22 June 2011

Exploring Royal Victoria Dock

The event at ExCeL may have been disappointing but the walk home was brilliant!

My original plan was just to walk one or two stops back along the DLR from Custom House to Royal Victoria or Canning Town, and then I saw this.

I also saw people walking to and from it which confirmed that it was both a bridge and was open.

Crossing the bridge would be taking me in the wrong direction and I am terribly at heights but I reasoned with myself that if I found a bridge like this on holiday then I would not have hesitated (as much!) and I was unlikely to have another opportunity to explore it.

And I love exploring.

So I made my way up the steps gingerly, cautiously and slowly, pausing along the way to enjoy the view though the metal grill and to let my knees stop knocking.

The bridge pretends to be wide but the central supporting structure forces you dangerously close to the edge where the flimsiest of barriers is all that lies between you and very deep water.

I think that you get the idea that I was not terribly happy up there but that's the price that you have to pay to get the views and to, er, get to the other side.

And the views were worth it.

To the east the water spread out like a still menacing blanket. I'm sure that there are monsters in there.

The view to the west was more familiar and comforting.

On the left there is the common docklands look with medium-rise housing and the shell of old cranes retained to remind you that this used to be the working heart of London.

Behind the housing the sharp yellow spikes of the Millennium Dome (as I still prefer to call it) puncture the sky arrogantly. Slightly to the right, but on the other side of the river, are the jagged skyscrapers of Canary Wharf.

Beyond that lies the City with the Gherkin and Tower 42, where I used to work when it was still called the NatWest Tower.

Coming back down reassuringly to ground level the vastness and emptiness of the place grabs you.

The stillness during the day is eerie verging on scary and the mood is not helped by the few people that you do see appear to be more used to Carlsberg Special Brew than to suits.

On the north bank (the left-hand side) ExCeL sits in another world, crouching low to avoid attention. Inside it bulges with suits and branded food outlets where it is not only legal but expected to pay over £3 just for a sandwich.

Here Royal Victoria Dock separates the two Londons that used to be characterised as west-end and east-end. The bridge links the two but does not connect them.

Walking away from the bridge its shape and my bravery become more apparent.

Continuing the journey west to the end of the dock and then north back towards the DLR and escape makes you appreciate just how big the dock is.

Looking back from the far edge the it is obvious just how much the water is in control here and the buildings that looked big when walking past them now just fade into insignificance.

The bridge tries its best to make a bold statement on the horizon but all it can do is look like a letter box that sits and waits for the large parcels that no longer pass this way.

From there it is but a few steps to Royal Victoria DLR station and the journey home.

Royal Victoria Dock hits you with its history, size, stillness and slight hint of menace which makes it a good place to explore, but only in daylight.

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