• Best foot forward

    View from the Isle of Dogs looking across the Thames towards Greenwich

Arts and Culture

Best foot forward

A pioneering spirit of London walks has praised Ballymore for designing riverside developments that allow access to the Thames – as at New Providence Wharf in Poplar.

Co-founder of Footprints of London Rob Smith, who is running a series of guided walks as part of this month’s Totally Thames Festival said:

“Developers like Ballymore have done a pretty good job over the last few years because a lot of these sites were old industrial areas without any access to the river at all. At New Providence Wharf, for example, you can now walk along the river all the way from the old East India Dock right down to the tip of the Isle of Dogs.”

With 260 flats bordering on a riverside park, plus shops, a health spa and gym, New Providence Wharf has a depth and a substance few other Thames-side developments achieve. Stretching back 400m from the riverside on a 33,000 sq m site, it incorporates the 31-storey Ontario Tower, the Radisson Edwardian Hotel and the Providence Tower.

One of the most popular walks that Rob takes is Maritime Blackwall – Spice Traders and Ship Builders - an-hour long route starting at East India DLR station and heading off along the river towards New Providence Wharf.

“It’s where ships like the Cutty Sark brought valuable goods like tea, silk, Persian rugs and indigo from India and China – and you can still see the wall around the dock built to prevent pilfering”, said Rob.

“We start around the old walled area of the dock where a lot of streets still bear the exotic Chinese names, then onto the East India Dock basin, now a beautifully preserved nature reserve, part of Lea Valley Park.

The walk takes in Trinity Buoy Wharf where Trinity House repaired navigation buoys, and is now an arts centre. Walkers also visit the lighthouse where Michael Faraday once worked, and then onto Blackwall Yard, once the home of naval shipbuilding on the Thames

“It is depicted in a fantastic painting in the National Maritime museum”, explains Rob. “The whole area was one of the great attractions for Londoners in 1630s. People would take a boat trip up the river to see the great old dry dock and the huge tower which was erected to position the ships’ masts and stood out for miles in those days”.

Best foot forward

Three Mills, former working mills on the River Lea

The Virginia Colonists memorial is also sited here, marking the point where the first British settlers to America set sail in 1607. Some of the local streets – Jamestown and Newport - still bear their stateside names.

The route continues to Coldharbour and The Gun, now a gastro pub, and close to the house where Lord Nelson stayed in when the fleet was moored in the Thames.

Nearby is Robin Hood Gardens, the Le Corbusier-inspired council estate designed with “streets in the sky” by British architects Alison and Peter Smithson in the early 70s but now awaits demolition. Said Rob: “It’s an acquired taste, and not really my cup of tea. But it is very popular with architecture buffs and this walk sells out every week.”

Now thanks to the riverside park at New Providence Wharf, “you can carry on along a path all round the Isle of Dogs until you get to fantastic views of the Royal Naval College across the river at Greenwich, probably the best way to see London. And on the full bend, a great view of Sir Christopher Wren’s cemetery,” said Rob.

“It’s a very nice section of the river there overlooking the O2 tower”, said Rob, who set up Footprints of London ten years ago when he swapped smoky Friday nights down the pub for walking.

Footprints of London’s River Walks run throughout September

Click here to buy tickets for the walk towards New Providence Wharf

Also, visit here for more information about the Totally Thames Festival.


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