8♣ Deptford/Greenwich This would have been an oddly shaped borough, had it ever been created, but better fitting the name 'Greenwich' than the Royal Borough we know today. The Herbert Commission's proposal would have combined the area around Deptford that's now in Lewisham, the A2 hinterland from Kidbrooke to the Thames, and actual Greenwich where the meridian is. For my one-off journey I've chosen to walk the riverbank round the North Greenwich peninsula, which would have been mostly gasworks in 1965, to see how all that post-millennial redevelopment's been getting on...
Thames Path: North Greenwich (3 miles)
I'm starting by Greenwich Yacht Club, once easily visible from inland, but now screened behind a curtain wall of rainbow-shaded apartments. Call into the Marketing Suite to find out more, says the hoarding opposite these playbox stacks, behind which yet more flats will one day arise. It's taken long enough. The Millennium Dome was built at the tip of the peninsula nearly 20 years ago to kickstart development on this brownfield expanse, and yet it'll be the 2020s before even half of the area's full potential is met. The developers' marketing campaign strikes a smug note, promising "village life in the city" and boasting "amazingly we've found a new bit of London to live in". I wouldn't rush.
Greenwich Peninsula Ecology Park is a long-established wetland enclave, with boardwalks across the reeds and shallow streams running through the alder carr, and an enjoyable place for a brief stroll. The Thames-side promenade, meanwhile, is being used for a much more futuristic activity - the trialling of driverless vehicles. An electric pod called Harry will be trundling around the peninsula from a yellow rectangle painted on the promenade outside Maurer Court, assuming pedestrians and cyclists notice. The boulevard should be quiet enough and wide enough to avoid 'incidents', although it narrows where building work spills out towards the river, creating a couple of more challenging stretches with modal overlap.
A scattering of unusual signs hints that this is a modern-facing corner of the capital. A row of newly occupied homes on the waterfront is described as 'Platinum Riverside'. An enclosure of shoreline play equipment is 'intended for use by age appropriate children.' The event space on the pier called 'Farmopolis' is currently 'closed as we enter hibernation'. An unprepossessing thirty-storey tower is an early signal that five 'towers cut like prisms' are on their way, each with a 'renew floor' where gym, spa and pool will be located. This an 'emerging neighbourhood' of tightly-packed pseudo-luxury, a landscape sprinkled with marketing dust, and becoming denser with every passing year.
The ideal spot, therefore, for the UK's first urban cablecar to have its roots. On a sunny winter Sunday its pods are well frequented, rising sharply between building sites to enjoy the sweeping view - on a Tuesday rather less so. Here too is North Greenwich pier, stopping off point for the eight quid clipper to Westminster, and where shivering operatives wait for potential passengers who might have found their way through the maze of hoardings between here and The Entertainment Tent. On this walk we only get to see the Dome's backroom service area, with all its commercial shebang accessed solely from tube-side.
The upcoming half-circumnavigation is always quiet - building work excepted. Look out across the great bend in the river towards an industrial hinterland where high-rises are not yet the norm and then, on the other side of Trinity Buoy Wharf, an area where they definitely are. Yachts play on the Thames and gulls above it, perhaps picking over the spoils on the beach beyond the long grasses if the tide is low enough. Watch out for the looping lump of sculpture, and the rusting slice of ship, and the ironwork cyclepost, and the reedy wildlife jetty. I've been walking this path for years and very little along the way has changed, at least not on the outside of the O2's security perimeter.
Inside, however, it's a shame. All sorts of pavilions and wetlands were established for the millennium, the latter with the expectation of sustainability, but almost nothing survives. Up by the hotel a particularly sad plaque describes a "newly created environment" on a previously "poisoned" site "which will gradually develop over time", and hopes that the change wrought will be "inspirational". Nah. All the reedbeds and irrigation channels have been ripped out to create delivery areas and a building site, while the meridian poetry plaques around the bend have been absorbed into a sealed-off hotel car park. The automated self-driving pod terminates here.
At Point Drawdock a small girl is rolling empty nitrous oxide capsules down the slipway while her mother watches, seemingly approvingly, because it's something for her to do. A more upmarket game is afoot at what used to be Delta Wharf, now the Greenwich Peninsula Golf Range, an astroturf expanse of thwacked balls, filling in the time before this entire waterfront becomes flats. Developmental delays mean it's still possible to walk the riverside, including the sludgy dockside of the Victoria Deep Water Terminal. The wharf is safeguarded from development, so expect the silos, conveyor belts and piles of aggregate to endure, and be sure to wear something that's not your best pair of trainers as you wade through.
And then the inland diversion begins, supposedly only for six months, so that river defence works can be completed. It's a common tale along this formerly desolate stretch of river, where flats are sequentially replacing wharves and warehouses, and a cruise terminal for mega-liners is on the cards. Pedestrians meanwhile are cast out to the Blackwall Tunnel approach road, sandwiched between industry and exhaust fumes for rather longer than is desirable. Watch out for the optic cloak at the peninsula's Energy Centre - Conrad Shawcross's geometric cover for a 49m flue. Maybe even drop in at the Meantime Brewery, location 0° 0' 30'', for an ale, a tour, or some crafty bottles from their shop.
I'm ending my walk by negotiating back to the waterfront, via a Victorian terraced street that marks the northern limit of former settlement hereabouts. At the end of the road a far more modern cluster of apartment blocks has captured the waterfront, with coloured facades and gleaming glass, but not yet a great deal of life. Potential shops at ground level are boarded up, awaiting interested tenants, and the A3 restaurant unit that Harry Cody-Owen has been trying to rent since 2015 remains unclaimed. Only when the path finally reaches the cobbles of Ballast Quay, and the Cutty Sark pub, does any sense of character return. Three miles of the peninsula's edge are evolving at glacial pace, but irrevocably, into an antiseptic high-stacked city.