Walk London CAPITAL RING[section 14] Hackney Wick to Beckton (5 miles)
After encircling most of London, I've reached my home patch. A bit of river, a burst of Olympics, then a very long walk along the top of a sewer. To Beckton which, quite frankly, is never going to be of the capital's beauty spots. The best of the Ring may be behind me, but keep the faith.
From White Post Lane, the Ring enters the heart of the Olympic Park [photo]. Down a slippery ramp to the newly rejigged towpath, watching the diggers and workmen making the final tweaks to the 2012 backroom zone. It's a busy stretch, with joggers and cyclists jostling with dogwalkers and tour groups. That pink building's a salmon-smokery-cum-art-gallery, which isn't something you see every day, and that cottage is the former Big Breakfast house. A Water Bus stop has sprung up beneath Old Ford Lock, although as yet there's no sign of Water Chariots' scheduled pleasure cruises "starting in mid summer 2011". And then first sight of something the Ring'll be following for miles - the Northern Outfall Sewer. Here's a rare chance to view it fromunderneath - four hooped metal tubes of human slurry, reflecting the dappled dancing waters of the Lea.
Up on the Greenway, the Olympic Stadium looms large [photo]. It still amazes me how close this public footpath comes to high security areas, even if the razorwire fences and ubiquitous cameras never let you forget who's boss. To the left, the Orbit's twisty-red coils now support a split-level viewing platform [photo], while to the right the athletes' practice circuit is nearing completion. "Look at that mess," says an old man gesturing toward the extensive construction works, "all that for just two weeks." He's not technically correct, but it is a remarkable amount of effort to give a few thousand runners a brief somewhere to jog. If you fancy a cup of coffee the View Tube is your last chance - my auntie heartily recommends them, you'll be pleased to hear.
Beyond the railway the Ring is on diversion. You won't get anywhere near this bit of the Greenway until Crossrail's finished digging stuff, which'll be "late 2014", apart from a brief spell in summer next year when Games entry trumps trains. Today's ramblers must instead pass the southern entrance to the Olympic Park, and the layby where provincial coach drivers disgorge their eager cargo, and a forlorn-looking VIP-facing shrubbery, all the way down to Stratford High Street. This is as close as the Ring gets to my house - give me a wave as you go by.
There's a lot of Greenway ahead. The first straight's been tarmacked by contractors in readiness for thousands of Games spectators being frogmarched from West Ham station, and quite frankly it's a bit ugly. I remember going to a planning consultation which claimed that the Greenway here would be beautifully transformed, all wild flowers and intricate paving [photo], but I can only assume that almost all of the money ran out. Even Abbey Mills pumping station, which ought to be a visual highlight, now lurks behind an obstructive metal security fence. Only past the new Olympic exit ramp do things improve, by which I mean the Greenway reverts to the familiarly mundane one-third path, two-thirds grass. The view opens up too, walking now at rooftop level [photo], with the City's skyscraper cluster bursting from the western horizon beyond the rugby ground.
Traversing the top of the sewer allows the Ring to carve straight through Plaistow without ever pausing to peer down its terraced backstreets. Some of its residents pop up to the Greenway to walk their 'playful' Staffies, others nip from intersecting road to intersecting road carrying carrier bags of inexpensive groceries. Newham General Hospital goes on and on and on, not exactly the architectural highlight of any capital circumnavigation. And all the time there's a nagging sickly whiff, reminding you that you're walking atop four tubes of effluent that have sourced in bathrooms across a wide swathe of central London. I'm not selling this well, am I? It's no match for the sylvan delights of Richmond or Highgate, that's for sure, but those of us who live out on this side of town are used to making the best of what we have. [photo]
At last a sign pointing down off the sewertop, which means a brief stroll past ultra-ordinary houses and a hop over the roaring A13. And then, good news, a park. It's only Beckton District Park, but round here any patch of green is a welcome bolthole from residential sprawl. The Ring summarily avoids the rather lovely lake to the north of the park [photo], which is a shame, preferring to cut direct to the adventure playground and the closed-down leisure centre. A nice touch is the circuit of unusual trees, each labelled 'hornbeam' or 'Indian bean' or whatever, which in Beckton is what passes for an arboretum. It's a long thin park, this, veering from ornamental to woodland to meadow to blighted-by-pylons. Newham Council have put up several signs warning against the exercising of horses here, signs which appear to be summarily ignored by all and sundry. But hey, that did mean I got to meet a hyperactive horse lying on its back waving its hooves in the air [photo], which just goes to show that the Ring is never dull. Only one final runt-end section to go.