WALK LONDON Thames Path (extension) Woolwich to Erith(6½ miles)
Woolwich Converted barracks, gates swing shut, apartments still available. Museum café, a squaddie pops out, moves a chair. Fog is lifting. Metal sculpturefolk stand around, no Clipper in sight. Riverwall curves downstream, the Thames laps. Apartments become more remote, less desirable, more affordable. Passing by: ladies weighed down by carrier bags; two pushchairs; a dogwalker in purple curlers. City Airport roars, business class screams overhead, planestupid sticker on lamppost.
Tripcock Point The river bends at Margaret Ness. Willow, buddleia, mud. A bright red tower, lamp on top, guiding non-existent boats. Damp grassy footpath, cobbled banks, Willy's Wall. Fenced off mounds, "Danger No Admittance", awaiting the Thames Gateway Bridge that will never come. Diggers rumble, gulls forage. Toothless cyclist grins, policeman skulks on the upper path. Views of Beckton sewage works, Barking flood barrier, estuarine greyness.
Thamesmead Flats loom, the shopping centre's tower pokes higher. Wholly unexpected viewing platform, what's to see? Piles of containers and Creekmouth cranes. Too many seats, leafy puddles, splintered benches. Three upright lances, defunct wind chimes, 70s street art? Pumping station, concrete culvert emerges, plastic bags afloat. Solo angler, flask and jacket, woolly hat. Thamesmead's balconies go on and on: kiddie trikes in storage; hibernating barbecues; empty deckchairs.
Cross Ness Path turns to gravel, another red lighthouse. South London, the northern tip of. Patch of dewy grass. Across the Thames: a field of paintpot-white tanks; Ford Dagenham; a wind turbine with upper blade part-vanished in the mist. Edge of Thamesmead, its estates peter out, the binmen are calling. Golf course, probably not for the locals, nobody on the driving range. Metal arch, end of the Ridgeway, sewertop walk to Plumstead. Blue above, grey below, the horizon so narrow.
Crossness Victorian brick, temple to sewage, all hail Bazalgette. Somewhere within: beam engines; painted ironwork; steam! No access, tall fence. CCTV sentinels loom. Pair of rat-faced fisherboys, R&B blaring. Vats of human waste, stink-free, best not thought about. Sci-fi-tastic building alongside, tall and silvery, the Crossness Sludge Incinerator. Chimney with a bulging neck, swooshing switchback roof, puffs of steam emerge. Sliver of nature reserve, seabirds speckle the river.
Belvedere Power station under construction, another silver swoosh, another tall chimney. London's waste arriving soon for burning, 72 megawatts. Workmen making finishing touches, do NOT touch the live cables. Refurbished pier, awaiting tugs and barges, bright orange cranes at the ready. Industrial riverside continues: warehouses; lock-up units; blaring radios. Pier, pier, wharf, pier, slipway, oil works. Nobody lives here, many (still) work here. Segregation, isolation, hanging on.
Erith Civilisation approaches, but slowly. Overhead conveyors, grass-topped jetties, chemical silos. Spiderwebs cling to unwary ramblers, silvery threads across the path like tripwires. Retired couple lunching on the river wall, thermos of soup, cheery "hi". Across the river Coldharbour Point, undeveloped wasteheaps, JCBs the only sign of life. Back to town, flats, more flats, a downbeat path. Blonde harridans sip cider, staffie at heel. William Cory Promenade, Erithpier, nip back through the flood wall.