A new exit out of the Olympic Park has opened. You won't be using it yet, but maybe one day.
The new exit is along the Waterworks River, which is the wide artificial waterway that passes the Aquatics Centre. This path been blocked underneath the railway since 2005(!), and has now finally been unblocked with the removal of some metal barriers. These were actually shifted before Christmas, but someone's now been along to sweep up the bird droppings and switch the lights on, so the walkway is now somewhat more alluring.
This particular way out is on the west bank of the river, opposite the Aquatics Centre and close to where the Orbit rises. The lawns and gardens run south towards that lovely purple footbridge, once used to access railway sidings, now a pedestrian escape towards Warton Road. I'm pleased to be able to report, by the way, that the daffodils in the Olympic Park are currently running a month behind last year's schedule, suggesting winter is properly back on track.
Previously the riverside footpath ground to a halt at the QEOP loop road, the one that hardly any traffic uses. It was possible to peer through the barriers beneath the viaduct, towards the gloom of the railway bridge ahead, but to go no further. As with many of the other 'delayed access' issues along the southern edge of the Park, the problem seemed to be Crossrail, but even when their works nudged back to allow footpath space, the tunnel below the bridge remained stubbornly blocked.
What we find now that the way ahead is clear is a long dark passageway adjacent to the river, with a sequence of vertically positioned lights along the wall and muted blue illumination in the ironwork overhead.
I was particularly interested in the blue lights, and walked back and forth a few times to see if anything happened. Nothing happened. And you might not be expecting anything to happen, except that this underpass is the location of one of the 26 permanent artworks in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, as explained in a glossy booklet published back in 2013.
Beneath the railway that leads into Stratford, following the Waterworks River, a series of motion-activated LED illuminations light up the underpass, in a fluid, rippling installation. This artwork by Jason Bruges Studio illustrates the speeds of athletes and patterns made by their movements in the water. As you walk through, the lights mimic the shadows of swimmers overhead, immersing you in an underwater atmosphere.
Alas the lights don't mimic the shadows of swimmers, the movements of athletes are not illustrated, and there appears to be nothing motion-activated at all. I don't know whether they've tried and couldn't make the technology work, whether all is on course and it'll look impressive later, or whether the money ran out and they thought stuff it, let's not bother. I fear the latter. What we have instead is a perfectly decent illuminated passageway with a hint of blue above, but not really anything you could describe as art.
Emerging on the far side, the path is considerably broader than before (given that "before", a decade ago, it was an overgrown isolated track). Nudging away from the water's edge, the path now passes the Pudding Mill Allotments, one of two replacements for the much mourned Manor Garden Allotments in the northern half of the Park. Twelve months ago this was a desolate patch of uncultivated plots, just about to be handed over, but one growing season has seen rapid transformation and the place now looks green and loved. The next opportunity to get yourself on the waiting list comes in October, but don't get your hopes up.
And then the footpath stops. It will one day continue towards the Greenway, specifically the point where it reached Stratford High Street, but that's still blocked off as it has been since the Games ended in 2012. Crossrail were due to have finished all their necessary preparation work here by the end of 2016, at long last opening up the main Greenway exit from the Olympic Park. Unfortunately Thames Water have now stepped in "to carry out strengthening works to the bridge over Waterworks River (adjacent to Stratford High Street) and therefore this section of the Greenway will remain closed until around the end July 2018." Meh, an entire decadesworth of meh.
In the meantime Bridgewater Road is your only exit, across an old bridge part-fenced off to allow contractors vehicles to approach Crossrail's worksite unhindered. On the far side of the Waterworks River is a decrepit building whose owner hoped it would be compulsorily purchased for the Olympics, and gambled wrong. This finally has demolition notices up on it, but as yet no sign of the wrecker's ball. And finally we reach Warton Road, where there's as yet no sign to indicate the walk is possible in the opposite direction, so nobody'd know.
I never believed I'd still be writing about the opening up of the Olympic Park five years after the Games - I guess we can now call it five years. But there's still a considerable amount more stitching to be done, and maybe by the summer of 2018, or maybe not...