Since 1984, the Thames Barrier, acclaimed by some as the 8th wonder of the world, is a system of barrier gates that ‘prevents the floodplain of most of Greater London from being flooded by exceptionally high tides and storm surges moving up from the North Sea. When needed, it is closed (raised) during high tide; at low tide it can be opened to restore the river's flow towards the sea.’
It’s a pretty impressive sight. We viewed the gates close up … shiny, high-tech and futuristic looking. We noted that a test closure was planned towards the end of September and wondered if we’d be back in London in time to see it.
Our goal this first day was to walk 9 miles from the Thames Barrier to the Tower Bridge. The packs seemed heavier than we remembered (must be those extra few things I threw in at the last minute), but manageable. The first miles after the Barrier were through industrial areas … shipyards, factories, warehouses, a massive recycling facility … acrid, plastic-burning, chemical, foul-smelling odors and not very pretty ... you get the picture.
There’s lots of construction in progress and ‘Thames Path Diversion’ was the sign of the day … detours inland from the path that added significantly to the length of the day’s walk. We were in dire need of a cup of coffee after a couple hours of walking, but found no cafes along our route for the first few miles. Nor could we find, by the way, a Barclays ATM though Barclays is purported to be one of England’s largest banks. Coffee-less and cashless, we trudged on.
Despite the less-than-picturesque surroundings, the day was sunny, bright and mild … perfect for walking. As soon as we left the industrial area, things started looking up. We’d spot a statue or street art that caught our attention and stop to admire it. The milepost that stands on the Greenwich meridian, for example, where east meets west!
In Greenwich, we finally found coffee at a cafe at the Old Royal Naval College. What an awesome place the College is … architect Sir Christopher Wren’s riverside masterpiece and a UN World Heritage site. It’s also now the home of the University of Greenwich. There’s much to see here, but we’re on a mission and we moved on.
The Thames riverside here seemed an unlikely place for organic gardens, but Surrey Dock Farms just appeared on our path, along with its bronze farm animal menagerie. We paused for a welcome break and a pub lunch at the Salt Quay and then continued on our way.
Feet sore and backs aching, the Tower Bridge finally came into sight. After properly acknowledging the beauty and majesty of the bridge, we headed to our hotel which was blessedly close by. A quick stop at the local Tesco Metro (neighborhood supermarket) for wine, crackers and cheese … read that ‘dinner’ … we checked into the hotel, rested our dogs and regaled ourselves with thoughts of the day. Total miles walked for the day: 13.94 although only 9 miles counts towards the walk. Lots of path diversions and a mile from the hotel to the path, a 1/2 mile to the hotel at the Tower Bridge, plus various little side trips. The miles add up.
There’s so much to see here, but we’ve decided our first priority is to complete the walk and then we’ll return to London and be tourists.
A note at the end of our first full day in England:
*The ‘contactless payment’ option is working like a charm. Any charge of £30 or less is just a ‘tap’ on the payment scanner and away you go … receipt optional. Otherwise, they can insert the chip or slide the card. Thank goodness, because we still haven't found a Barclay's ATM for cash!
*Our Uber ride ended up being significantly more than was originally quoted which was quite disappointing. We complained and Uber replied within hours that the driver had opted for a longer distance/shorter drive time and thus the discrepancy in price. We replied that we weren’t given the option and would have preferred the lower price. We received a credit for the difference in less than an hour. Awesome ... AND we'll use Uber again.