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This is it! I've given up work -retired from the rat race and am about to start on a 10 year adventure, doing all those things I've been meaning to do but never had the time to do them. I've offloaded my responsibilities and it is now my time. So follow my adventures and see whether I actually manage anything!

Saturday, 3 April 2021

Woolwich to Crossness

 I started today's walk a couple of miles downstream from the Thames Barrier. Luckily, I managed to find a place to park close to the river here.

 This is looking back towards Woolwich. It started to rain as soon as I left the car but undeterred I put on the waterproofs and carried on.

I have indicated where I am walking today. As you can see from this map there are a few bends in the river for me to follow.

Had it not been raining this would have been a pleasant stop to watch the river flowing past.
The gates take me on to a gravel rather than a paved pathway.
On the left you could walk through some scrubland down to the water's edge.

On the right hand side were steps leading up to Gallions Reach park created in 2017 from land left vacant by the former Royal Arsenal. 
800 new trees were planted in and around man made mounds. It's still looking a bit sparse but once the trees have matured it will be an attractive green space.

Every now and the then along this stretch I have seen the remains of piers that would have been built to service the Royal Arsenal. In this photo you can see a difference by the river's edge with more vegetation and marshland.

A navigation light at Tripcock Ness. It was established in 1902 and at 30ft high the light can be seen from 8 miles away.  We are eleven miles from London Bridge here and vessels going past this point must contact Thames Barrier control. It is also the site of the greatest loss of life the river has ever known. The Princess Alice was a pleasure cruiser that collided with the Bywell Castle, a bulk cargo ship for carrying coal to warships. It was the 3rd of September 1878 that The Princess Alice was on her way upstream returning day trippers from an outing to Sheerness. They stopped at Gravesend and took on more passengers. It was reported that there were too many people on board and there was no passenger list so the exact numbers will never be known. It is estimated that between 650 and 700 people lost their lives that day.

This is a waymarker for the National Cycle Network. One thousand of them were erected for the Millennium, funded by the Royal Bank of Scotland.
This is a particularly colourful one.

The path path splits into an upper and lower level here and on the lower path you can see a pill box, one of a number that were constructed during WW2 as part of the defence system.

The octagonal shape of these gave rise to the name pill box.

On the other side of the river is this 60m high tidal flood prevention drop gates for Barking Creek. Once the decision has been made to close the Thames Barrier, then the staff at Barking are alerted as it takes 45 minutes for the gates to fall and reach the river bed.

my side of the river you can see how the river bends.

   Looking inland from one of the viewing points, you can see this clocktower in Thamesmead. This has been moved here from the great storehouse in the Royal Deptford Dockyard (Another of Henry VIII's dockyards. When the storehouse was demolished in 1981 the manager of Convoy's Wharves donated the clock and cupola to Thamesmead.

More evidence of the history of this part of the river. 

On the opposite bank of the river is an oil storage depot.

We are now approaching the Belvedere and Erith marshes. This is an area of grazing marsh by the banks of the river. The bulk of the marshes which once existed between Woolwich and Erith have now been built upon. 

The remaining marshland is owned by Thames Water who manage this as well as a nature reserve close to the river.

There were a number of birds feeding by the river edge particularly shelducks.

Crossness was part of a radical sewerage system for London. It had the beneficial effect of improving the smell. The 'Big Stink' of 1858 brought London to a standstill because of the stench coming from the human excrement in the Thames.

This Victorian building contains the largest rotative beam engines in the world. It was built in 1865 by Joseph Bazalgette, the engineer for the Metropolitan Board of Works, to pump South London's untreated sewage into the Thames. The sewage was brought here in massive brick sewers removing pollution from the river in London. Four giant steam engines, named Albert Edward, Alexandra, Prince Consort and Victoria lifted the sewage for discharge to the Thames. I have yet to see inside the pump house but photographs reveal a very ornate interior with decorative cast iron work. The pump house periodically has open days and once those resume I am going to try and get a ticket. The engines were last used operationally in Feb 1953 to help deal with flooding. 

From 1889 the sludge settling from sewage at Crossness sewage treatment works was taken by special ships to be dispersed far out in the Thames Estuary. Three Thames Water ships were the most regular users of the river, each carrying their load of sludge out to sea twice a day. For over a century they helped keep the capital clean. A new activated sludge process was completed at Crossness in 1964 to give full treatment to the wastewater. Salmon were absent from the river for 150 years but returned in 1974. Now over 100 species of fish thrive in the river and estuary.  1.6 million Londoners send their waste here to Crossness sewage treatment works to be cleaned and recycled to the River Thames. On the other side of the river two miles upstream is the Beckton sewage treatment works - the largest in Europe serving over 3 million Londoners. Today the River Thames is the cleanest metropolitan river in the world.

Treated water returning to the Thames.

The birds loved it.

Here at Crossness the tide drops around 6.4m twice a day exposing the mud which is rich in worms and shellfish, attracting thousands of birds.

The Crossness pathway was opened by Thames Water in 2000. The pathway provides access to this stretch of the river for the first time in 150 years. The 1.2 km pathway has specially built viewpoints with peepholes so the birds are unaware they are being watched. 

The weather was miserable and the rain which hadn't stopped all day was now heavier than ever. Time to return to the car which was parked three miles away!


  1. I am reading "This other London" by John Rogers and finished the chapter where he walks from Woolwich to Crayford Ness. It's very interesting as is your blog. I haven't been to this area before.

  2. Fascinating history and a good walk, if on the wet side. I learned a great deal from this post. Thank you!

  3. Pity about the weather but the ducks are enjoying it. I wonder if one day you could write a brief and simple layman's guide to the Thames Barriers. I think I've seen photos of the interior of Crossness. What a wonder these massive pumping stations were, both here and your own. Very amusing that the sewerage pumps were named after royalty.

  4. I think I would prefer to live in a house, not a flat. But that said, the flats you photographed have the loveliest views of the water, even better in summer.

  5. An interesting stretch of river. I was thrown at first when you mentioned Gallions Reach Park because that to us is the retail park on the north side of the river lol. It sounds like it was probably quite solitary along there though due to the rain.

  6. So many places to explore - tiny corners, each hiding history.

    Have you read 'Mudlarking' it's a book about finding things in the mud at the waters edge on the Thames - its a good read.

    Sorry for rather long silence, things have been a bit crazy here.

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

  7. Too bad about the weather, but you managed to find wonderful places to write about and photograph anyway. I hope you do get to tour the inside of the sewage plant someday as I can’t wait to see what that interesting exterior holds inside.

  8. Such a shame about the weather but well done for walking so far and getting these lovely photographs.
    Nice to read that 800 new trees have been planted.

    All the best Jan

  9. Such a fascinating read. Lovely images!

  10. A delightful and informative photo walk with you ~ Xo

    Living moment by moment,

    A ShutterBug Explores,
    aka (A Creative Harbor)

  11. Lovely to have enjoyed a wander with you - got good I brought my brolly! Thanks for all the added history and colour you gave us too!

  12. There's so much to see on this walk.
    Thank you for taking us along. :)

  13. You are quite the walker. Even in the pouring rain! Lots of history to uncover about the places you walk. Thanks for sharing.

  14. There is a lot to see in your surroundings ! I love the way markers ! It's a pity that they didn't keep a little more of the piers !
    We had two days of a lot of snow ! from +22° the temperature dropped in 3 days to - 3° !! Crazy ! Riccardo is still in hospital ! I want to move him to the rehabilitation center, but can't catch the Doctor with this dammit Virus they are all so busy!!

  15. historical place and beautiful views.... lovely birds ... you so brave to walk alone....

    thank you for sharing photos and story of the great place....

  16. Lovely walk and thank you for all the information. I find it sometimes hard to remember the information and sights I have gathered on a day.

  17. Interesting things along the river. I know you would have preferred nicer weather.

  18. Loved everything about this walk except the rain, but oddly I didn’t really get wet at all! Thanks for taking me along to see this part of the great Thames River and for the chances learn some more history. And to learn about the slots in the wall for watching the birds. How great is that!


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