This was a richly fulfilling walk on all levels mixing pockets of London’s oldest preserved areas with vistas of London’s newest constructions and highlighting Deptford High street where the London of the 1950’s meets the hipster overspill from Shoreditch.
The walk starts at Canada Walk and heads along the Thames at Rotherhithe . We ake a bit of time to get going because first of all the futuristic landscape of Canada Wharf gives plenty of opportunity for us to ‘vent’ about the state of London’s modern architecture . Who for example was responsible for allowing the dystopian shopping zone next to Canada Water station? More prosaically we also lament the lack of ‘follow through’ on the conservation effort; why hadn’t the birdlife rescue rafts in Greenland dock been furnished with plants?
But credit where credit is due: the library at Canada Wharf was deemed daring, if unusual, vaguely reminding us of a sober echo of Gehry’s building on the MIT campus in Boston. The huge boats in Greenland dock looked lovingly cared for. And despite the lack of vegetation on the rafts, we saw great crested grebes diving about in the dock.
Once under way, the walk took us along the Thames shoreline at Rotherhithe , a walk steeped in London’s maritime history: at one point there was a plaque to where Francis Drake’s Golden Hind rested in dock, at another there were the steps where the original ‘mudlarks’, children who scavenged the Thames tideline in the nineteenth century , descended to the muddy beach. We walked through Pepys Park and were impressed by the work of volunteers maintaining a precious area of scrubland and especially their efforts to attract butterflies.
This walk passed pockets of old London on the south side of the Thames where we were walking and provided vistas of the new across the river. At Deptford high street, the two converged, in parts it still looks and feels a bit like London in the 1950’s with hardware shops , and little general stores. In the fifties these were groceries, now ethnic convenience stores but essentially serving the same function. In parts though, Deptford High street is being sympathetically restored and with so much gorgeous early Victorian architecture, its clear that as always the hipsters have found the next hot new place.
As always, our walk involved a gastronomic element but can we really call the quintessential Deptford experience of pie and mash, a gastronomic experience? Probably not. Especially when said pie is doused in a curious green speckled ooze known as liquor. This is a disappointment because we are very much in the mood to be enchanted by this traditional fare and the lovely lady who serves it is straight out of Ealing studios. The setting is fine too. Authentic rather than retro with marble topped tables and banquettes . It’s a real time travel moment back to the fifties when London was drab, food was drab and outfits were drab, and the only stylish thing is sight was the gold lettering on the door.
But we can’t avoid the fact that the food revolution when it came was long overdue. When we enquired what the meat was (it was genuinely hard to tell) the charming lady explained it was beef but ‘come out pink like that from the way it was cooked’, namely bunged in raw and unadorned in the suet pastry. But let’s try to positive. The mash was excellent and plentiful, the suet pastry good in parts, and there were plenty of people there tucking in with relish in this valued local institution. And at £3.40 for pie, mash and liquor no-one is going to complain about the price.
We used London’s Hidden Walks for this walk and weren’t the only ones. Other ‘freedom passers’ clutching the same book and on a very similar trajectory to ourselves kept crossing our path. But instead of ending at Deptford High Street we walked on to Greenwich . There we gawped at the impressive restoration of the Cutty Sark, and took in the glorious view from the river up towards Greenwich palace. But whose idea was it to hard landscape the new development on the edge of Greenwich with depressing grey machine-tooled paving?
So, having explored another unknown corner of London it was time to gather strength for the scarily futuristic journey home via Canary Wharf (Tube from Greenwich station) We fortified ourselves for this at the end of our walk with a glass of excellent South African Chenin Blanc at a table overlooking the river in the Trafalgar Tavern in Greenwich. Indeed it was so pleasant we sat there for over an hour watching the tide come in and the boats passing slowly and and noted this attractive pub as worth a return visit..