How long has it been now? Exactly four and a half years, to the day. And London's Games may be long gone, but new bits of its Olympic Park continue to open up. The latest fresh offering is the island site around the Olympic Stadium, specifically the grassy banks on the riverside, but also the piazza around the eastern side of the arena. Previously this was fenced off with metal barriers unless there was a match on, but now those barriers have disappeared - seemingly permanently - and you can wander all over.
A lot of thought has been given to the landscaping of what was once the back of an industrialestate and decrepit warehouseunits. This is partly because the area has to be visually appealing enough to attract wandering visitors, but mostly because it also has to cope with 75000 football supporters swarming all over it on a regular basis. Most of them will never wander down the sloping paths to the waterside with burger and beer in hand, but they might, and the whole thing has to be adaptably robust.
Up top the oval piazza surrounding the stadium is as bleak as any major modern football venue, for example Wembley or the Emirates. On non-match days it's possible to wander round the whole thing for nearly fifteen minutes and not see a soul, except perhaps the West Ham staff chatting by the photocopier in their office, or a jogger taking a shortcut. The busy section, if there is one, is the short walk from the footbridge by the Orbit to the West Ham Stadium Store. Here the devoted pick over replica tops for their youngster, or pretty much anything in claret and blue, some of it currently at 75% off.
What this month's de-barriering does provide permanent access to is the 2012Olympicbell, cast oversize in Whitechapel and bonged by Bradley Wiggins at the start of that Opening Ceremony. Now anyone can stand beneath this marvellous bronze creation, inscribed with Caliban's words from The Tempest, although most of the time This Isle Is Not Full Of Noises. Of more interest to West Ham's fans, when they're here, will be the World Cup '66 statue of Bobby Moore and friends... when that's here too. It's currently still located near the previous stadium on the Barking Road, but a low octagonal plinth opposite entrance J awaits, as the Hammers transplant their history from E13 to E20.
Follow the footpaths down the banks of the island to reach the river's edge. There's no direct route, I think to prevent football crowds from pouring down and discovering there's no easy exit at waterside level. Instead the paths zigzag down in maximally inefficient sweeps, encouraging a leisurely stroll, with direct steps provided beside only one of the two bridges. The Olympic planners have performed their usual trick of assuming everyone will stick to the paths, whereas the obvious route is to stomp straight down across the grass, which at this time of year isn't yet covered with semi-protective flowers.
If you remember that cute blue-latticed footbridge from the Olympics, or from its previous incarnation as canalside infrastructure, it's now fully accessible. Some railings sealed it off until late 2015 when the towpath down the Old River Lea was reopened, but a row of green hoardings still blocked passage to the south. They're now gone, and the riverside promenade is finally accessible, despite having looked finished for ages. A sign under one of the footbridges warns the public of an algae outbreak two summers ago, long since dissipated, with occasional chunks of ice now the main floating hazard.
"Oi! You're not supposed to be over there!!" It took me a while to work out that the Park Security Bloke on the opposite bank was talking to me because I had my headphones in, but his cross-river yelling was quite insistent. He wondered how on earth I'd trespassed into this previously inaccessible zone, so I told him the barriers up the far end had gone. He told me he didn't think they had, whereas I knew he was wrong, so I reiterated the obvious truth. He told me I wouldn't be able to walk out at the far end because the steps were blocked, so I told him I didn't think they were and walked on. I was right again, and really fancied re-educating him, but alas the ignorant gent had swiftly disappeared. QEOP HQ needs to sort its L&D asap.
Come the spring these banks and benches might be worthy of a visit, gazing out towards the climbing wall and the joyful shrieks of kids in the playground beyond. You'll be able to step down via the newly-restored Carpenter's Lock, or take the back stairs outside the entrance to the West Ham Stadium Store. For now, however, it's a bit bleak, and a bit out of the way, so unlikely to become a popular corner of the Park. Still, it's nice to finally reach the water's edge, now the spiritual centre of the Olympic Park has become fully accessible for the first time.
In other peripheral Olympic news...
• I mentioned earlier in the month that a new exit south from the Olympic Park was open, alongside the Waterworks Road past the allotments. Nah, they've sealed it off again, sigh.
• If you use Pudding Mill Lane DLR, the existing pavement route into the Olympic Park is currently closed, and a new arch in the railway viaduct (with pretty fluorescent tube lighting) has been opened up instead.
• North of the Bow Roundabout, the River Lea will be closed to pedestrians for a fortnight from tomorrow while the pontoon alongside Crossrail's new Pudding Mill Substation is removed and the towpath reinstated.
• On the other side of Cooks Road, where the grubby Heron Industrial Estate used to stand, work is just beginning on a new cluster of 194flats under the godawful brand name 'Legacy Wharf'.
• The Porsche showroom on Stratford High Street has just been demolished, because flats are more valuable than flogging luxury cars.