Dear Readers, what a long and varied walk this was (well, 5 miles in total but we are a little bit out of shape). We started in Hackney Wick which, as we mentioned last week, has turned into a trendy and desirable area, something my grandmother would have found astonishing – she and her family couldn’t wait to get out of the area, and I think she’d pass out at the housing prices now.
She’d also have been rather surprised, as was I, to find out that there’s a bar where you can practice your axe-throwing. Just the thing after a hard day in the office I imagine.
But look at this view across the Lee Navigation. It’s almost bucolic.
The south and east of London have always been the areas where the noxious, smelly industries were situated, and around here was no exception. Carpenters Road was home to maggot breeding, glue-making and fish preparation of all kinds. When I was a child, the air on a hot day was as thick as soup with the most awful smell, which seemed to linger on my clothes and in my hair. Not any more, clearly, although smells will be something of a theme on this walk, as we will see.
The stadium in the centre was the main Olympic Stadium for the 2012 games, but is now home to West Ham United (The Hammers!!), my local football team when I was growing up. It was called The Hammers because it was originally the Thames Ironworks team, back in the days when there was shipbuilding on the docks. It used to be housed in a little stadium in Upton Park (not far from where I went to school) but these days it plays at this splendid new place. I wonder if the atmosphere is the same? Let me know, Hammers supporters!
As usual we’ve only gone for about a quarter of a mile when we decide that we need a coffee, so back over the Lee Navigation we go. We pass this rather impressive converted warehouse…
And find a coffee in another converted warehouse. I rather like the image of Joanna Lumley as Patsy from Absolutely Fabulous.
There are lots and lots of new apartment blocks in Stratford these days. Who knew that it would become so desirable? When I visit it feels as if my memories have been built over and replaced. It’s hard to get my bearings.
And then, fortified with caffeine, we’re off again. We pass a converted lifeboat module…
and we pass H. Forman and Sons, apparently the world’s oldest producer of Scottish smoked salmon, and painted in salmon pink just to make the point. The building contains what looks to be a rather swanky restaurant.
Now we come to some locks, where the Lee Navigation joins the River Lea again.
The Roman Road from London to Colchester used to cross the River Lea hereabouts (the area is still known as ‘Old Ford’ but according to my Capital Ring guide, the wife of Henry I, Queen Maud, was accidentally and unceremoniously dumped into the river here, and so demanded that a new crossing be built at Stratford High Street.
There is a rather sad ‘waterbus’ sign – a waterbus ran during the Olympics to ferry visitors to the site, but this was discontinued a while back. What a shame, I do like a good waterbus (though it would be cheating today).
And then we leave the Lee/Lea and head onto the Greenway, which will be our companion for the next few miles.
The Greenway follows the route of the Northern Outfall Sewage Embankment, or NOSE – this is some engineer’s idea of a joke, I’m sure, as there is often a whiff of sewage as you pass some of the inspection hatches. The nine-inch pipes of the NOSE carry over 100 million gallons of sewage a day, the largest outflow in Britain. Let’s hope that it goes where it’s supposed to, rather than ending up in the rivers and on the beaches of the Thames Estuary and beyond. First, though, the Greenway gives us a fine look at the Stadium.
Then, there’s a fine photo opportunity next to the Arcelor Mittal Orbit, with its viewing platform and helter skelter. And no, I’m not tempted to go whizzing down it.
The Olympic Park itself was planted to a Piet Oudolf design – I’m adding a walk around the park itself to my list of places to revisit, just to see how it’s doing. As it stands, I’m seeing lots of traveller’s joy along the path.
And this elder cultivar seems to be pretty much everywhere – does anyone know what it is?
Then we trundle along the road for a bit, passing Pudding Mill DLR station. Why on earth is it called Pudding Mill? Well, it’s on Pudding Mill Lane, but that was apparently named after St Thomas’s Mill, which stood on the site and was shaped like a pudding.
The area was also known as Knob Hill, but it seems that this was passed over in favour of the pudding simile, for obvious reasons.
Then, we come to Stratford High Street. I remember when we were coming back to Stratford on the 25 bus from a trip ‘up town’ we’d pass the smaller of these buildings – it had a tilework picture of people gathering lavender, and was something of a local landmark. This was the Yardley HQ and box-making site, built in 1937 – note those lovely windows! The actual soap factory was built in 1905 on, you guessed it, Carpenter’s Road; it’s worth remembering that soap making produces some very unpleasant smells, and they no doubt added to the general miasma heading in the direction of chez Bugwoman. It’s nice to see that the lavender gatherers are still there, though.
Then we cross Stratford High Street (as commanded by Queen Maud) and we’re back on the broad path of the Greenway (cyclists to the left, walkers to the right, in theory at least). The Greenway was widened to give something of a processional feel in the direction of the Olympic Park, and there are still some very surprising views en route. What, for example, is this thing?
Well, it’s a landmark to signify the regeneration of Stratford, apparently, and it looks pretty splendid at night if this photo can be believed. The Strand East development will include homes, restaurants, offices and a 350-bed hotel. My grandmother would be astonished. The area used to be known as ‘Sugar House Lane’ after a sugar refinery that stood here from 1843, before most refining moved to the Tate and Lyle refinery further east in Silvertown.
I am really surprised to find some clumps of lucerne growing beside the path – this is a plant that seems to pop up in the most unusual places. A bee was thoroughly enjoying it.
And then, as we round a corner, we spot a most extraordinary building. What could it be? Let’s find out tomorrow.