Saturday, 15 August 2009

Thames cycle path; Erith and beyond

Another favourite cycle ride of mine is the Thames footpath/cycle path in any direction from Deptford. We are lucky to be able to access the north side easily through the foot tunnel at Greenwich (although be warned, this is going to be out of action from next month for a total of 18 months!) and so we can go east or west on either the north or south banks. Each route is very different, and my personal favourite, for all its industrial grime, is the route eastwards from Deptford to Erith and beyond.

One of the things I like the most about this route is that it offers more than 10 miles of riverside cycle route with only a few very short detours or crossings of roads. It is ideal for nervous/beginner cyclists and a great route if you want to chill out without motor vehicles. And at this time of the year, a fantastic place to go for hedgerow fruits!

After leaving Greenwich behind, there's the long quiet stretch around the peninsula, followed by the even quieter path leading to the Thames Barrier. Although it's not very bike friendly (ie lots of steps) it's worth a stop at the cafe for a cheap toastie and cup of tea, and a great view of the barrier itself.

After a very short stretch of road, cut back through the new housing to the river again, and you will find more quiet footpaths and slightly shabby urban landscaping before the Woolwich Ferry hoves into view.

Here you have to cross the ferry approach road (traffic usually at a standstill) and cut round the back of the leisure centre to the ambitious but badly-maintained landscaping on Woolwich waterfront. It always amazes me that the Greenwich Council is so lax about looking after this sward of public space - especially given that it's right on the doorstep of the council's home! But I'm sure many of my readers will respond that nothing about Greenwich Council amazes them any more...

A little further on at Woolwich Arsenal you will pass this group of chaps - Assembly, by sculptor Peter Burke - at a point where you can either detour inland to the Firepower museum or just have a mooch round the site and check out some of the impressive old buildings.

From this point on, it's basically river-front apartments interspersed with overgrown wasteland and older housing stock for the next few miles. The path changes from concrete to gravel and back again several times, and it's here that you start to get the best hedgerow fruits.

Plenty of blackberries, lots of elderberries (but you'd best be quick) and if you get beyond Crossness and its shiny neighbour, the soaring Abbey Wood Pumping Station, you will even hit a rich vein of sloes! (Right next to the golf practice range).

If your legs start getting tired, there are plenty of routes leading off the riverside track towards rail stations at Abbey Wood, Plumstead, Belvedere, Erith and even Dartford - so you can jump on a train straight back to Deptford if you like. Or just do what I did and turn around - it's always shorter on the way back and fascinating to see the route from the other direction!


Marmoset said...

I know this route, Thames barrier café included - I always ready for a cup of tea when I reach there on the on the way back. It's great for the sheer sense of space that you get from cycling alongside the river. And though I'll occasionally go out of my way to climb a hill simply for masochistic exercise, I love this route for its almost complete absence of hills.

Pongs a bit round Crossness though!

(Incidentally, the Crossness engines are being fired up on Sunday 23 August: apparently it's the last time for this year. There's actually a bunch of cyclists going down there from Mile End, but I guess you could tag along with them from Woolwich where they'll be crossing the river at around 2:10pm.)

These are their details:

Easy RIDE: Crossness Pumping Station Ride
Afternoon ride along the Thames to Crossness Pumping Station - a wonder of Victorian engineering. Last chance this year to see the steam engines in action.
Meet 12.45 to depart promptly at 1.00pm from the top of the Green Bridge, Mile End Park [map].
Picnickers' pickup point: 1.50 pm prompt on the North Woolwich Road outside the Thames Barrier Park, by Pontoon Dock DLR station.
Total distance: 20 miles, planning to be fairly fast on the outward leg via the Woolwich Tunnel, followed by a more leisurely pace coming back. Home by 7, unless there's a consensus to stop for sunset drinks on the way.
Contact Neville 020... or at work on 020 7510 0540 (about 10am-7pm). Sorry, no mobile!

Minnie said...

Thank you for the trip down memory lane, DD. Haven't visited that stretch of the Thames since working on vid for Thames Barrier Visitors' Centre in ... ages ago ;-). I enjoyed all the details and pix. Could have done with your advice at the time!