diamond geezer

 Sunday, June 03, 2012

London's newest strategic walk is the Jubilee Greenway, created specially to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee. I say new, it was actually announced five years ago, but it wasn't until February this year that Her Maj laid the final special route-marker flagstone. The Jubilee Greenway is (deliberately) 60km long and links most of London's 2012 Olympic venues from Lord's in the west to Woolwich in the east. A lot of it follows pre-existing walks, like the Capital Ring and Thames Path, which saved a considerable chunk of cash when putting it together. There are more thrilling walks round London, to be honest, but fans of waterside walking will find much to enjoy. Here's a quick summary...

1) Buckingham Palace → Little Venice (via Hyde Park) [walked it]
2) 3) 10) The Regent's Canal (the entire length) [walked it]
4) 5) Victoria Park → N Woolwich (via the Greenway) (shadowing the Capital Ring) [walked it]
6) 7) 8) Woolwich → Westminster Bridge (shadowing the Thames Path) [walked it] [walked it]
9) Westminster Bridge → Buckingham Palace (see below)

» If you'd been on section 7 yesterday, just before Tower Bridge, you'd have been able to watch preparations for today's Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant. Many of the high masted boats are mooring up here because they can't get under London Bridge, so forming an "Avenue of Sail". It was a marvellously unusual sight, even in overcast gloom, with a motley collection of barges, galleons and warships clustered along both banks [photo] [photo] [photo]. Even better, the occasional flotilla of smaller boats chugged past on the rising tide, getting themselves in place for the start of the main event. Bodes well, although prime viewing spaces on the riverfront won't be quite so easy to grab today. [photo]

» Meanwhile, on the South Bank near the end of section 8, Jubilee Gardens have now reopened. Originally created for the Silver Jubilee in 1977, this grassy rectangle had grown threadbare and distinctly tatty, so the Diamond revamp is long overdue [photo]. As well as relaid turf and swirly flowerbeds, a series of stone paths wind across the park. Some paths' edges double as seating, in places, and were being well used yesterday by families, Shoreditch couples and an entire troop of Guides. Picknickers with weak bladders, be warned, it costs 50p to spend a penny in the state-of-the-art conveniences alongside.

Jubilee Greenway
[section 9]
Westminster Bridge to Buckingham Palace (2 miles)

In two miles flat, this final section of the Jubilee Greenway passes some of the most famous sites in London. Even on a good day it's a busy, but this weekend it's sheer madness (and today, sorry, probably entirely impossible). The walk starts on the eastern side of Westminster Bridge, the crowded stretch where only tourists go, where they can nosh McDonalds and play arcade games and queue for sharks. Most weren't heading through the subway yesterday, or at least no further than a photo opportunity (with flags) across to the Palace of Westminster [photo]. The Albert Embankment was rather quieter, looked over by a couple of medical staff from St Thomas's Hospital on a fag break. A few older visitors sat on the raised benches reading their commemorative Daily Mail, their view of the Mother of Parliaments part-blocked by a couple of manky barges.

Down to Lambeth Bridge and back, that's the Greenway's last Thames hurrah. The bridge currently has flags and metal barriers along its length, one for maritime decoration, the other for today's crowd control. There'll be viewing screens here, with bag searches and standing room rationed, although it's hard to imagine this being the ideal Pageant experience. Victoria Tower Gardens will be a more favoured viewing site, if you can see over the river wall, which is where those on the disabled viewing platform will have a head start. Here you'll find the ultimate royal pop-up, a Diamond Jubilee Shop, which is essentially a red trailer stocked with slightly dubious souvenirs [photo]. There's the official programme, and mugs, and teatowels, even a commemorative teaspoon should the fancy strike. But does anybody truly need an inflatable flag, or a tin of Jubilee teabags, or a Prince Philip mask, or an embroidered crown?... anybody except the Royal Parks' accountants, that is? Judging by the crowds jostling at the counter, sadly yes.

The path heads beneath the Victoria Tower and on towards the Elizabeth Tower, which is what the Clock Tower supporting Big Ben might be renamed if forelock-tugging MPs get their way. Watch out for the Golden Jubilee sundial near the Jewel Tower, and the Silver Jubilee Walkway explanatory panel near St Margaret's Church. It's Tourist Central round here, and the narrow pavement leading up towards Westminster Abbey barely copes. But rejoice, because someone's finally installed a pedestrian crossing to the centre of Parliament Square so you can cross to see Nelson Mandela without risking life and limb nipping through the traffic. The authorities have also removed all but one of the protesters who used to face the Palace, but Brian Haw's peace shack survives, now eleven years a thorn in the conscience of a nation. They'd rather you stared instead at the ring of giant Commonwealth flags flapping all around, which most visitors happily do.

The eastern edge of St James's Park is already sealed off, not especially securely, but with policemen patrolling the verge alongside Horseguards Parade. If you've chosen to walk the Greenway to see London 2012's Beach Volleyball venue, you're out of luck. On the bright side, The Mall is currently open to pedestrians only, so you can stride straight down the street (minding the manure) rather than having to walk along the pavement alongside. Huge Union Jacks hang at regular intervals, dressed with thick yellow tassels, in readiness for the Queen's carriage procession to ride this way on Tuesday [photo]. But it's Monday's concert that's having the greatest impact, taking place as it does on a special stage surrounding the Victoria Memorial [photo]. The entire front of Buckingham Palace has been sealed off while preparations continue, with security guards keeping non-ticketholders at a considerable distance [photo]. You can detour into the park to see the Diamond Jubilee Floral Crown, if 4m-high flower arrangements are your thing [photo]. But your chances of reaching the final Greenway stone outside the Queen's front gate? Sorry, the end of the route's uncompletable until the Diamond Jubilee's over.

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