames with the Palace of Westminster in the backgound.

When the sun is shining I honestly believe London to be the greatest city in the world, by far.  When it’s pissing down with rain I still wouldn’t want to swap it for somewhere else but it does lose a lot of its veneer.  For now though I’ll just soak up the vibes and revel in this most cosmopolitan of places.  That’s what I like about walking around London – you explore the whole spectrum of areas from North Greenwich at the worst ebb to places like South Bank on a day like this.  It cannot be beaten, this walk was very rewarding.