With the excuse of seeing friends, we headed to London for the weekend. We managed successfully again to negotiate getting into and crossing London with a pushchair overflowing with travel cots and weekend bag, although we did cheat and take a taxi for the last bit as Roo had lost patience with public transport by then. Unfortunately we hit rush hour and it probably would have been quicker and more interesting for us to have gone by bus and foot but never mind! It meant at least I have some transport pictures to add to the 10 tips for travelling in London with a pushchair post which I completely managed to forget to do last time!
With a whole Saturday to fill, and National Trails currently on the brain (see last weekend’s post on our outing on the Ridgeway), our walking shoes took us east along the Thames to Woolwich and the start of the Thames Path.
Having missed out on taking Roo on a boat trip on my last visit to London, my husband fancied taking the ferry to the start of our outing so we hopped on the Thames Clipper at London Bridge and travelled 30 minutes down river to Royal Arsenal Woolwich Pier, taking in London by water along the way, highlights of which included going under Tower Bridge and through the Thames Barrier. This is a great way to travel if you have kids (or big kids aka the husband) and is fully accessible with a pushchair.
From Woolwich we joined the Thames Path extension route heading west towards the Thames Barrier. It’s an interesting stretch of the river and feels a million miles away from touristy, hustling, bustling central London – more industrial sea port than urban river, with the salt air to prove it.
After around 25 minutes we arrived at the Thames Barrier – a huge, imposing piece of engineering stretching across the Thames to the north bank and housing ten steel gates which can be raised to prevent flooding from tidal surges. Having dragged my husband away and attempted to persuade him not to go back to university to become an engineer, we headed for the tunnel going past the Thames Barrier which marks the start of the Thames Path National Trail. It’s a rather grimy start to a magnificent 294km of riverside walking which ends up near the Cotswolds and takes in the bright lights of central London and miles of beautiful and tranquil rural rambling along its route.
We have walked quite a lot of the Thames Path, living close by to its central stretch and I’ve walked other parts of the London stretch too but never the very start (or end – depending which way you are going). We took the obligatory photo and set-off. The tunnel provided further interest as along its otherwise grey and grimy walls, it has a model of the Thames from source to sea, marking the different significant settlements and sections along the route. I’m ashamed to say we were overly excited when we found our home-stretch of Cookham, Marlow, Reading and Henley-on-Thames!
The walk continued on to the Millennium Dome where we took a brief detour inside. Built to mark the Year 2000, its white domed walls have seen a lot of controversy during its construction and subsequent post-2000 phase. Whilst it is architecturally interesting, personally I think its white canopy is looking pretty grubby these days and they could have designed something more pleasing to the eye for the money. I found the fact its 12 support towers reflect a clockface and the 12 months of the year and that its diameter is 365 meters – one for each day of the year. Both are symbolic of its location close to the heart of Greenwich and the Greenwich Meridian Line.
The Dome is massive compared to the way it looks on the outside and has a huge complex of restaurants, a cinema, museum and all sorts of other bits as well as the O2 arena – now its principal attraction. You can also climb over the roof, which looked pretty much like climbing on a giant trampoline from below!
Rejoining the Thames Path we continued down to Greenwich. The walk was quite dull here as it follows a diversion along the main road – not ideal. I’d definitely recommend the walk from the Thames Barrier to Millennium Dome though for a pleasant and interesting wander along a lesser known stretch of the Thames.Greenwich itself is a bustling centre with lots of shops, food and of course the Cutty Sark and Maritime Museum and grand Old Royal Naval College buildings.
We headed for Greenwich Market – completely packed at lunchtime on a Saturday but well worth the squeeze when we emerged with hot tubs of steaming and delicious Thai food. From veggie delights, chinese, steak burgers or cakes – you name it, they cook it there!
Greenwich Park called and we bagged a spot on the grass behind the National Maritime Museum for a quick picnic and a spot of sunbathing. Incidentally, the Maritime Museum is well worth a visit and best of all – the main bit of the museum is free with lots of interactive exhibits charting Britain’s enduring relationship with boats and the maritime industry! There are also good baby changing facilities in the toilets in the museum and a cafe.
Unfortunately, just as we were setting up the hill to admire the views across London by the Royal Observatory (the home of Greenwich Mean Time and another great visit for older children), the heavens opened! When it started to hail too we decided to call it a day and headed for the Cutty Sark and Greenwich Pier with our now pretty tired toddler, where we caught the boat back to London Bridge. It was a lot busier this time, which I suspect from the hastily thrown on pacamacs and soggy clothes, may have had something to do with the change in weather….
One tired and hungry baby was wheeled back to our accommodation, with a bit of sight-seeing on the way, then bathed and put to bed. After all that walking, it wasn’t so much longer before the adults followed!