What better way to mark the New Year than a walk through our splendid capital city. I went today with friends from the Greenwich Observatory - where this panoramic view was taken - over to Wapping on the other side of the river.
And we made our way across the Thames not on the water, or above the water, but below the riverbed.
The Royal Observatory at Greenwich marks the meridian line and gave its name to GMT, Greenwich Mean Time.
The slopes leading up to the Observatory were also the location, on 15 February 1894, of an explosion in which a 26-year-old Frenchman, Martial Bourdin, died. He was, it seems, a 'propaganda-by-the-deed' anarchist carrying a bomb which exploded prematurely. He may have intended blowing up the Observatory.
This was the incident which Joseph Conrad transposed in to fiction in one of his greatest novels, The Secret Agent, published in 1907.
In the centre of Greenwich, there's the entrance to one of London's most curious transport arteries. The Greenwich Foot Tunnel under the Thames was commissioned by the London County Council and opened in 1902.
The tunnel stretches for 370 metres below the Thames at a depth of fifteen metres. It's open 24 hours a day - as is a similar foot tunnel a little further out in Woolwich - and is used by about 4,000 people daily.
I'm surprised the foot tunnel isn't much busier - it's spacious and well lit and not in the least spooky. Honest!
On the north side of the river, you surface on the southern tip of the Isle of Dogs - once a maritime area of shipyards and wharves, and still bearing some reminders of its glory days.
The SS Great Eastern - the largest ship of its time - was built and (eventually) launched here in the 1850s.
And there are other reminders of the area's maritime past
Among the architecturally more intriguing buildings is a former Presbyterian church at Millwall, built in the 1850s and closed for worship in the 1970s, which is now The Space, an arts and performance venue.
It's a bit cluttered in design but at least it stands out!
As you head up the west side of the Isle of Dogs and pass Canary Wharf, you reach Limehouse, and the magic of Narrow Street and its riverside tavern, The Grapes - and there are steps down to Ratcliff 'Beach'.
But our destination was a little further west, the excellent, and historic, Prospect of Whitby at Wapping.
To the Sludge Incinerator
... with apologies to Virginia Woolf.
It's quite a trek from Charlton to Erith along the Thames Path - about ten miles - but at the end of this riverside ramble, you are greeted by the majestic sight of, yes, a sludge incinerator. This is contemporary London's tribute to Bazalgette and his ambition to flush away London's waste - the Crossness Sewage Treatment Works.
But let's start at the beginning: just down the road from Charlton's stadium, there's a pub with quite the most interesting name I've come across in a while. The AntiGallican - more about it here - is a legacy of anti-French populism from the 1750s.
This building looks as if it's from the 1890s, and must have taken its name from an earlier pub on the site (there was another AntiGallican pub on Tooley Street until not all that long ago). But so nice it's not been renamed the Frog and Garlic.
It's now apparently a rendezvous for away fans heading to the Valley - and since Charlton's prospect of European football is even more distant than Huddersfield Town's, then the wonderful fantasy of visiting French fans gathering en masse in the AntiGallican is unlikely to be realised any time soon.
Hitting the river, there for all to behold is the engineering marvel that demonstrates, ahem, that Ken can do what Canute can't. The Thames Barrier, operational since 1982, (when Ken Livingstone was leader of the Greater London Council - not that this was a GLC endeavour). It's brought into action six or seven times a year to save London from the risk of flooding. And it has a grandness about it. Don't you think?
It's a landmark which goes largely uncelebrated - the information centre seemed to be deserted, the capacious visitors' car park had one car.
The trek took us past quite a few pubs which were derelict, had changed use, or - in one case - served up the worst pint of John Smith's I have brought myself to consume since 'slops' were banned under trading practices legislation.
And all that way, there was not a single riverside inn making the most of the Thames.
But when it comes to making new use of an old pub, I'd never before seen one that had been turned into a vet's surgery ...
We ambled past the Woolwich Free Ferry - that last vestige of municipal socialism plying across the Thames for fourteen hours every day and free for foot passengers and vehicles alike (HGVs included). It carries two-million passengers a year. A little further downriver, Tate and Lyle is king of the midden - its Thames Refinery at Silvertown remains the largest sugar refinery in the EU.
While it's hardly busy, on these reaches the Thames has some semblance of being a working river. There are a few barges and like vessels. And we even gazed upon the Royal Navy's dear old D37 (with names like that surely Boaty McBoatface can only be an improvement) - which an internet search reveals is known to its friends as Duncan ... it's a Clyde-built air defence destroyer, which apparently means not that it destroys air defences but can zap fighter planes and drones.
It is perhaps the ugliest ship I have ever seen - see what I mean?
There was some real architectural elegance along the way - the Woolwich Arsenal from the riverside being the stand-out. An armaments factory for centuries, and one of the biggest, manufacturing ended here in the 1960s, and the Ministry of Defence relinquished the site in 1994. This is of course where the Arsenal football team was born. They moved north of the river to Highbury just before the First World War. At places along the river there are old (like, old) gun emplacements - which leads me to ask, when was the last time a hostile foreign navy sailed up the Thames? And the remnants of some small dry docks are even more elegiac of the area's past.
Then as Erith looms, the walker is assailed with an unsettling aroma reminiscent of Bovril or home brew gone wrong. You know then that the sludge incinerator is not far away. Designed to resemble a wave (hmm), 'locally it is an iconic presence' I read, which is one way of describing it. It looks after fully a quarter of London's sewage sludge - an awful lot of shit. And it uses the heat generated to power the plant . So it's hot shit too.
If you are seeking a more detailed guide to this part of the Thames Path, here it is.
Andrew Whitehead's blog
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