A new section of the Thames Path has opened between Woolwichand the Thames Barrier. Previously, because of an industrial estate, the path had to track inland to the busy Woolwich Road. The industrial estate is still there, but a public right of way now passes through, with a couple of ramps to make the necessary connections at either end. It's good news.
Heading west along the Thames from Woolwich, there's always been a point where you had to divert into a housing estate. It wasn't quite at the end of the housing estate either, so missing the turn meant doubling back, then meandering awkwardly to escape. The newramp is a godsend, launching off from the end of the promenade, then nudging out above the river to negotiate its way round the back of a large industrial unit. Most of the £1.5m spent on the new connection will have been splashed here, I'll bet.
The connection has two groups of users in mind - those on bikes, and those on foot. The ramp's fairly gentle, so easily negotiable even by a bicycling child of primary school age. A motorised wheelchair'd cope adequately too. For those not speeding through, the ramp doubles up as a novel viewing platform, both across the river towards the Tate & Lyle sugar refinery and upstream towards the Thames Barrier. Looking down into the backyard of Evolution Car Spares and Brokk Specialist Hire is somewhat less enthralling.
After a quick bend inland the ramp descends at the far end of Warspite Road. It's only a brief intervention, 100 metres tops, but it dramatically improves access and shows the power of imagination combined with hard cash. The 'Missing Link' was being well used on its first afternoon too, not just by the cycling fraternity keen to unwrap their latest present, but also by local families with pushchairs, and quite possibly folk with the good luck to turn up on Day One who never realised there was a gap here before.
As you may have spotted, the new link is part of Q14, or Quietway 14. This is one of a network of backroad routes sketched out across the capital, aimed at directing cyclists away from busy traffic. As such, I have to say the signage for cyclists is better than that for pedestrians, as it often involves keeping an eye out for the next big arrow painted in the road. A case in point is the sharp right turn partway down Warspite Road, which I saw at least two people cycle past, having missed the small arrowed sign on a lamppost above some shrubbery.
I'd also like to note, with horror, that Q14 westbound is signed towards somewhere called "Greenwich Peninsular". There is no such place, not even in the fevered imaginations of the apartment floggers overlooking the O2. A peninsula is a tongue of land mostly surrounded by water, whereas peninsular is the related adjective and has no place here. Either whoever commissioned the signs can't spell, which is a possibility, or they genuinely believe that's what the area is called, which is perhaps worse. Whatever the reason, it's not a good look.
The next stretch is longer, and follows what used to be a dead end gated road on the Mellish Industrial Estate. A run of old brick warehouses runs down either side, the kind of workaday environment which keeps many a southeast Londoner in employment, in a variety of mostly manual or creative tasks... metalwork, ceramics, conservation, stained glass, a climbing wall, even a circus academy and Chinese Arts Centre. Until yesterday the workforce had this backwater to themselves, and now they have the public freely walking or wheeling through.
There's no pavement as such, only a painted strip of tarmac, in places made safer by the plonking of poles. If you like past-its-sell-by-date architecture it's a bit of a privilege to be here. The long decrepit building at the western end of Bowater Road is a particular treat, though now vacant and barriered off, so it should come as no surprise that a developer has big plans for the area. "A new creative-style urban quarter for South-East London" is on the cards, "delivering 400 residential units and creative workspace units, complemented by new public area and landscaped grounds." Come visit before they do that.
At the western end, a curving ramp provides the new access point, thereby opening up the estate. The entrance will be locked between 9pm and 6am, with anyone travelling at other times being directed via the previous circuitous detour. I spotted bunting above the gateway, so I suspect this is the point where The Mayor of London's Walking and Cycling Commissioner and Greenwich Council's Cabinet Member for Air Quality, Public Realm and Transport performed the official opening ceremony yesterday afternoon.
I'm not a cyclist, so I can't confirm the excellence or otherwise of the new missing link. I can, however, tell you what I heard cyclists saying as they rode past. "Bad gate!" said one, at the foot of Bowater Road. "Saucy!" said another, riding along the raised Thamesside platform for the first time. Meanwhile, in the largest cluster of Day One cyclists gathered to pick over everything they'd seen, the most animated gentleman was pointing at the ground and bemoaning "but there won't be any lines to show whose priority it is!" He had a look of the unsatisfiable about him.
And all of this joins up to the existing Thames Path round the back of the Thames Barrier. Not along the actual waterfront, but pushed further back inland, and linking upstream of the barrier via a freshly-scrubbed curving track. You can still see the chalk lines where the stencil application team aligned their lettering. From here it's 180 miles to the source of the Thames, if the fancy takes you. But if all you want is a walk or ride along the industrial estuarine river, the journey just got a fraction shorter, and a whole lot more interesting.