London's finest meander is a double bend on Bow Creek with two interlocking tongues of land. The western protrusion is in Newham, the eastern protrusion is in Tower Hamlets, and every so often I head down and blog about what's there.
2006: This ecology park with the DLR down the middle is quite something. 2009: I see Pura Foods factory has been demolished in readiness for redevelopment. 2013: City Island's 1700 flats are now for sale in the Far East. But who'd live here? 2014: A footbridge has appeared to link City Island to Canning Town station. 2016: The red bridge has opened, as have the first stacks of brightly-coloured flats. 2019: City Island is nearing completion and the English National Ballet are here. 2021: City Island looks finished. Shame it's so difficult to get to.
City Island is a really odd place to live. It's not an island because developers are often liars, neither is it "London's Most Connected Location" because developers are often contradictory liars. But it has attracted thousands of residents to an isolated multi-coloured highrise enclave surrounded on three sides either by water or, at low tide, by mud.
Skew towers in single shades surround one grassy piazza and one paved piazza, with a chunky ballet rehearsal space plonked artily in the centre. Much of the island's interior, where those on foot are encouraged to remain, is heavily shadowed for most of the day. The perimeter has more light and proper river views but also doubles as a service road so you have to keep dodging cars, Ubers and delivery drivers bringing packages and provisions. Some of the waterside gardens are fenced off because they get too close to the creek. It's not a bad looking place all told, but it did look better in the brochure.
Initially the only resources residents had were the gym/pool complex everyone pays extra for and an excuse for a convenience store stocked with a few over-priced artisan staples. A small Sainsbury's Local arrived last year, saving Islanders a long hike for proper groceries, which has allowed the former shop to morph into an upmarket deli and Ritz-cheffed eaterie with in-house florist. It also serves coffee, as do two additional independent cafes which have sprung up on either side of Hopewell Square. Elsewhere City Island boasts two art galleries, a luxury chocolatisserie that only opens at weekends and, coming soon, the Wok'n'Grill takeaway and Soda & Friends cocktail bar. Forget high streets and parades of shops, all this isolated millennial outpost requires is a choice of places to buy premium food and premium drinks, and everything else can come in by van.
Until very recently a security booth oversaw the sole landward exit to the south but that's now vanished. For those with cars the only way to drive out is under the Lower Lea Crossing and up to the Aspen Way Roundabout, with pedestrian access very much an afterthought. Those on foot can also aim for the East India Dock or head down to Trinity Buoy Wharf, itself currently being swallowed by a swarm of emergent Ballymore towers. TfL kindly extended route D3 to terminate under the flyover in 2017 (at a rare 'Bus Stop I', it turns out) but basically anyone intending to get out faces an extra slog to connect anywhere.
For most everyday trips the only sensible way off City Island is via the big red footbridge across the creek to Canning Town station. This rotunda entrance was built in 1999, very much looking to the future, but wasn't opened to the public until 2016. This requires descending a spiral staircase with all the charm of a sturdy fire exit or taking the lift, the latter seemingly the preferred choice of the core demographic. If you want a train then the ticket hall's immediately on your right, but if you want anywhere else (like the bus station or the new Morrisons) then yet another lift/escalator/staircase back up is required. Escaping from City Island is a right faff.
There ought to be another way out which doesn't require donning a face covering and delving into the bowels of a tube station, and there nearly is but it's hideously inefficient. The creekside's lamplit promenade looks promising, as if it was specifically designed to go somewhere 20 years ago, but as yet it doesn't. Off to the right the way is blocked by a Crossrail building site, now pretty much vacated but not yet transformed into the 1200 homes that'll deliver a welcome wodge of cash to TfL's bottom line. Come back in five years and there might be a way through. So the only remaining alternative is to walk left, and it's a bloody long way round.
It shouldn't take long because a footbridge exists across the DLR. This ramps up gently, zigzags across the railway line which divides the peninsula in two and then descends towards civilisation on the other side. You could be out on the A13 in a couple of minutes. Alas the footbridge is securely locked at an internal gate, as it has been for at least the last ten years, so you can only get partway up the ramp before going no further. I've always wondered why such a useful link would be permanently sealed off, and only recently have TfL added a passive aggressive notice to help explain.
The London Docklands Development Corporation built this bridge, it says, suggesting TfL would never have done something so stupid. But it's theirs now so they've shut it for 'safety reasons' which remain unspecified. It can't be nefarious track access because this is a caged footbridge. It could be to prevent vandals chucking things between the bars, but that'd be ridiculous because there are numerous other bridges across the DLR network where aerial bombardment would be entirely possible. Whatever the reason it seems a perfectly practical pre-planned pedestrian route has been deliberately blocked and the only alternative is to carry on walking towards "the underpass within the Bow Creek Ecology Park".
In good news it's a really nice walk. The nature reserve follows a thin green strip on either side of the embankment blessed with copious trees, creekside views and a boardwalk edged around a reedy pool. You'll likely have seen it from the DLR, especially if you were sitting at the front as the train crossed the Lea. What's awkward is the length of the diversion - quarter of a mile down and quarter of a mile back - which is far better for an ecological dawdle than a regular commute. The ecology park is also one of only two places in London where I've ever thought "oh bugger, I'm about to be mugged"... which thankfully didn't happen but I'm always a little on edge walking round this isolated unbroken path.
A double-meandering creek is never going to be a simple environment to negotiate. The addition of that red footbridge was the gamechanger which helped deliver a residential quarter on 'City Island', but it remains one of Inner London's most intentionally detached neighbourhoods. Imagine living somewhere whose most rational exit point involved trekking through a tube station via numerous lifts/stairs or risking an unlit half mile of sinuous nature reserve. Perhaps it's no wonder that the residents of City Island have their own bespoke refreshment opportunities close at hand, and to be fair they looked happy enough in their highrise tidal prison.