diamond geezer

 Sunday, June 21, 2020

A new pedestrian route into the Olympic Park, mothballed for years, has just been opened. Eight years after the Games it's frankly amazing there are any left to unlock.

This entrance is in the middle of the park rather than around the edge, and connects Waterden Road to the northern wetlands. My next photo shows the bridge at the opposite end of the path, originally installed for the benefit of visitors in 2012. If you remember where the chopped-in-half red phoneboxes were, indeed still are, that's where this is.

Ever since the Park reopened to visitors this bridge has been blocked off by metal barriers (although they have occasionally been nudged aside by inquisitive punters). A few months ago those barriers were permanently shunted, but anyone following the path ahead eventually found it led to a locked gate, so that was ten minutes wasted. But this month that path at long last leads somewhere, namely almost Westfield, which is splendid.

The footbridge crosses the remnants of the Channelsea River, heavily reengineered to create the so-called Waterglades. Halfway across is a blue railway sign with a big number 453 on it, along with the distance 9km 050m. This is because the High Speed 1 rail link burrows directly underneath, indeed is just about to emerge into its box at Stratford International station. The tunnel portal is very close but you can't see a thing down below, only hear the occasional service whooshing towards Brussels or Broadstairs.

The far side of the lawn used to be a pristine lawn with picnic tables and another chainsawed phonebox, or at least that's how it looked in 2012 (see above). That lawn is now a grassy meadow, or "heavily overgrown" depending on the generosity of your description. Down by the waterside is one of a very few trees that survived the coming of the bulldozers a decade ago. The nearby brambles are done with flowering and a single red blackberry is already ripening in the sun.

If you were here for the Games you'd have exited up a zigzag slope to a roadway laid out with more picnic tables. That road is now Waterden Road, but the path has long been blocked at the top (because it doesn't lead to a pavement) and has been irretrievably abandoned. Instead a fresh onward path has been created underneath Waterden Road which can connect to the pavement on the other side. What I genuinely don't understand is why this underpass was added in 2016 but hasn't been opened until 2020.

The underside of the bridge is awash with graffiti, because a flimsy metal barrier doesn't keep everyone out. But the view's not bad, and includes a short stretch of the Lea nobody's had official access to of late. It's a particularly good spot to watch Overground trains crossing the river, if that's your thing. The centre of this railway bridge marks the exact spot where London's three poorest boroughs meet, which is one of the main reasons the Olympic Park was located here in the first place.

Now the new path turns left and slowly climbs the embankment alongside Waterden Road. On the right-hand side, below a low wooden fence, is a rather nice nature reserve with a watery pool at its heart. Unfortunately you can't access it, nor really see it from down here, indeed the best place for a view is on the pavement we're heading towards. It's amazing nobody's built anything here nor intends to, given that this enclave could link the northern and southern halves of the park, but the railway beyond very much gets in the way.

To keep the path's gradient bike- and wheelchair-friendly it climbs to a hairpin bend before doglegging back. From this vantage point Stratford's latest office towers are easily seen, along with the occasional DLR train and the iconic Olympic Stadium. Alas in a few years the stadium will be obscured by two residential skyscrapers as part of the East Bank development, because the adjacent cultural offering won't pay for itself.

Which brings us to the unlocked gate I showed you in the first photograph. There's no clue whatsoever that this zigzag descent leads anywhere useful - no fingerpost, no sign of any kind - which suggests the that unlocking of this gate may not have been deliberately planned. But I passed several people on the path yesterday, including a family with a dog, a couple on hire bikes and a more serious pedaller, so word's already getting round.

Which, by my calculations, leaves just one exit from the Olympic Park still to be unlocked. That's at the southern end of the City Mill River where the path beneath the railway remains stubbornly blocked so fails to provide a useful connection to the Greenway. I last walked this path on my way home from the Paralympic Closing Ceremony, and I fear at least a decade will have passed before I ever get to walk it again. Expect another full-on Olympic Park Reconnection Blogpost when I finally do.

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