diamond geezer

 Tuesday, July 03, 2012

London 2012  Around the Olympic Park
  2) White Post Lane to Hackney Marshes
  22 more photographs here; map here

At White Post Lane, my Olympic Park circumnavigation passes from Tower Hamlets into Hackney. The road on the bridge is already blocked by a wedged barrier, with vehicular access only to accredited 2012 staff. Alongside is The White Building, a new cultural centre with a community vibe (in a very white building), which opens officially later this month. At King's Yard, a rare non-demolished building bears the painted mark of a clothespeg-nosed monkey. The Overground rumbles across the river, still the best (nay, only) way to peer into the heart of the Olympic Park round these parts.

That drab building beyond the Energy Centre is the Handball Arena, now renamed the Copper Box, as if this somehow makes a big brown-topped cuboid more interesting. Viewed from the rear, it certainly doesn't. A few trees on the riverfront have survived the construction onslaught, but not many, so it's left to a border of weeds and wild flowers to provide the only natural presence. A moorhen shuttles across the river, using long blades of grass from the Olympic side to set up home on the opposite bank. Immediately beyond a new bridge-to-nowhere is the Johnstone Boathouse, of AD 1934 vintage. It's far too small to host international rowing events, but is a reminder that the northern half of the Park had a sporting history long before the Olympics came along.

Hackney Stadium used to be located off Waterden Road, just up a grassy embankment on the right. It was formerly used for greyhound racing and speedway, but the operators went bust in 1997 and the arena was presciently demolished pre-Games in 2003. Alas it's not been replaced by anything recreational. In its place, and beyond, is the Olympic Park's absolutely humongous media quarter. At its heart is the twenty-thousand capacity International Broadcast Centre, from which TV crews from Brazil, Botswana and Belgium will report on the day's major events for an audience back home. It's hard to see from the footpath, blocked instead by the Main Press Centre, which in itself is at least a couple of cathedrals long. Contractors are still adding the final touches to the parking spaces outside, but the recycling bins are already in place for journalists on a fag break chucking away their Coke cans.

You may have heard that London 2012 is the public transport Games. That's not the case in the northwest corner of the park where the media circus has its very own multi-storey car park. It's a whopper, more in length than in height, stretching along a couple of hundred yards of the Eastway. Rest assured there is a small bus station at one end, ready to kick into action ferrying folk off to the diving or discus as appropriate. But there's nothing much doing around here at the moment - indeed the couple of security guards left to guard the entrance over the weekend looked bored beyond words. Nevertheless, perhaps someone should have driven YK12 TZC (a black Mini) inside, rather than leaving it parked out on the Eastway on double yellow lines. In case you've ever wondered, yes, official Olympic vehicles can get parking tickets, and presumably as taxpayers we're ultimately paying for this one.

An arc of pristine pavement temporarily forces pedestrians across to the other side the road. This is to avoid a major service entrance to the Park, until recently used to allow shoppers access through the security zone to Westfield's car parks down south. I was surprised to see a uniformed soldier on guard at the gate at the weekend, with no obvious civvy back-up, but we'll all have to get used to a military presence round this part of East London over the next couple of months. Close to the fence along the Eastway are some vehicle screening tents, and further back the end of the hangar-like IBC. And the shiny silver grandstand you can see the rear of, that's the so-called Riverbank Arena, where 2012's hockey matches will play out on a bright blue pitch edged with even brighter pink. If you're coming here during the Games be warned that it's at least a 30 minute walk from the Greenway Gate at the opposite end of the Park, and 45 minutes from West Ham station, so give yourself plenty of time to make your seat.

If you drive, there are great close-up views of the northern Olympic Park (and especially the Velodrome) from the elevated A12 East Cross Route. For pedestrians however there's no access, which means a diversion under the flyover to follow Ruckholt Road. This is a fairly major dual carriageway in itself, kicking off with a view down the River Lea that's the best Velodrome panorama those on foot going to get. The overgrown banks are very much how the river to the south of here used to look until five years ago, unlike the manicured landscapes since created beyond the barrier a short distance downstream.

Coming up ahead is a bright orange footbridge, leading to what used to be Quartermile Lane and is now Eton Manor Walk. This is the major northern entrance to the Olympic Park, this one targeted at visitors arriving by coach. In a controversial move, the Northern Transport Mall has been created on the Hackney Marshes. Not the entire site, 'only' the East Marsh, but it's unnerving to peer past security and see concrete and parking spaces where formerly were fourteen football pitches. They'll be restored after the Games, LOCOG assure us, but you won't find much green along here at the moment. Especially not in Waltham Forest, the next host borough round...

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