On Sunday afternoon I walked the Thames Path from Tower Bridge to North Greenwich, a fascinating eight mile stroll mostly alongside the river. I've walked it before, so this time I thought I'd do a little survey along the way to sharpen my senses. Every five minutes I took a look around me and rated my current location (out of 5) for Gentrification and for Busyness. My scoring was terribly subjective (I mean, what is gentrification anyway?), but what the hell, at least it was consistently subjective. You've read this blog before, you know I do peculiar things like this, just go with it. [map]
[0m] Tower Bridge (G0, B5) The famed Victorian bridge helps to set the ends of my two scales. Zero marks for Gentrification, because this is an original, but full marks for Busyness, oh stop taking photos and move out of my way.
[5m] Shad Thames (G5, B4) One of the original gentrification hotspots, but still tastefully done, and the cobbled canyon draws the crowds. [10m] New Concordia Wharf (G4, B2) Slipping across the creek, this old warehouse hasn't quite gone the way of its surroundings. Few tourists get this far, preferring to turn back at the Design Museum. [15m] Chambers Wharf (G3, B3) Now passing inland, one side of the street is utterly be-flatted, but the rest remains vacant (for supersewer work). [20m] Bermondsey Wall (G3, B3) I'll be using code G3 a lot along this stretch of the walk, there being loads of flats that are not too old and not too new. [25m] King Stairs (G3, B3) Rotherhithe didn't take long to get to, and the Angel pub is a refreshing survivor of the old days. And it's busier again too (OMG, that's the actual Matt Berry from Toast of London, walking past in dark glasses on his phone). [30m] Cumberland Wharf (G3, B1) One catch with only checking-in every five minutes is that you sometimes miss somewhere important, in this case the historic residential heart of Old Rotherhithe. That was charming, this is more apartmenty.
[35m] Pacific Wharf (G3, B2) Have you noticed how all the flats around here seem to be called Something Wharf? A poignant reminder of how much trading heritage has been lost. [40m] King and Queen Wharf (G3, B1) Few people walk this section of the waterfront behind Rotherhithe Street. Across the river on the Tower Hamlets shore, only a brief section of Narrow Street has any historic character. [45m] Sovereign Crescent (G3, B2) These Georgian-style terraces are so very much of the post-Thatcher era. Nobody would ever build something so lowrise overlooking the Thames today. [50m] Sovereign View (G3, B1) "This major riverside development was formally opened by Sir George Young Bt MP, Minister for Housing, Inner Cities and Construction, 25th November 1993" [55m] Hilton Docklands (G3, B3) A posh hotel ought to score higher for gentrification, but it's so nondescript, and the neighbouring residential streets so ordinary, that I can only rate this spot as a G3. [1h] Durand's Wharf (G2, B3) They used to build mundane council-style blocks out here at the inaccessible tip of the Rotherhithe peninsula. Now Docklands glistens on the opposite shore. Coming up imminently, Surrey Docks Farm is a delightful urban/rural hybrid, and definitely more G1, B2.
[1h 5m] Barnards Wharf (G3, B2) Unbelievable as it sounds, a plaque confirms that this lowbrow residential development was opened by "Actor and Television Personality Fraser Hines" on Friday 10th July 1992. Thames-side walkers are low in number now, but not insignificant in number. [1h 10m] Greenland Dock (G3, B2) Again my five minute rule skips an area of contrasts (deluxe New Caledonian Wharf faces bog-standard flats on Odessa Street) to hit the very-1990s edge of a major marina/dock. [1h 15m] South Dock (G3, B2) You can catch a Thames Clipper from here to Westminster, but the nearest station's a considerable walk, so house prices have only been yanked up so far. [1h 20m] Aragon Tower (G2, B1) This council tower block was reclad to boost its desirability to incomers, but a close look at the upper floors reveals a thin veneer. The neighbouring Pepys Estate opened in 1966, in an era when London built for workers rather than investors. [1h 25m] Upper Pepys Park (G2, B2) I've just passed the first proper old riverside buildings for miles, the bricky remainders of Deptford Dockyard at Drake's Steps, but the modern playground in Pepys Park ups the gentrification quotient a notch. [1h 30m] Grove Street (G1, B2) Oh my word. Forced inland, the Thames Path hits working class Lewisham and streets utterly untainted by thoughts of cappuccinos. How terribly G1.
[1h 35m] Sayes Court Park (G2, B2) The Evening Standard's property supplement does not yet come here, but graffiti on the park fence reads "No More Homes For the Rich", because it will. [1h 40m] Convoys Wharf (G1, B2) What remains of Henry VIII's Royal Dockyard is huge, and fenced off, and awaiting transformation into 3500 new homes. Further graffiti suggests local residents are less than happy - security vans patrol the interior to keep protesters out. [1h 45m] Wharf Street (G4, B2) Look at that Gentrification score suddenly leap. The first street in Greenwich has been transformed into offices and apartments with water gardens, pretentious sculptures at ground level and a "pop-up eatery" serving "Truffled Tentacled Croquettes". Sheesh. [1h 50m] Millennium Quay (G4, B2) They've gone full whack towards apartment-building around the mouth of the Ravensbourne of late, including a new tidal footbridge to increase accessibility. I nearly awarded this G3, but the two local shops are a wellbeing centre and a cafe-cum-florists, so G4. [1h 55m] New Capital Quay (G4, B3) Another very modern blocky waterfront development, piling up the profits, with gyms and restaurants to save the residents having to mix too much with citizens elsewhere. The Thames Path is not signposted, this being a private 'public' place. [2h] Meridian Estate (G1, B3) Immediately adjacent to Maritime Greenwich proper, this very ordinary council estate holds its prime location in the face of commercial pressure.
[2h 5m] Old Royal Naval College (G0, B4) The one Greenwich location you're bound to know is the piazza around the Cutty Sark, now scarred by gold-coated Byron and Nando's restaurants (G4, B5), but my five minute timecheck has hit the untainted historical waterfront beyond. [2h 10m] Trinity Hospital (G1, B3) Again I've missed the newer stuff (past the Trafalgar Tavern), this time checking in outside a 17th century charitable foundation. [2h 15m] The River Gardens (G4, B2) Here we go again, with massive characterless flats recently crammed into a 'prime location' on the sanitised riverfront. Alas, as yet nobody seems to want to occupy the empty restaurant space beneath one of the blocks (if you're interested, ring Harry Cody-Owen). [2h 20m] Enderby Wharf (G1/G4, B1) Barratt Homes have high hopes for this 40 acre development beside a proposed cruise liner terminal, although the artist's impression painted on the hoardings looks unspeakable. Until the first block opens, this remains the back of nowhere. [2h 25m] Morden Wharf (G1, B1) This is even more desolate, a post-industrial walkway wiggling around crumbling premises, and the first double-1-coded location on the walk. Later, expect (slightly inaccessible) flats. [2h 30m] Victoria Deep Water Terminal (G0, B1) And this is about as wonderfully desolate as it gets. Sand is piled up on a waterfront still used as a cement works, in the shadow of a gasholder, with a footpath still inexplicably passing through. Long may it survive.
[2h 35m] Greenwich Peninsula Golf Range (G4, B1) Hang on, what?! A driving range has been laid out on land that's five years off being flats, its extensive astroturf splattered with thousands of white balls hit from 60 heated grandstand bays. The attached wine bar is called Vinothec Compass and looks beyond pretentious, but an upmarket clientèle evidently exists. [2h 40m] InterContinental London Hotel (G1/G4, B1) Due to open next month, this intrusive mega hotel has its eye on business travellers and wealthy conference stopovers. Until then, tumbleweed rolls down the western edge of the peninsula. [2h 45m] The O2 (G5, B5) And finally, almost three hours after leaving Tower Bridge, this teeming teflon tent is the ultimate in gentrification. Formerly a gasworks, yesterday it hosted tennis's ultimate world final, and served a lot of burgers. Thankfully not all of London's Thames-side has yet been devoured by money.