Bow Creek: The most impressive meander in London isn't the wiggle on the Thames around Docklands, although that is close by. It's the final meander on the River Lea, which twists and turns right back on itself (twice) before exiting into the Thames immediately opposite the Millennium Dome. This lower part of the Lea is called Bow Creek, and the area around the mouth of the Lea is called (with typical medieval originality) Leamouth. The best views of curving Bow Creek can be seen from a train, looking down from the DLR viaduct between East India and Canning Town. But if you're willing to explore on foot, these strangely remote riverside lands are well worth a wander.
Bow Creek Ecology Park The meandering Lea sandwiches two very long and very thin interlocking tongues of land. The easternmost of these is a sprawl of rundown industrial units, and will remain so until property developers move in and build scores of new apartments instead. But the western peninsula is something more natural, and rather more special. 150 years ago there was a coal wharf here, supplying the nearby Thames Iron Works (they built ships, and founded West Ham football club). In 1960s the docks closed down and the site fell into disrepair, along with much of the surrounding area. And then the Docklands Light Railway came along, and engineers spotted that this thin strip of land was the perfect route for new tracks to Canning Town. A viaduct was built straight up the middle, and the land beneath tidied up to form an ecology park. But health and safety issues got in the way, and the park was only finally opened to the public this summer, 10 years late.
You enter Bow CreekEcology Park over a modern footbridge, along an expensive unused road, through some arty gates. There's just one main path down to the tip of the peninsula, and another up the other side, with the DLR rumbling away through the centre. Passing passengers are probably the only people you'll see here, and they're no doubt looking out wondering what on earth you're doing in this isolated spot. Well, you'll be enjoying such delights as the artificial water meadow, the squelchy reedbeds and the tree-lined pond in this brand new nature reserve. There are several rare plant species on site, and some elusive otters, and even some relocated lizards (although I didn't spot any). There's also a large wooden platform where schoolkids can try their hand at pond-dipping, plus a special outdoor classroom tucked beneath the railway. For a bit of peace, sit down on one of the twisty metal benches and take in the view across the river (or, if the tide's out, across the mud). You can easily see Canary Wharf and the Dome in the near distance, but at the same time it's rather hard to ignore the vegetable oil refinery and building works in the foreground. It may not be truly beautiful looking out, but it's quite charming looking in.
East India Dock Basin The EastIndiaDocks were opened exactly 200 years ago in 1806 by (who else) The East India Company. The docks were extremely successful, with an entrance wide enough to accommodate the larger tea clippers and merchant ships which plied the Far Eastern trade routes. Spices, silks and Persian carpets were unladen here, as well as millions of pounds of imported tea. But trade declined steadily during the 20th century and, in 1967, these were the first London docks to be closed. Today only the entrance basin remains, surrounded by new residential and office developments, and redesignated as a bird and wildlife sanctuary. Big black waterfowl flap and glide across the water, retiring (if disturbed) to perch on wooden rafts in the middle of the mud. Around the perimeter of the basin are patches of reed bed, woodland and meadow, as well as one of the big black beacons erected by British Gas to celebrate the Millennium. The dock gates have been refurbished and can be walked across, while from the riverfront there's a perfect view of the Dome on the opposite side of the Thames. Barges and speedboats chug by, planes from City Airport swoop overhead and in the distance the DLR rattles by. It's a lovely spot, and yet every time I've visited I've had the whole place to myself. Well, just me and a bunch of birds. aerial view / map