If you’re looking for a short walk in London, you can’t go far wrong by walking from Canary Wharf to Greenwich, through the Isle of Dogs. I was looking for somewhere to go with a friend and her mother who was down in London from Scotland, and chose this walk yesterday as we wanted somewhere away from the Bank Holiday crowds and thought that places like the Southbank would be mobbed.
The walk takes about 35 minutes, so we thought we would aim to get to Greenwich for lunch. Meeting up at Canary Wharf tube station, you first have to find your way across the South Dock towards South Quay. I always find Canary Wharf a bit disorienting; there are so many high-rise office blocks, it’s almost like a City in its own right.
But within minutes of leaving the bustling Canary Wharf you very soon find yourself alone and walking alongside Millwall Dock. The Dock was built in 1865 and is an L-shaped dock divided into the Inner and Outer Dock by the attractive Glengall bridge. Millwall Docks were best known for the grain trade, and housed the first purpose built granary for the Baltic grain market. The unique brick-built granary was 76 metres long, 30.5 metres wide and was designed to hold 24,000 tons of bulk grain. It had 11 floors for storage and inspection and a delivery floor and basement. The granary was divided into five compartments with vertical firewalls and had a 20,000 gallon (91,000 litre) water tank on the roof for fire fighting and windows for ventilation. Three pneumatic grain elevators were erected on platforms 15 metres away from the jetty. These could discharge directly into barges or to the granary.
In its heyday there would have been hundreds of dock workers and granary workers working in the area which would have been as busy and bustling as Canary Wharf now is, but yesterday in the sunshine it seemed a sleepy, pleasant, quiet area – a hidden gem that would easily qualify for the “Secret London” tag. There are a few Dutch barges turned into houseboats, and the majority of buildings lining the dock are being turned into flats that are probably being sold for prices that the original dockworkers could only dream of. The dock has one other claim to fame slightly different to its industrial heritage: it was used as the location for boat stunts in the 1999 James Bond film “The World Is Not Enough”!
The walk then runs along East Ferry Road towards Mudchute, past another hidden gem of Secret London – Mudchute City Farm. I’ve long been a fan of City Farms and used to visit Hackney City Farm quite regularly. Mudchute is charming; set in 32 acres of green space where you could be forgiven for thinking you were in the countryside, although the tower blocks of Canary Wharf are visible in the immediate distance.
If you can tear yourself away from the delights of Mudchute City Farm, the walk then goes past the more urban Millwall park and into Island Gardens.
At Island Gardens is the North entrance to the Greenwich foot tunnel, marked by a glazed dome that was damaged by bombs in the Second World War. Before going into the tunnel, there is time to pause and perhaps have a cup of tea from the Gardens café and to admire the view of Greenwich from across the Thames.
The Greenwich Foot Tunnel is an impressive feet of engineering in its own right. I love the tunnel, and am always amazed by how few of my friends who have lived in London for many years even know of its existence. The project to build the tunnel started in June 1899, with the tunnel opening to the public on 4 August 1902. It replaced an expensive and sometimes unreliable ferry service and was intended to allow workers living on the south side of the Thames to reach their workplaces in the London docks and shipyards then situated in or near the Isle of Dogs.
The tunnel is classed as a public highway and therefore by law is kept open 24 hours a day, and as much as I love it, I think it would be a bit spooky to go down there in the middle of the night. It would make a great location for a ghost story! The tunnels are accessible by spiral staircases and large lifts which are now self-operated; prior to recent renovations they used to be operated by a grumpy lift attendant who would make sure the ‘no cycling’ rule was strictly adhered to. With the demise of the lift operators and despite the signs everywhere stating ‘no cycling’ several cyclists decided to ignore this rule yesterday. Walking through the tunnel I always have a sense of awe that I’m actually walking under the Thames. Funnily enough I don’t have the same sense of awe when driving through the Blackwall Tunnel – maybe it’s something to do with being a much smaller space.
The South side of the tunnel brings you out right by the Cutty Sark and into the heart of Greenwich. As it was Good Friday, and a sunny one at that, the place was thronged with crowds all out enjoying the sunshine. We soon realised the schoolgirl error we had made as we hadn’t made a reservation for lunch and couldn’t get into any café / restaurant as they were all booked out for hours. But we managed to find a seat in the pub in Greenwich market, and eventually managed to get some lunch!
Returning to Canary Wharf at sunset provided a beautiful red sky with the city as a backdrop.
So, if you’re looking for a short walk that takes you back through time, with some fascinating industrial architecture and a City Farm thrown in, you can’t do much better than the Isle of Dogs. Just remember to book a restaurant for lunch in Greenwich if going on a Bank Holiday!