Monday, 28 December 2009

Docklands and Lee Valley

One of the presents I received for my birthday, just before Christmas, was Sustrans' new book Cycling in the UK (now being reprinted thanks to unprecedented demand, I see from the website!). It's an excellent book which gives directions for short sections of some of the UK's national routes (ranging from about 7 to 25 miles in length), along with info on refreshments, things to see, places to hire bikes from, what age/experience the routes are suitable for, how many hills they include, where the nearest train station is, and what routes they link into. There's a section on longer tours and challenge routes, as well as suggestions of the best industrial heritage routes, birdwatching routes, coastal routes and so on. (Incidentally I do take issue with their claim that the latter includes Dover to Folkestone - the worst section of the south coast's part of route 1 in my opinion and one that I would definitely bypass on a future trip!)

However that's all just a roundabout way of saying how lucky we are in Deptford to be close to so many great traffic-free cycle routes. I've written before about the Thames path down to Erith and beyond and the cycling around Surrey Docks. We are also at the start of the Waterlink Way and the Lee Valley route (scroll to the bottom of the page where you can download a free pdf of the route), both of which feature in the book. I've ridden the waterways of East London several times but today I went further north across Hackney and Walthamstow marshes, and into the Lee Valley. It's well worth a trip if you want pleasant, largely traffic-free day out - about 23 miles in total there and back, with plenty to look at and places to stop for coffee and cakes/a nice pint! Do be sure to take a map though, because some parts of the route are badly (if at all) signed.

From the north side of the foot tunnel I take the Thames path along the west side of the Isle of Dogs. It's a little patchy and there's a couple of annoying places where the path runs out unexpectedly, but it's well worth the effort to enjoy the views of the river and to pass the site of the Millwall Docks where Brunel's Great Eastern was built and launched.

Close to the top of the island you will pass an old pier which is usually a great spot for seeing some of our larger sea and wading birds. Today it was providing a resting place for about 20 assorted shags and cormorants, and three herons.

Once you have navigated through the Limehouse Basin to the Regent's Canal, the next few miles to Victoria Park are fairly simple and well-signed. You can either stick to the canal, although this can be busy, or follow the cycle route through Mile End Park, which is rather meandering but more picturesque.

At Victoria Park, turn right and follow the path along its southern border to the east end of the park, then dip back to the bank of the Hertford Union Canal (also known as Duckett's Cut) and follow it to its junction with the River Lee. Once you've crossed the bridge (and marvelled at the new Olympic Stadium, which is just over the fence next to the river) you can either head north up the Lee Valley for a longer ride, or south back towards the Limehouse Basin.

Today I headed north to explore Hackney and Walthamstow marshes along the Lee Navigation.

The route is fairly easy to follow although you need to pay attention at a couple of junctions and mind your head at the very low bridge (5ft headroom!) just before the Lee Valley Marina. There are free maps of some parts of the park that you can download from the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority website here.

I made it as far as Markfield Park before stopping for a cup of coffee and cake at the lovely new cafe right next to the shed which houses the restored beam engine.

Heading back down the Lee, go straight on at the junction with the Hertford Union Canal, continuing along the edge of the Olympic site. There's some great graffiti along this stretch, and the buildings are a mixture of decaying warehouses and modern apartments, spattered with some impressive industrial heritage and quirky bridges.

At Bow Bridge the riverside path evaporates and you have to cross the big roundabout at road level. Ignore all the cycle path signs and go straight across at the roundabout as if you are going towards the Blackwall Tunnel, then immediately turn left down a short dead-end road and it will bring you back to the river again.

Three Mills Island with its historical tidal mill sits at the junction of various waterways and rather incongruously opposite a large Tesco's supermarket.
Turn left across the bridge towards the mill and then right between the Lee Navigation and the River Lea, which emerges below the tidal mill as a proper river.

The path runs between the two for half a mile or so to Bow Locks, where you cross a very quirky concrete bridge and then follow the 'pontoon' footpath along the edge of the water into the Limehouse Cut. From here it's a straight run back to the Limehouse Basin.

If you are cycling this route on a weekend it can be very busy with walkers and other cyclists, so don't forget to give a couple of rings on your bell in good time if you are approaching people from behind. If they have to make a concerted effort to enable you to pass, for example if the path is very narrow, it's no effort to say thank you and I find this courtesy always leads to smiles and responses.

The only downside of this route is the need to deal with the idiosyncrasies of the lifts in the Greenwich Foot Tunnel. I was pleased to see they were both in operation as I set out, and was sure to check the closing time for my return journey. However no-one saw the need to put up a notice about the south lift being closed mid afternoon for servicing - very frustrating since I'd taken the opportunity to do a bit of shopping on the way back through Canary Wharf and so had to lug both the bike and the shopping up all the steps. Tsk!


Gareth Gardner said...

Fab photos and really interesting write-up! Must cycle this with you at some point.

Marmoset said...

He he, those lifts always get me on the way back. Because I live up 67 steps with no lift I always try to pick up a bit of shopping when I'm out and about. However, every time I pop into Asda on the way back, the Greenwich foot tunnel lifts are always closed. Tired legs, shopping, carrying the bike up another 100 steps is not what you want at the end of a ride.

DD, have you ever thought of uploading some of your photos onto ? There are almost no local cycling photos in the south-east - a fair few of them that do exist were put up by me. Its journey planner is also useful for planning routes up to 25 miles (or should that be kilometres?)- it incorporates cycle routes, gives you an elevation profile and offers a selection of routes - fastest, medium and pootling.

I think it would be great to build it up as a resource for local cyclists and the more you upload, the more useful it becomes.

Deptford dame said...

Thanks Marmoset, I will try and check that out at some stage - the site seems to be down for maintenance at the moment.

Marmoset said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Marmoset said...

Edit: I posted the wrong NCR number before. Here's an example of cyclestreets which seems to be working right now: as always with computer-driven maps, they make odd decisions, resist going the way you actually want to, but they're very useful for getting an idea of a route.

Note: it didn't like the foot tunnel when I started the journey from Deptford and forged a route via Tower Bridge so I started it up again from Island Gardens and sent it off to Waltham Abbey. The balanced and quietest routes mostly stick to NCR 1 apart from a very complicated detour just north of Victoria Park.

shipwrights palace said...

thanks for this post it made up for not venturing out ourselves. we stayed home and finished off the proposal to list the major features of the dockyard which has now been submitted to English Heritage. Every other Royal Dockyard has statutory protection, we see no reason why Deptford should be treated any differently. Though the structures are buried, they survive intact, many immediately below the modern concrete or tarmac surfaces.