I got my maths wrong. It wasn’t supposed to be this long. But there was a nice sense of achievement once I’d finished.

When I sat down and planned out how I could tackle the routes in this part of central and east London without backtracking or re-walking sections I discovered that there was one really good way of doing it. I concocted this route based upon that need. It takes in several sections of the Thames Path, the Jubilee Greenway, and the Capital Ring but I think it’s a brilliant route.

Starting point: Blackfriars train station.

Finishing point: Woolwich Arsenal train station.

Length: 16.4 miles (26.4 kilometres).

Ordnance Survey Maps app route link here

Download the GPX file for this route hereĀ Blackfriars to Woolwich

For convenience’s sake I’ll outline here which sections of which ‘strategic routes’ I followed to construct this trail. First of all you follow the north bank of the Thames Path from Blackfriars to Limehouse Marina. Then you head north along Jubilee Greenway section 10 to Victoria Park. Section 4 of the Jubilee Greenway carries you to Hackney Wick. From here your path conjoins with the Capital Ring sections 14 and 15 to take you all the way down to the Woolwich ferry. Because I’d never taken the ferry before I used that to cross the Thames and then took the short stroll through Woolwich town centre to Woolwich Arsenal train and DLR station.

St Paul's Cathedral early in the morning

Blackfriars to Limehouse marina

All is not what it seems in this reflection in glass office buildingsI desperately needed this walk. Weeks of stress concerning house purchasing meant that I was run-down and mentally exhausted. that could explain why I added up the distances incorrectly. I had expected a 13 mile walk but somehow ended up adding another three to that total. I alighted from Blackfriars station in perfect walking weather. It was only about 8:30am and the sun was bright but cool. I found the Thames after admiring the elegant bulk of St. Paul’s Cathedral. The path from the Millennium Bridge to the Cathedral is one of the better views in central London.

I took a huge number of photographs between here and Tower Bridge as the great and good of London’s famous sights drifted past. The Globe Theatre, HMS Belfast, The Shard, the Tower of London, City Hall, Tower Bridge. There were a few minor diversions so there’s no point in me describing the twists and turns of the Thames Path here, the diversions are all well signposted.

Looking west towards Tower Bridge and The Shard from the north bank Thames Path

Mudlarking and metal detecting on the ThamesAfter you pass Tower Bridge you find that the character of the walk changes dramatically. Gone is the almost overwhelming sense of splendour and pageantry, in its place comes calm. Until now I had carefully looked around each blind corner in anticipation of joggers and cyclists cluttering the narrow path but now the walkway opens up and you are gifted wide panoramas of a serene river. It was low tide so there were even metal detectives and mudlarkers poking around in the detritus washed along every section of slipway or pseudo beach.

Sadly you don’t stay on the riverside for long as residential warehouses take over. You have to jut inland onto Wapping High Street for quite some distance. This is interesting in its own right because it feels like you are wandering through some kind of manmade brick-lined canyon. Often the tall warehouses loom tightly over the road and there are even occasional bridges between each side.

The brick canyons of Wapping

Joggers still pounded the pavements here but the volume was noticeably lower than in the city centre. You are treated to riverside sections intermittently for another mile or so, past Shadwell Basin where you get interesting views back towards the City, and then on to Limehouse Basin.

Limehouse marina to Hackney Wick

This reflection in the Regent's Canal reminds me of music for some reason, maybe piano keysLimehouse marina is really quite pleasant. As before the calm was palpable and it is no cliche to say that as the sun strengthened it made the quiet atmosphere almost hum. The only real noise beside the water trickling through the locks is the raised DLR trundling between the towers and church spires of east London.

After a brief wrong turn I realised I needed to be walking clockwise around the marina so I circumnavigated the pretty narrowboats and yachts, many of which displaying tables laid for breakfast.

I turned north up the Regent’s Canal towpath, section 10 of the Jubilee Greenway. The glass floor slabs marking the route were always upside-down as I was tackling this section backwards. Nevertheless it was almost always easy to see where I should have been turning off.

The canal is probably quieter than the Thames but the narrow towpath makes getting out the way of cyclists and joggers a bit more problematic. That said, they weren’t the problem at all – obnoxious and oblivious 4×4-style pram pushers were absolutely awful time and time again. They claimed the whole path to themselves and frequently very nearly forced joggers into the water. One family in particular seemed to just not care that nobody could round them and attracted a loud “For fuck’s sake!” from a pair of joggers who tried to squeeze through only to be blocked. I pretty much had to push through from behind as they dawdled in closed ranks, nattering in Russian.

Strange bench sculpture beside Millennium ParkAt first Mile End Leisure Park seemed grim. It looked shabby and tired but only a few minutes later you can begin to appreciate that it actually is quite pretty. When the Millennium Park takes over you soon find yourself admiring the weird raised horseshoe paths and reed-lined ponds. Back on the canal the usual bohemian characters potter around the roofs of their narrowboats in various states of undress. It is a very relaxed atmosphere here too.

Soon enough you reach the corner of Victoria Park and leave the Regent’s Canal for good. Victoria Park is really lovely. I visited for a Radiohead gig several years ago but apart from that I had neglected this place. I sat on a bench by the lake, gobbled some Soreen, and admired the fountain and sculptures.

Sculpture in the lake at Victoria Park, along the Jubilee Greenway

The wide path through the eastern half of the park carries you in a gentle curve to Cadogan Terrace. From here it’s only a few metres to the Hertford Union canal towpath leading to Hackney Wick. Graffiti seems to be taken more seriously than normal here and I took several more photos of the art framing the water. It’s scruffy but edgy in a great way.

Under the A12 bridge crossing the Jubilee Greenway, Hertford Union Canal

Graffiti near Hackney Wick along the Hertford Union Canal, Jubilee Greenway

Graffiti near Hackney Wick along the Jubilee Greenway, Hertford Union Canal

Hackney Wick is overlooked by rows of modern flats on the west side of the River Lea (or Lee – every map provides both spellings) and the Olympic Stadium on the east side. The Olympic Park is extremely forbidding at the moment. It rests dormant behind tall fences and security guards as the trees and verges overgrow their intended limits. I can’t wait to see this park when it is finally opened to the public in its final form. That is projected to be years from now though.

Hackney Wick to the Beckton Alps

The dormant Olympic Stadium from the Jubilee Greenway and Capital Ring

South I went, following the Lea past Old Ford where the old Big Breakfast house still stands. In one of the flats across from me there were loads of skimpily-dressed young women dancing and drinking on the balcony. Last night’s party still rumbling on? It feels like the edge of London here. The flats look out towards Stratford but the sense of vitality is restricted to the west side of the river. Everything east looked dead from here.

Graffiti on old warehouses along the River Lea, or Lee

When you climb onto the Greenway this feeling maintains. Razorwire and a sleepy security guard attend to this walkway built over the top of London’s flowing effluent. Because of the massive post-Olympic reconfiguration the Greenway is severed for several hundred metres and you are left at the mercy of your internal compass to work out where you should be headed – the signs are rubbish, inconsistent, non-existent, or contradictory. But head east and you’ll eventually find the A11.

Welcome to Newham reads the sign. From now on the Jubilee Greenway and the Capital Ring combine to convey you towards the Thames once more. The Greenway gently zig-zags for several miles. Considering you are walking on top of a major sewer you only get half a dozen briefly offensive smells to distract you. It’s not the most ‘green’ path I’ve ever walked but it is simple, requires no concentration, and is nice enough. Points of interest include the beautiful Abbey Mills Pumping Station and some lovely views back towards the start of the day’s walk – the Shard occupying the horizon.

Abbey Mills Pumping Station from the Greenway and Capital Ring

About now I began to realise that I was baking in the sun and that it might be a good idea to get some shade. Unfortunately there is none. Because this is a raised path the trees on each side just aren’t tall enough to cast any useful shadows, especially as the benches are on the sunny side of the path. So, with one half of my head slowly turning red I quickened my pace in order to reach Beckton District Park.

You cross the A13 by footbridge and I couldn’t help but laugh out loud at the road sign indicating that drivers were approaching ‘Beckton Alps’, presumably referring to the little mound in the distance. Somebody had a sense of humour there!

Beckton Alps road sign from the Capital Ring and Jubilee Greenway

Beckton District Park to Gallions Reach

Beckton District Park North is suprisingly rural in feel. You are still deep in east London but the copses of trees and little meadows are quiet and attractive. Not for the first time that day I realised that I’d barely heard English being spoken by other people along the paths I’d trodden. Eastern European and Indian languages predominated. Why might that be? I do understand that Newham has a large immigrant population but I don’t for a second believe that the proportion can be as high as that represented by the people using its green spaces. A fair estimate would be that only one fifth of the people I saw along these paths, all day, were speaking English. Are all the others just sitting at home, ignoring the beautiful weather and lush surroundings in favour of the effortless ‘entertainment’ of the telly? Are they cowering behind their front doors, anticipating robbers, rapists, drug pushers, and paedophiles in the woods? I really hope not but I fear that I’m not too far from the truth.

By the time I reached New Beckton Park I realised that I was getting tired. Mentally I wasn’t prepared for the length of the walk and I had barely rested along the way. Still, I was not that far from the end so why bother stopping now?

As I passed under Cyprus DLR station and into the University of East London campus I spotted two young guys on bicycles casting me sly glances. It was pretty deserted so I put myself on guard. I needn’t have bothered though because as I walked by one of them just casually asked if I wanted any weed “Not today, thanks guys!”

Ok I will allow for the possibility that there may well be a lot of drug dealers in London’s parks. Maybe.

A BA jet taxiing before take off from London City Airport, Shooters Hill on the horizon

London City Airport has always been a curiosity to me. It was only recently that I realised it provided fairly reasonable flights to Europe, especially if you remember the outrageous costs in getting to any of the bigger airports in the early morning. But I had never been there. When I stepped out onto the UEL promenade I was delighted to discover two British Airways jets about to take off from the runway in the middle of the old dock. My hair stood on end as the roar of the engines propelled each one safely into the air. Clever monkeys.

There was a car advert being filmed just along from here but the crew and actors appeared to be foreign so I don’t think my lurking would ever make it onto British TV screens.

If I had just considered the River Lea as the end of the world before then I was way off. Gallions Reach is the end of the world north of the Thames, just as Erith is the end of the world on the south side. Seriously, there’s nothing there. And I am including the Gallions Reach shopping centre. Barren and depressing.

The End of the World to Woolwich town centre

Graffiti along the Thames Path near Gallions Reach, Jubilee GreenwayThe path skirts past here and through an industrial estate before plopping you back beside the Thames opposite Thamesmead West. A flotilla of boats sailed towards London and that was it. Nothing else. I turned right and followed a path optimistically called the Thames Path towards the ferry crossing. It’s overgrown and a wee bit seedy so I kept an eye out for imaginary assailants. Again I was accompanied by interesting graffiti.

The Gallions Point marina appears to be massively under-used as the lock between the marina and the Thames was choked with dead fish. Either they were poisoned or starved of oxygen as they all seemed to be a healthy size and pretty much intact despite birds lurking nearby. Very sad.

Dead fish in the lock by Gallions Point Marina, Jubilee Greenway and Capital Ring

I found myself surrounded by scores of tiny bubbles as I entered a housing estate. A small child was playing with one of those little pots of soap for blowing through a hoop and I hadn’t spotted him so I wondered what the hell was going on for a few seconds. Then I found myself surrounded by literally hundreds of piles of dog turds in a really narrow part of the path. There was a(nother) smiley eastern European family coming down the path towards me and although there was a lot of room to get by them I couldn’t have done so without treading in the muck so I had to stop until they came through.

For a few minutes I had observed the Woolwich Ferry unloading on the south side of the river and now I upped the pace in order to meet it on its return. My crossing was pretty fun. There’s something anachronistic about ferries in the modern world, and I love it. The recorded announcements and the lifeboat signs, as well as just being on a boat in the middle of the river. I could see the Thames Barrier about a mile away upstream.

The Woolwich Ferry crossing the River Thames

On the south side I gobbled an apple as I took Woolwich High Street, Hare Street, and then Powis Street to reach the DLR station. By this point I was happy to end the walk. With rest I could have gone on and on but it felt like a nice conclusion to the day. Besides, I’ve walked all the paths around here already so I need not retread old ground.

This route is about as varied as you’ll find in London. The only things missing are woodland and hills. Every mile provides at least one point of interest but it is the evolution of the cityscape that will stay with you. I rarely combine different routes to make my own ones but this suited my purpose well and I think it turned out pretty much perfectly.

Apart from the sunburn.

Oops.