There was a time when you could walk along the Greenway near Pudding Mill Lane and not see a soul. Nobody would be up here by the overgrown river, the concrete works and the industrial estate. These days, at least during daylight hours, that same stretch of sewer-top is thronging with people. Some are passing through, but most are here deliberately because the view's changed completely and utterly. The river is buried beneath an access road, the concrete works has become a running track and the industrial estate now supports an international sporting arena. The year is 2012, and London's Olympic epicentre is right here.
They come from all over. A coach full of tourists from East Anglia has parked up down Marshgate Lane, conveniently ignoring the sign saying not suitable for coaches. Another group of tourists are on one of the daily walks from Bromley-by-Bow station, listening intently as the Blue Badge Guide relates the future history of various building sites. Several families have arrived by DLR, pouring down the steps from the platform and through the newly-aligned switchback beneath the railway. Mum and two kids have cycled over from the nicer side of Victoria Park, and are unhappy to find that the cafe isn't open and the viewing platform isn't accessible. Several families are sitting around by the planters behind the View Tube, wrapped up warm and not drinking coffee.
There is much to see. The Stadium looks much as it did this time last year, gleaming white in the January sun. All the final tarting up has been on the inside, invisible from up here apart from the occasional sightline through the grandstand. There's no wrap round the exterior yet, sponsored or otherwise, preferably otherwise. Outside, however, much has changed. The surrounding plaza has been cleared, flattened and tarmacked ready for circulation, catering and logistics. A row of threadbare trees runs along the banks of the City Mill River, seemingly semi-mature, but only because they were transplanted here two summers back. An intermittent, curved row of tall white towers has recently been erected, each with a swirly wind vane on top. And the Orbit is now substantially complete, its red coils towering above a not-yet beautiful panorama. They're still finishing off the observation deck at the top - presumably there'll be some windows at some point - while the stairs down to ground level already twirl invitingly like a helter skelter. [stadium photo][Orbit photo]
The major recent transformation is on the western side of the Greenway. Here the athlete's training track has been constructed, protected behind the usual razor-topped security fence. This bland oval circuit, and its total absence of supporting facilities, is in stark contrast to the main stadium to the east. But the two are now linked via a bow-shaped canvas tunnel, maybe 200 metres long, rising up to the Greenway and then down the other side. It looks a bit like the awning that might join a country hotel to a wedding marquee, only considerably more substantial. Athletes will pass outside the edge of the tunnel during Games time, following two curving tracks to jog from the warm-ups to their event. Support staff, meanwhile, will be able to cross unobserved inside the tunnel along twin-bore concrete paths. There are no tickets to watch this part of the Games, but it's as essential as all the other backroom areas.
Also new-ish Old Ford Water Recycling Plant: Further up the Greenway, near where it crosses the River Lea, a new timber building hides within a patch of remaining undergrowth. This is a £7m water treatment plant, designed to transform sewage from the neighbouring Northern Outfall Sewer into water good enough to flush toilets around the Olympic Park. Ticks the sustainability box, big time. Western Spectator Entrance: The security barrier has now swung closed at what will be the main entrance to the Olympic Park for spectators arriving from Fish Island, Old Ford and Hackney Wick. Cycling or walking through the yellow gateways is still easy, for now, until the friskdown buildings are finally completed and electronic wand-waving commences. Southern Spectator Entrance: For Olympic spectators arriving along the Greenway from West Ham, a wooden footbridge has been built over Stratford High Street - saves building a new pedestrian crossing. There are no signs that the bridge will have step-free access, so less-fit visitors should find an alternative way to reach their event this summer. Strand East: IKEA are funding the building of a housing estate on the banks of the Lea, close to the Bow Flyover. The project website describes this area as "post-industrial land", which means the diggers have recently been in and destroyed 10 hectares of rundown warehouses. In its place they intend to create a "thriving new city neighbourhood" with 1200 homes and a Marriott hotel. This is gentrification on a massive scale, less history, more boxes in the sky. But not quite yet. Games-time showground, anyone? [photo] Three Mills Water Bus Stop: Six months on, there's still no sign of Water Chariots' promised pleasureboat service down the Lea. Maybe they've given up on serving the general public and plan instead to make their fortune shipping corporate clients from Limehouse to the Olympic Park in the summer. Whatever, there's now a very ornate bus stop at the unused pier close to Three Mills, still awaiting its first service. I wouldn't reserve a seat yet. [photo]