diamond geezer

 Sunday, December 02, 2012

It's been six months since the Greenway was last open. The stretch alongside the Olympic Stadium, that is, sealed off for security reasons as the Games approached and sealed off since while various bits of infrastructure were dismantled. A December deadline for reopening was set, and met, as the gates at each end were finally unlocked yesterday morning. And did Londoners rush back inside? Not exactly.

The Greenway's best accessed from a passageway alongside Pudding Mill station. This zigzags beneath the railway arches, just as before, except the blue walls have been repainted a mustardy yellow to signify a new chapter in the Park's evolution. The path opens out beside the cylindrical Pumping Station, and then a familiar sight - a pair of security guards await to guide you across the service road. Trucks and vans and sightseeing tours pass this way, so best not dash across before they've given their smiling say-so. And then up the main ramp, same as ever, and you're back in the heart of history again.

Time for a good stare. The Olympic Stadium has been stripped of its wrap, but the ring of purple pods is still intact around the perimeter. The area in front is a huge expanse of tarmac, again devoid of Gamestime services, and in front of that a zigzag of fencing to keep those on the Park's perimeter loop road at bay. It looks much tidier than it ever was over the five years of construction, which is more than can be said for the land on the other side of the Greenway. This used to be the warm-up track, a green and pleasant land where athletes flexed and jogged, but that's been replaced by an ugly pile of rubble. It's an astonishingly retrograde transformation, from track and field to heaps of bricks, but needs must when there's a whole new urban quarter to be developed.

There's little in the way of vegetation on the approach to the View Tube, but that's because it's winter. Six months away from the public gaze has helped the grass recover, and a local gardening group has been in to prune back the roses. The row of lime green containers is empty, the London 2012 shop having long ago packed up and moved out. Step to the edge of the railings to look down over Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park South, such as it is, which isn't much yet. But for the high level panorama you need to head inside the View Tube, because yay, it's open again.

And it's bigger. The walkway along the edge of View Tube has been replaced by a conservatory, on decking, containing seats and tables. The windows might steam up obscuring the view, but when the place is busy you're now far more likely to find somewhere to sit. What's not yet obvious, or wasn't when I visited, is that the stack of containers contains a cafe in the first place. There's no sign, no "we serve coffee here", not even a marker on the door you're supposed to use to enter. Neither is there a sign at the foot of the stairs announcing the presence of a viewing platform, nor that you really are allowed to walk through the classroom to access it. Cameras at the ready for the Stadium, the Orbit, the Aquatic Centre, and the remnants of the walkway from the Greenway Gate into the Olympic Park.

Big news on the ground floor - the cafe's changed hands. A new post-Olympic contract was up for grabs, and the folks from Hackney Wick have been replaced by fresh blood from Stratford High Street. The owners of the Moka Mia Cafe (that's Liliana, Mario and David) threw together a bid and were more than surprised to win. They were only allowed into the premises on Friday afternoon, and worked manically into the evening and early morning to get the kitchen fitted out and the drinks machine plumbed in. Good news, they succeeded, and a tempting array of baked goodies awaited the first day's visitors. The menu at Moka East will extend later as the place becomes established, but breakfast butties, cakes and freshly-filled sandwiches are already up for grabs. I had a friendly chat with the Italian owners and a tasty cup of hand-sprinkled hot chocolate, plus the privilege of being one of their inaugural customers.

It'll take a while for Londoners to notice that they're allowed back inside this corner of the Olympic Park again. The Greenway was almost empty on my visit, bar a few wise pedestrians and the occasional cyclist pleased to have regained access to their direct shortcut. It was so quiet that I got to watch a robin hopping undisturbed along the edge of the verge, and further flocks of birds enjoying the shelter of this green stripe, at least until the first coach party of the day stomped by and disturbed the lot. The gate on the ramp down to the River Lea hadn't yet been unlocked, but the former Victoria Gate security concourse was fully accessible. Although workmen had cleared almost everything from this bleak space, one small magenta sign reading Discreet search area (Zone de fouille discrète) had been left stuffed in a corner of the fence. It's not there now - I wonder who took it home with them?

So, to summarise, the Greenway between Hackney Wick and Pudding Mill Lane is open again, and should remain so. The View Tube and its cafe are open again, with the prospect of an additional linear viewing gallery being constructed over the next few months. You'll not be able to wander into the adjacent park until Easter 2014, although you can book a bus tour round the site if you like. What's yet to be proven is whether the Greenway view is still the draw it was before the Games, but hopefully you'll want to come back and see how the place looks now, now that you finally can.

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