The Capital Ring – Beckton to Woolwich – Part Two


Dear Readers, we finish our oatmilk coffee and vegan chocolate brownie (for, in a mark of the gentrification of the area the only open cafe is rammed with people and plant-based), and off we trot. We are supposed to cross two locks and then meander along the edge of Gallion’s Reach. This was the site, in 1878, of the worst ever disaster on a British waterway – the SS Princess Alice, en route from Gravesend to London, collided with the collier Bywell Castle and sank just four minutes, with the loss of six hundred souls. Today, all is quiet.

The locks are closed and bolted and clearly not available for us to cross. Oh dear. We head in completely the wrong direction. There is a lot of new building here, and a radar tower. The tower is operated by the Port of London Authority and presumably monitors ships and boats coming and going up and down the Thames.

Radar tower

The side of the road here is alive with flowers, mainly buddleia and what looks like rape. A painted lady butterfly rushes past but doesn’t stop to be photographed.

When we get to yet another DLR station we realise that we will have to reverse our steps, and cross the dock on the Sir Steve Redgrave Bridge. And at this point my camera decides to misbehave and the viewfinder packs up, and so all the subsequent photographs are shot without me being able to see what I’m doing.

There is a grand view from the bridge, and at least the weather has lightened up a bit.

At the bottom of the bridge, we need to cross the road. But hang on a second…look who’s approaching the crossing!

The fox looks up and down the road and then sits down to wait….as you can see, the light has just gone red.

And then once the traffic has stopped the fox trots across the road…

Disappears behind a hoarding just a few metres away…

…and reappears further back along the bridge, before slipping into the undergrowth.

Well. We would never have seen that if the ‘correct’ path had been open. It just goes to show how serendipitous life can sometimes be.

And now we finally re-join the river and head down towards the Woolwich Foot Tunnel.

A family of Egyptian Geese seem perfectly at home on one of the slipways. They used to be rarely seen outside of private collections, but they seem to be expanding their range with great aplomb.

What handsome birds they are!

We see the exit to the foot tunnel taunting us on the other side of the river. It’s that red-brick circular building with the green top.

Some young mallards have settled down on another slipway.

We pass Royal Victoria Gardens, and I note that this Horse Chestnut is not doing quite as badly as some of the others I’ve seen. I wonder if some individual trees are gradually becoming more resistant to the onslaught of leaf miners and fungal problems. I do hope so – they are one of my favourite trees.

We see the car ferries idling on either side of the river, but they don’t go anywhere. This is not surprising as they don’t run at the weekend, so just as well we were planning to use the foot tunnel.

And then we finally get to the foot tunnel. Opened in 1912 it has 126 steps down, 101 steps up and is 495 metres long. At the top is a young man with a very large suitcase, who announces that the lift at this end isn’t working. He is considering his options.

The tunnel is a bit damp and I can’t help wondering if the River Thames is going to come bursting through, but all is well. In the middle of the tunnel you reach the lowest point of the Capital Ring, at 60 feet below sea level. Apologies for the joggly photo, but I’m sure you get the general idea. Although it says no cycling, we were passed by a chap on an electric bike, nonchalantly swooshing past. Further down the tunnel was a very large, athletic-looking dad running through the tunnel with a toddler in a push chair. I do wonder how both of them greeted the non-working lift at the other end, but both were moving too swiftly for me to warn them.

The whole thing looks rather Clockwork Orange-ish to me. It didn’t appear in that film, but it did appear in ’28 Weeks Later’, a 2007 film which is described as a ‘post-apocalyptic horror film’ starring Robert Carlyle and Rose Byrne. It doesn’t sound very cheerful, especially in the aftermath of Covid.


And then we’re in the air again, south of the river.

If we’d been doing the Capital Ring in the correct order this would have been the end of the walk, but because we started from home in East Finchley we’re only about a quarter of the way round, with some of the longer and hillier sections to come. I am really feeling the benefit of a weekly walk, though, and it’s so good to be rediscovering my city again. I’m looking forward to whatever comes next.

The Foot Tunnel Terminus on the south side.

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