A walk along the Thames is one of the finest London has to offer. But that walk isn't always beside the Thames, thanks to residential, commercial and industrial intrusions along the riverbank. I've attempted to walk the north bank of the Thames from the Thames Barrier to Tower Bridge to see just how un-Thamesy the Thames Path is.
edge of London
YES Rainham Marshes → Ferry Lane (3.6km)
NO Ferry Lane → Barking Riverside (3.3km)
YES Barking Riverside (footpath 47) (900m)
NO Barking Riverside → Beckton Sewage Works (3.2km)
YES Royal Albert Wharf (400m)
NO Gallions Point Marina (200m)
YES Gallions Point → North Woolwich Pier (1.5km)
NO North Woolwich Pier → Thames Barrier Park (1.5km) Thames Barrier
YES Thames Barrier Park → Royal Wharf(800m)
Thames Barrier Park has provided landscaped access to the river since 2000, but the subsequent promenade is a fairly recent opening thanks to the super-dense Royal Wharf development. At present the path halts at the top of Royal Wharf Pier but should one day connect through to Lyle Park, at present a much more isolated affair.
NO Lyle Park → Bow Creek(1.3km)
One day the Thames Wharf development may replace industrial sprawl and waste disposal depots with hundreds of gleaming flats, but until then your best chance of enjoying this grimy shoreline is looking down from the Dangleway.
YES Trinity Buoy Wharf(100m)
NO Goodluck Hope(200m)
100 metres isn't really long enough to describe as a 'walk', especially when it's hidden up a dead end, but TBW is always worth a visit. The adjacent housing estate, currently under construction, might eventually open up a bit more waterfront but good luck hoping it'll all connect together.
YES East India Dock → Virginia Wharf(350m)
NO Blackwall Yard(160m)
This is a lovely stretch with lock gates, a Jamestown memorial and views of the Dome from a bend in the river. But all too swiftly it goes wrong, blocked by a car park and a communications centre, and to get back on track requires a half mile diversion.
YES New Providence Wharf(200m)
This luxury residential development owes much of its value to its riverside setting, and residents have been gifted a timbered boardwalk for smoothie-sipping and yoga. But the management have stuck up notices to remind non-residents that the Thames pathway is for "passive use" only, which means no cycling, no alcohol and even no photography, the stuck-up miseryguts.
NO Northumberland Wharf → Pierhead Lock(550m)
Tower Hamlets' recycling centre and waste transfer station requires containers to be swung off by crane, hence no pedestrians. Then beyond that housing gets in the way, most of it modern but with a few charming Georgian townhouses plus a weatherboarded pub. By the time you've diverted along the main road you've crossed onto the Isle of Dogs proper.
YES Isle of Dogs Pumping Station(100m)
NO 1 and 2 Folly Wall(20m)
YES Capstan Square → Island Gardens(1.7km)
Hurrah, at last a decent stretch of riverside walking. Every house and apartment block for the next mile is set back from the bank, all except numbers 1 and 2 Folly Wall, a pair of very ordinary-looking houses which just happen to have back gardens ending at the Thames. Whoever granted this brief suburban blockage planning permission, probably some time in the 1980s, can't have realised the Thames Path would one day be a thing. But the following mile is a joy, wiggling round beaches and jetties as Royal Greenwich gradually comes into view and peaks opposite Island Gardens. n.b. the riverside is currently blocked at New Union Wharf while new flats are built, but won't be forever.
NO Poplar Boat Club → Felstead Wharf(250m)
Step back for the rowing club, sandwiched between a "boutique development" (80% sold) and an older estate which gets to hog its own stretch of dead end riverfront.
YES St David's Square → Masthouse Terrace(1km)
NO Falcon Heliport → Arnhem Wharf(600m)
Burrells Wharf, where the SS Great Eastern was launched, was transformed into a private estate in the late 1980s. Its open riverside promenade makes for a decent long walk. A hidden heliport eventually breaks the chain, then three separate housing developments conspire to keep their Thamesside to themselves. Ten minutes spent bashing Westferry Road instead is no treat.
YES Arnhem Wharf → Narrow Street(1.6km)
This is a fine stroll up the western side of the Isle of Dogs, skirting Canary Wharf behind a skyscraper nobody yet has the money to build, then curving round into Limehouse. It feels like much more than a mile. If you haven't been keeping count, the good news is that 80% of the perimeter of the Isle of Dogs benefits from public access.
NO/YES/NO Narrow Street(300m/200m/200m)
Narrow Street's been here for ages, so the riverside was always for living on and trading from rather than a nice walk. Occasionally a public walkway has been gifted, either side of the exit from Limehouse Basin, but mainly we're doing street walking now.
YES Phoenix Wharf → King Edward Memorial Park(500m)
At last a breakout along a broad promenade past Atlantic Wharf and the brick ziggurat of Free Trade Wharf. Normally King Edward Memorial Park enjoys recreational waterfront, but that's been temporarily swallowed up by Thames Tideway Tunnel works. It'll look better later.
NO Shadwell Basin → Arnhem Wharf(50m)
YES Trafalgar Court(100m)
NO Prospect of Whitby → Wapping Pier Head(1km)
It gets bitty here, tediously, first an alleyway to skirt the exit from Shadwell Basin and then an unnecessary boardwalk behind Trafalgar Court. But that's still better, riverwise, than a long trek along the cobbles of Wapping Wall and Wapping High Street. Occasional stairs lead down to the water, but the lack of general access is a consequence of a neighbourhood whose origins go back centuries rather than decades.
YES Capital Wharf → St Katharine's Way(500m)
NO HMS President → St Katharine Docks(600m)
Here's a splash of luxury living as we approach the City, first a pristine promenade, then Hermitage Riverside Memorial Garden, then an easily missed boardwalk round the back of Tower Bridge Wharf. Again it doesn't last, the Thames Path having lost its identity somewhat since we left the Isle of Dogs.
YES St Katharine Docks → Tower Bridge(150m)
I'll stop here, as we finally reach London's lowest bridging point. Since leaving the Isle of Dogs only 40% of the Thames Path has been beside the Thames, which isn't great. But along the entire eight miles since the Thames Barrier it's the other way round, with 60% of the riverside accessible. That's good, but maybe not as good as you'd have hoped the Thames Path would be. Should you continue it gets much better, though, with a full 4km of Thames embankment to enjoy between the Tower of London and the Houses of Parliament. Pick your section carefully if you want to enjoy the best Thames Path experience.