diamond geezer

 Thursday, July 21, 2022

This week TfL have opened a new premier sightseeing attraction to rival the cablecar - the Barking Riverside Viewing Platform. [25 photos]

This amazing elevated viewpoint offers never-before-seen 360° views of East London and the Thames from almost 10 metres in the air. Previously tourists have only been able to glide across the wasteheaps of the Royal Docks in sponsored gondolas susceptible to heavy breezes, but now they can finally stand on a solid island platform and soak in the full glories of estuarine Barking and Dagenham. What's more it's fully weatherproof, cheaper to visit and much more easily reached from Gospel Oak, so what's not to love? Take to the sky and enjoy a truly unique experience.

The Barking Riverside Viewing Platform is a £327m project designed to create a raised structure in a remote area notoriously close to sea level. Previously there was nowhere to go if you wanted to overlook the former marshes downstream of Creekmouth, but this incredible infrastructure triumph provides a much-needed vantage point in the midst of a desolate post-industrial landscape. What's more it's not yet surrounded by any other buildings - flats, businesses or otherwise - so the line of sight to the horizon is often excellent.

The Barking Riverside Viewing Platform is situated in a transport desert to the south of the A13. Walking there is not advised and local parking is extremely limited, but a very frequent bus service runs 12 times an hour from Barking so getting there is really straight-forward. Just alight at either of the bus stops that aren't quite outside and aim for the giant slab of concrete and glass that cuts across the heart of Barking Riverside - you can't miss it. Then head for the austere notch carved through the foot of the viaduct and a group of smiling staff will ignore you unless you need a ticket, in which case you can buy one from the machines.

One day there may be shops here, even somewhere to buy a hot drink, but for now the Barking Riverside Viewing Platform is a refreshingly commercial-free attraction. Instead swipe through the barriers into the cavernous interior and prepare to make your ascent. A pair of lifts is available at the far end to whisk you directly up to viewing level, but far better to climb all 52 steps to help generate a better sense of self-achievement. Left stairs or right stairs it doesn't matter, the orange stairway to heaven works both ways.

The Barking Riverside Viewing Platform is now arrayed before you - a single paved expanse over 100 metres long and at least eight metres above ground level. What's more the architects have really planned ahead in preparation for all weather conditions, with one end shielded by a vast glass shell and the other end open to the elements. It's just like being at the top of the Shard but with less chance of vertigo and a much better view of the Bexley waste incinerator.

In a genius move the BRVP is subdivided into two separate vantage points labelled Platform 1 and Platform 2. First time visitors will naturally gravitate towards Platform 2 with its stunning view of a serpentine bend in the Thames. From the building site in the foreground to the landfill hills in the distance this is a panorama that truly delivers. Giant wind turbines whirl on both sides of the Thames, the liquid storage silos of Stolthaven Dagenham can be clearly seen and yes that really is the legendary shore of Thamesmead beyond a stripe of rippling grey. If you're particularly lucky a big ship might be passing by, otherwise you'll have to make to with an empty bus.

When you finally manage to tear your eyes away you'll discover that platform 1 offers an even more amazing panorama. The characterfully spiky structure directly in front of you is what remains of Barking Substation, once the powerhouse of East London and still a veritable cavalcade of transformers, cables and pylons. To the left you should catch Docklands, maybe even the Shard, and at the far end of River Road the actual Barking Flood Barrier. Shift further along the platform and off to the right are the distant towers of Ilford, even Stratford, but alas the City skyline remains hidden because someone thoughtlessly built an estate of flats in the way.

It would be too distracting to have both platforms clear at the same time, so TfL have cleverly arranged for four orange carriages to block off most of each view for 15 minutes at a time. They alternate, first occupying platform 1 and then platform 2, affording visitors sight of either central London or the downstream Thames but not both. A genuine sense of expectation builds up as each departure time approaches, after which those who choose to remain on the platform are suddenly rewarded with a fresh panorama. Be sure to prolong your visit beyond quarter of an hour otherwise you're only getting the half of it.

What's more these orange carriages double up as an additional sightseeing attraction, carrying passengers along a mile-long viaduct with exceptional viewing possibilities. Take a seat in the refreshing air-conditioned interior and you'll be whisked gently northwards along elevated tracks allowing you to look down on additional acres of post-industrial wonderland. Soak in the grey boxes of the outlying power station, a secondary school and its astroturf sports ground, various marshy soakaways and the future slums of a strikingly modern housing estate. Large carriage windows maximise viewing opportunities, although you may have to twist your neck because the seats sadly all face the wrong way.

The sightseeing train returns to ground level at Renwick Road and then continues all the way to Barking. Here you might choose to go home, but far better to take the next train back to the riverside and enjoy the full length of the viaduct for a second time. Perhaps you'll spot the playground you missed on the way out, or catch the cheeky silhouette of the Gherkin and Cheesegrater as they finally emerge from the shadows. And don't be in a hurry to descend back to ground level, make sure you've spotted every last visual treat the Barking Riverside Viewing Platform affords. I think I spotted 50 pylons in total from this unique vantage point - maybe you can do better.

The Barking Riverside Viewing Platform is open daily from 5.30am to midnight, and just imagine how amazing the sparkling lights on all the cranes will look after dark. But it's during the daytime that this multi-million pound structure offers the optimum conditions for a truly astonishing and entirely isolated day out. Come soon before they build thousands of flats right up close and wreck the entire point of visiting.

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