diamond geezer

 Wednesday, January 08, 2020

My final SomethingTwenty potstcode district is also London's newest, namely E20, the post-Olympic Zone. Today I'll be walking down the central spine of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park for precisely twenty minutes, starting up top by the Hockey Centre and attempting to reach the Aquatics Centre. What's more I'll be passing through four different London boroughs, two of them twice, simply by following the main path. It's just one of the reasons why locating the 2012 Games here was a political masterstroke. [10 photos]

20 minutes in E20

0 mins: Waltham Forest
I'm starting beside the Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre, a Paralympic legacy, now one of the quieter corners of the Olympic Park. I hardly ever see anyone on the hockey pitch or tennis courts, the former because top notch hockey matches are few and far between, although for all I know the indoor courts are a hotbed of unseen action. Waltham Forest didn't get much out of the Games, indeed most of the rest of their corner of the Park is either car park, scrubby grass or mountain bike course. The bike trail feels like a particularly underused resource, bedecked with notices insisting you pay before you set out, hence only the occasional Mamil seems to bother.

3 mins: Hackney
It doesn't take long to stray into Hackney. The hockey pitch may be in Waltham Forest but the path down its western edge is in Hackney, as is the start of the footbridge across the A12. But only the start. By the time you reach the central reservation, or at least a point suspended above it, you are already into the next borough. Don't worry Hackney, we'll be back.

4 mins: Newham
The Velodrome is the first venue across the great divide, its crisp-shaped roof still with the ability to impress. What I particularly like about the Velodrome is its accessibility, the only one of the post-Olympic arenas where anyone can wander in, head upstairs and explore. Perhaps some excited cyclists will be speeding round the track during an all-too-brief taster session and being warned not to go too high or too fast. You might well choose to frequent the cafe. I have been known to go in solely to use the toilet.

The Olympic rings remain a popular vantage point, particularly for the taking of shareable group photographs. The bench that was added last year, destroying the simplicity of the framing, has now been removed. No path has ever been provided up the steep end, but desire lines are clearly visible on each flank because the meandering public refuse to be constrained. This is even more clearly seen on the descent to the waterside where thick gorse bushes have been planted to try to ensure nobody can shortcut down, but a thin track along one edge confirms they still absolutely do.

8½ mins: Hackney
In the northern half of the Park the River Lea marks the boundary between Newham and Hackney. The view downriver from the first footbridge is probably the best in E20, sweeping down towards the stadium between reedy banks with a silvery glint. This was the first part of the park to reopen after the Games, all of seven years ago, and some of the rushes are now above head height. If I weren't on a timed quest I might rest awhile on the wooden steps by the riverside and enjoy the peace. Sitting here always reminds of the first night of the Olympics, watching the big screen with the rest of my family after pretty much everyone else had gone home.

Above the sloping lawns the landscape is more austere, as a nucleus of fresh flats takes shape between Here East and the Copper Box. This will be the E20 suburb of East Wick, and by the end of this decade it'll have been joined by a wall of apartment blocks along the suspiciously featureless grass bordering Waterden Road. The actual park, it'll turn out, is smaller than you currently think. As for the road junction outside the Copper Box, that's still a mess as workmen continue to complete the new southern access road, which it looks like they might almost have done. The piazza on the far side of the pedestrian crossing is still in Hackney, but only for the first three grassy enclosures, not the fourth.

15½ mins: Tower Hamlets
Borough number four is marked by the passage of the Overground, although its tracks are hidden beneath Mandeville Place so you'll likely not notice. Not much of the Olympic Park is in Tower Hamlets, just a tongue between rivers, and it boasts little more interesting than the Energy Centre and a primary school. Soon this'll be the residential neighbourhood of Sweetwater, once diggers finally move into that enormous fenced-off enclosure, which they might soon after the new road is finished. Bit bleak at present. Keep walking.

18 mins: Newham
The final borough transition occurs above Carpenters Lock. It looks good down there, the mechanism repaired and restored, even if I've never yet seen a boat pass through. To one side is the stadium on its island, now fully established as a place where West Ham occasionally win, but at other times the perimeter circuit is mostly dead. The playground side of the river is a lot busier, so much so that it's usually worth one of the refreshment kiosks staying open even in winter. And beyond one further river the East Bank is finally taking shape, a mass of diggers, holes, cranes and raised mounds that'll one day be a must-visit cultural hub. There is still so much more of E20 to be built.

I only get as far as the daffodils before my twenty minutes runs out. But it seems as hopeful a place to stop as any.

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