Saturday, July 11th 2015
It took us three buses to reach the Royal Albert Dock, but we eventually arrived. Here it is on the map:
By the time we reached Stratford, we felt in need of refreshment. We entered the large shopping centre that bears the rather grandiose name Westfield Stratford City and found a branch of Caffè Nero where we tarried a while. (Stratford does seem to have rather grandiose ideas about itself. For example, one of its railway stations is called Stratford International despite the fact that the Eurostar does not stop there and never has, as far as I know.)
To continue our journey we needed to cross the railway lines to the bus station on the other side. To do so we went over the massive footbridge that is called the Stratford Town Centre Link. It is for pedestrians only but the designation ‘foot bridge’ hardly does it justice. It is a remarkable piece of engineering.
On reaching the south end of the bridge, you have to descend by a broad set of steps, and from the top of this there is quite a view of the railway station forecourt and bus station below.
We at last reached our destination and made our way to the waterside. We found ourselves in the neighbourhood of a bridge that carries the road (A117) over the eastern end of the dock. Opened in 1999 to replace an original swing bridge, it is called the Sir Steve Redgrave Bridge after the rower and Olympic medallist.
The bridge is no doubt very useful but it is rather ordinary and so I photographed it from underneath to produce a less conventional view! There is also something fascinating about the way the structure draws the eye along its length and through succeeding pairs of supports.
A figure lurks under the bridge. Who is it? Someone finishing a cigarette? A weary traveller stopping for a rest? An unhappy soul contemplating jumping into the water? We shall never know. Soon he moved on…
The eastern end of the dock is home to the Gallions Point Marina. The dock is connected to the Thames by a lock and this stretch of the river is known as Gallions Reach. The name, I understand, comes from the Galyon family who owned property along this part the Thames in the 14th century.
Having come here, what was there to do? Not a lot, really, except stare at vast stretches of manmade waterway and take photos of it. In the dock’s heyday, it would have been a busy, complex and probably exciting place. Today it seems rather desolate. Clean and tidy, yes, but aseptic. Empty, all points of interest having disappeared.
Well, there is the airport, of course, but it seemed very quiet while we were there. You can see why they would put an airport here. The land is so flat. The Dutch would feel right at home here.
We walked across the bridge and in a far corner spied some signs of activity. Not actual activity, just signs that there is activity sometimes.
The road passes close to the Royal Albert Dock lock which provides an entrance and exit to the Thames. If you have walked along inland canals and seen their locks, the dimensions of this one will give you some idea of the size of the ships that came in and out when the dock was flourishing.
Thus we reached the Thames. Here too, the land continues the theme of flatness, with distant views clustering into a ragged line across the field of view. (Very like the Netherlands, in fact.)
On the other side of the river, a line tower blocks stands like a row of broken teeth.
There were some ships in view but they were moored and still. Nothing was moving on the water. It was peaceful or boring, depending on your point of view.
We had reached the river by walking through a residential area. We had thought nothing of this at the time and it was only when we tried to leave that we discovered a problem.
We followed the broad paved walkway that you see in the photo above and eventually came to a gate to the outside. It was locked. There was a notice telling us that during daylight hours, the gate could be opened by pressing a button. We pressed the button but it didn’t work. We tried leaving by another way and found another locked gate. It began to look as though we were prisoners doomed to roam the streets of this gated community until someone took pity on us and smuggled us out!
Following Google Maps on our iPhones (as long as you have a signal, this app acts like a GPS satnav), we found our way to where we had come in and were able to regain our liberty! All we needed now was the patience to endure the long bus ride home.