Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Post-industrial landscape in East London 1/3

According to Wikipedia, "the Northern Outfall Sewer is a major gravity sewer which runs from Wick Lane in Hackney to Beckton Sewage Works in East London; most of it was designed by Joseph Bazalgette after an outbreak of cholera in 1853 and 'The Big Stink' of 1858." Fortunately that is not apparent when you're standing on top of it, because it's part of our route for the day's cycling trip, eight and a half miles from Walthamstow to Beckton on the Thames estuary. Starting from Blackhorse Road, the way is flat and mainly traffic-free, passing through various places that were once post-industrial wasteland, now in their various ways reclaimed as leisure facilities. We already know the landscape as far as the Olympic site, but the idea today is to explore right up to the end of the line, the Thames at the far end of Royal Victoria Dock.

Things get off to a bad start with a flat tyre on one of the bikes, but that is soon mended and we start out on the familiar route down to the canal. Just ten minutes on the roads before we get down to the fortress-like waterworks on Coppermill Lane. Half a mile of un-climbable wire fence with a vehicle crash barrier behind it: with a couple of watchtowers and armed guards patrolling the perimeter it could easily pass for a Cold War concentration camp. Who knows what paranoic scenario prompted those defensive measures.

Across Leyton Marshes, a wide path lets you cycle side by side, although we're not very good at keeping pace. I keep getting ahead and stopping to wait for my companion to catch up, except for the times when I stop to take photographs while she disappears into the distance, unaware that I've stopped. The path takes you along a high embankment, with the horse riding school on one side and the marshes on the other, then twin tunnels under Lea Bridge Road. The tunnels flood sometimes, usually just a few inches of water, but occasionally a proper flood two metres deep. You can cycle through the smaller floods but it's easy to misjudge the depth, inevitably soaking one or both feet because you can't stop pedalling.

A twisting path from there leads to the bridge over the River Lea, once bright red but now faded to dusty pink. Giant hogweed grows on the river banks, maybe three metres tall and highly poisonous. You can get a nasty rash just by touching it, and no doubt one day it will be exterminated by the Lea Valley Regional Park Authority, but while it lasts it's rather spectacular, perhaps the biggest plant that grows wild in this country.

Part 2 tomorrow

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.