Walk the Olympic Park (2) Pudding Mill Lane to Carpenters Lock 30 photographs here
Pudding Mill Lane DLR station has always been a windswept platform in the middle of nowhere serving a population of not many. Following the closure of the roadbeneath the rail bridge, severing contact with the industrial area to the north, expect it to get even quieter. Pudding Mill Lane itself is nasty, brutish and short. It weaves between metal fences, scrapyards and incinerators - a far cry from its pre-industrial past as a winding country lane. A steady succession of trucks rumble their dusty cargoes in and out of an extensive triangular compound beside Marshgate Siding. If you want Renault spares, if you need low cost plant hire or if you just have a skipload of rubbish that needs burning, you've come to the right place. In five years' time this metallurgical melting pot will be the site of the pre-race Warm-up Athletics Track. Let's hope it scrubs up clean.
After dipping sharply beneath the Greenway (warning, road liable to flooding), Pudding Mill Lane fades away and Marshgate Lane takes over. To the left of the road, in a broad man-made channel, lurks the Pudding Mill River. This is a wholly insignificant backwater, a severed stagnant sidearm running for little more than quarter of a mile between wasteland and warehouses. The ODA cleared away the surrounding undergrowth earlier this year, revealing a naked river containing surprisingly little wildlife in need of rescue. Ducks and pondweed have since recolonised the water, and a huge pile oftyres has been dumped on the banks close to a concrete roadbridge. This artificial stream still has an unexpected charm, particularly along its final northward wiggle, but it won't stay this way for long. The Pudding Mill River is destined vanish like the windmill after which it is named, and will disappear forever beneath the Olympic Stadium and its surrounding service areas.
A white-arched footbridge marks the shady corner where this doomed waterway enters the Old River Lea. This whole area is swarming with rivers, bifurcating and braiding across the Lea Valley floodplain. And the Old River Lea is probably the prettiest of the lot, shielded from the surrounding industrial gloom by a thin screen of verdant trees. At its mouth are the legendary lockkeepers cottages bought up by Channel 4 to host the Big Breakfast where Chris and Gaby once held court. The sunshine panorama in the backyard remains intact, but this is now a semi-private family home. Further upriver a winding towpath runs opposite an inaccessible reedy shore, where moorhens nest undisturbed amongst the rushes. Branches drip with flowers and foliage, brick towers mark the site of absent lock gates, and rats scuttle unseen through the undergrowth. Well it's nearly perfect, anyway.
And at the other end of this all-too-brief river, at the very heart of the Olympic Park site, stands Carpenters Lock. 'Crumbles' might be a better word than 'stands', to be honest. There have been no boats through this dilapidated structure for years, and the access footpath was fenced off a few years ago to deter all but the most determined photographer. No point in any last minute restoration. Olympic architects have other plans for this spot, with the central Olympic spine path due to plough across the river right here. Which is a shame, because there's a perfectly decent footbridge close by already. It's a gently humpingblue-greenbridge with latticed sides, used by long-dead horses to tow barges downstream towards the Thames. Shame that it's a little on the narrow side, and would almost certainly collapse under the weight of spectator footflow when the basketball arena is up and running. But don't worry. This iconic bridge appears to be marked as a thin stripe on legacy plans for the Olympic Park, so I have every hope that it'll survive the oncoming bulldozer onslaught intact. I look forward to standing here again.