Stage 7 of the London Spiral Walk was on Sunday 13th of March 2016, starting out at Canada Water in Rotherhithe, and finishing at Canada Square on the Isle of Dogs.
Rotherhithe (hithe from Old English meaning a landing place or quay; related ‘come hither’) was until the mid part of the last century, first a busy then an empty area of docks and quays, where goods from all over the north of the world – hence Greenland Dock, Finland Dock, Russian Dock, etc, the whole peninsula was dug out and flooded with docks – but these all fell away into disuse until in the present time there is no trade upon them and most are filled in. Indeed the Russian Dock is now a park, with mature trees in its middle; Greenland Dock is still used a little for boating, but mostly its water is empty.
Twenty years ago or so, the area was improving in terms of new housing, and now those houses are commanding a higher price, i.e. are desirable, and for good reason as the area is clean, pleasant, with good views and walks, near to the river, yet tucked away to itself. The buildings have low gardens and balconies and iron work and decorative elements, and all the things that make people wish to own a property.
The massive granite bulwarks of the quays provide structure to the modern low-rise apartments. The route begins at Canada Water tube, an expansive open entrance taking the passenger down to the East London Line, and deeper to the Jubilee Line. Built or rebuilt – or reimagined – when the Jubilee Line was extended, a project which took 10 years and seemed at the time to stretch interminably into an unreachable future, but that is now many years ago. We feel the same with Crossrail, High Speed 2, and HS3.
Some people don’t consider a walk a walk unless they climb a hill. Fortunately Stave Hill is here, created out of the subsoil of the place, which opens up marvelous views of the Docklands, the City and the Shard.
Down into the woods, an ecological park overseen by Rebeka Clark who works with school kids, minor offenders, urban gardeners, artists and bee keepers to improve this area. A hive can have as many as 80 thousand bees, and full of honey, can weigh 70 kg.
The spiral takes its growth from the crossing points of the Thames. At this place the Thames is quite wide, and the water can be choppy and exposed on a brisk day (as I know from canoeing). There’s a quick ferry from the Hilton at Rotherhithe to the other side of the Thames where the skyscrapers are, a short but spectacular journey.
Since the first buildings went up in the late 1980s, Canary Wharf has been constantly in a state of development and upwards expansion – the skyline does not stay put, but changes constantly with every new glance. I recall when the Cascade was the highest building for miles around, at least as far as the City, but now it is not even that high compared to its immediate neighbour.
There’s a mixture of what seems like public space (the roadway, the river side), private property, and an in-between state in which private buildings and the spaces between them – walkways, bridges and wharf-sides – are sectioned off by electric doors and opened up to the public to come through with permission, watched by CCTV and patrolled by guards. Shops and malls have always been privately owned whilst open to the public, at least the shopping or business public during business hours, but here at Canary Wharf, it’s not just the shopping mall that is controlled but the more general access to the roads, buildings, walkways and through routes.
Walking round Canary Wharf is like being a little in America, or Shanghai, or some other global trading zone, all windy canyons, big business and multi-national finance. The esperanto language of glass and steel reaching anonymously (it’s hard to stand out here) up to the sky.
There’s another residential transformation taking place in Canary Wharf. Glass, views, security are all provided. Trees, grass, tulips, are scarcer. Canary Wharf is a detour from the London Spiral, but a perambulation worth the distraction, as otherwise the path to the north, through densely populated, inundated Bow and East London is too low lying, too tightly packed, too run down – you need to see the extremes on both sides of the A13 to get a flavour of the area.
At the eastern end of the Wharf, we spy the Millennium Dome in all its curved beauty. We shall see this again after another loop round the London Spiral.