diamond geezer

 Monday, July 02, 2012

Five years ago today the gates surrounding the Olympic Park swung shut. Previously the public had been able to live, work and wander within, but then the walls went up and the great transformation began. That transformation is almost complete, with the Games taking place later this month, so I thought now would be an ideal time to walk all the way around the perimeter of the Olympic Park for an updated report. I walked the six miles at the weekend, as close as I could get without getting arrested. And over the next week I'll be blogging my circumnavigation, all Iain-Sinclair-like, a bit like I did in July 2005 and July 2007. Because it's history, innit?

London 2012  Around the Olympic Park
  1) Bow Roundabout to White Post Lane
  23 photographs here; map here

It's as good a place to start as any. You can see the Olympic Stadium quite clearly from the Bow Roundabout, either from the flyover or while standing on the pavement over the River Lea. This junction will be a key component of the Olympic Route Network, with Games Lanes galore and local traffic funnelled into whatever roadway's left. The roundabout's a mess at the moment as seemingly endless roadworks linger on, with temporary barriers along the roadway and scaffolding under the flyover. A group of uniformed contractors have been busy painting the metalwork above the underpass in a none-too fetching shade of urban grey, which must be a pre-Games spruce-up, but I doubt anyone important will ever notice.

A sign on the car-wash fence details the various footpath and towpath closures to come before the Olympics. The Greenway's already sealed, and the two miles of towpath between here and Hackney Wick are next. They close for security reasons tomorrow, Tuesday 3rd July, which means you won't be able to follow my walk north from here for the next ten weeks. Just beyond the new cycle bridge, which stays open, a temporary barrier waits to swing across the water to prevent unscheduled boats from chugging this way too. The river ahead's recently been narrowed because Crossrail are digging a huge tunnel entrance just beyond the wall to the right. They don't want a catastrophic watery collapse so they've dug in some corrugated barriers and are filling up the bankside with pebbles for strengthening purposes. But even their construction work has had to pause for the Olympics, and will recommence in late September.

At the railway bridge, the accumulated graffiti of several years is being painted over (in Dulux dark blue) by two blokes in hi-vis tabards. High aspirations, but alas misguided, because within 24 hours tagger LB will have sprayed their initials really unartistically across the pristine surface. The towpath approaching the stadium is busy with walkers, joggers and cyclists, who'll all need to find alternative routes for the next two months. Here's first sight of the Park's perimeter razor wire, at least twice the height of the convolvulus-choked former fencing in front. Aboard a narrowboat moored outside Olympic Bicycle Hire, the owner is sitting legs astride at the bow end with his fishing rod dangling in the water. Nothing's biting.

The Greenway is firmly sealed off, with a fresh set of metal steps in place of the uneven climb that used to be here. If you've forked out a small fortune for a Water Chariots ticket, these stairs are for you. Up on the bridge is the Victoria Gate, the smallest of the four public entrances to the Olympic Park during the summer. It's my tip to be the entrance with the shortest queues, probably, given that it's not near any major transport links and therefore ideal only for those of us who can walk or cycle. Two police officers are busy here using a detector on a stick to check the underside of the Northern Outfall Sewer. There are a lot of potential hidey-holes in the gloom between these Victorian pipes, and the consequences of an explosion involving half of North London's sewage doesn't bear thinking about.

At Old Ford Lock a couple of yards of the Old River Lea are still accessible. A lone angler has taken advantage and settled in for the day with two rods and a thermos. The blue wall behind him is one of the few remaining fragments of the original security perimeter thrown up back in 2007, which has been allowed to remain because there are far more fearsome metal barriers blocking the entire river a short distance upstream. Meanwhile family life continues as normal at Lockkeepers Cottages, the former Big Breakfast house, which has somehow survived as an enclave of normality in the shadow of the Olympic Stadium.

Across the water a former warehouse at Swan Wharf is being scrubbed up to create "The Fringe", one of several entertainment spaces popping up in the local area to cater for bored rich Olympic visitors during the Games. Day membership will cost £150, giving you access to cocktail bars, restaurants and a giant video screen, whereas an evening of nightclubbing will set you back 'only' £40. So far there's nothing to see, and the same in the empty courtyard of Forman's salmon smokery upriver where an even bigger hospitality-soak is planned. Eight or so empty Water Chariots are berthed outside, hoping desperately to become the transport option of choice for those coming to splash their cash here.

A rather cheaper meal deal can be found at the Counter Cafe, where a planked pontoon has been constructed in the river so that patrons can dine outside in the shadow of the Olympic Stadium. The view would be better had the park's 'Sponsors Village' not been plonked in the way - a blank canvas of white cuboids ready to host hours of schmoozing by the Games' international paymasters. The towpath has recently been renovated, and a fine border of brightly coloured flowers runs alongside. An unexpectedly large number of police vans are lined up on the other side of the fence, and dozens of security patrol vans too... and all this still four weeks before events in the Park properly begin.

A mysterious bridge has been built across the Lea from Fish Island, which ends abruptly with no steps down, nor any hole in the Olympic perimeter fence through which it might legitimately proceed. Listen and you might hear music blaring from... is that inside the Stadium?... where yet another Opening Ceremony rehearsal seems to be underway. And look, a mysterious hoop has appeared high up in the spiky metal crown, which might have something to do with the as-yet-undisclosed cauldron for the Olympic flame, except there's more than one hoop around the roofspace, so probably not. A peculiar blue construction lurks outside, which looks like a giant sculpture made from air conditioning units and containers, but surely can't be. And at last we're at White Post Lane, for a final lingering look back at the Stadium. Remember, towpath access closes tomorrow.

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