We’re back on the east side of London again. It exercises a curious pull for those of us who remember it as the badlands. But there’s not much urban grit left where we’re walking today along the northside of the Thames from the tower of London to Shadwell. On the plus side, it is pretty pleasant.
After a few false starts , popping up like ground hogs in the middle of the major roads, we eventually find the right exit from the underpass and set off through St Katherine’s dock. This was the first area of docklands to be developed in the 1970’s and we can remember how bleak, empty and decaying this area once was. I recalled having been attacked one night when I riskily walked alone along Cable Street. I was followed by a young man who cornered me with a broken bottle in his hand. Luckily he ran off when someone came out of a door, particularly lucky given how deserted the area was then. Now it’s a – perhaps the – model of urban regeneration: high class housing, interesting eateries packed with smart and wealthy looking young men and women, and pastiches galore such as the incongruous Elizabethan extravaganza, the Dickens Inn. All this surrounds a marina where the royal barge Gloriana and several elegant Thames barges are berthed.
We skirt Ivory house a reminder of the often dubious trades which made London rich and reach the Thames walkway where we are treated to the sight of house martins dipping down to collect mud from the riverside for the nests they’re building under the rooves and balconies of the luxury apartments. There’s a lovely view across the Thames to Rotherhithe and I fantasise about a pied a terre where I could give the house martins a helping hand and restore the sort of flocks which used to fill the summer skies. We’re going slowly at this early stage on the walk. Jacqueline has been at the anti-histemines and Ive had the usual alcoholic overdose at the book group the night before. And besides there’s a lot to catch up on. An election for one thing. So crowing over Theresa’s May’s encounter with harsh reality keeps us occupied for a mile while we dip to and fro between Wapping high street and the Thames path. And then there’s a wedding in Crete, Jacqueline’s third daughter, having married there the week before. And of course there’s a big decision to mull over: Jacqueline is now serious about selling her house and downsizing. We lean on the edge overlooking the Thames and start financial calculations.
Gradually however we speed up . After all we have our step app to consider. So far only 3800 each . We’re underperforming so to add steps we detour from the official Tower Hamlets map and go up Scandrett street into the Wapping conservation area which is definitely worth the visit. This is classic, new-old London mixing lovely restorations of Georgian houses and converted Victorian warehouses with the lingering traces of the east end’s old rough character. This is apparent not just from the impressive collection of nitrous oxide containers scattered on the street but also lots of original buildings and features like the old Wine Cellars in Wapping Lane with its charming gateway topped by a boar and barrels. And, as we stand admiring Raine’s charity school, an elegant old building designed by Hawksmoor, with its original statue of an industrious boy over the door, we are reminded that it’s not just the old buildings that remain but some of the characters. The manager of this now community centre, a real born and bred east ender, comes out to tell us about the building.
The area is crawling with pubs, most desperately trying to outdo each other with links to the area’s dodgy past. We have a drink of excellent organic lager in the Captain Kidd , and lunch in the Marquis of Rigby which boasts a view /landing stage where the pirates were dispatched for execution. One or two do actually retain vestiges of their old character and clientele like the Turks Head in Scandrett street , a building saved by the ‘wild women of Wapping’ in the 1980’s. But most of the people we encounter in the pubs are uncomfortably- for those of us who like to feel like adventurers- like ourselves. They are even clutching the same maps for the same walks. We struggle to give them a name: ‘silver steppers’ perhaps.
Lunch in the Marquis of Rigby is avocado on brioche and smoked salmon for me and cod goujons with chips for Jacqueline. It did the job but having passed interesting looking cafes like the Victualler, we commit to going more off-piste food wise in the future. This is not after all a wapping walk but a pretty modest one: we only just about reached our target 10000 steps. But it’s a good mix of old and new London .
Highpoints. Wapping conservation area, and a plethora of pirate themed pubs.
Exercise 10,000 steps.
Gastronomic experience: The pubs have good atmosphere but boring food. Better to seek out one of the new more trendy bars and eateries around Wapping station.