Seventeen weeks of blog posts & nothing so far about London, where I lived for more than 16 years? Today that changes. Yes, over 16 years spent living in a city that I never even really liked that much. It's okay, but I wouldn't recommend staying there forever. It's big, brutal & packed with things to do, but with little gentleness or grace.
I lived south-east, east & north London, but mostly the former area. Having lived around Lewisham, Ladywell & Hither Green, I periodically made photographic day excursions up & down the south side of the River Thames, along the river path, on foot or by bicycle. Here is a selection of photographs which offer impressions of the environment as I saw it over the last five years, though undergoing rapid change by continual building redevelopment.
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London is an ever-changing landscape, whether it's development is driven by capitalism, technological progress or necessity, & it has been so for as long as the city is old. The city is divided both geographically & culturally by the great River Thames, the United Kingdom's second longest river, measuring 346km (215 miles), 8km (5 miles) shorter than the River Severn. It's source is Thames Head in Gloucestershire & it runs to the North Sea at the Thames Estuary, encompassing 80 islands along its way, & becoming tidal at Teddington Lock, 89km (55 miles) upstream from the estuary.
My journies would begin at Greenwich, home to the famous Cutty Sark clipper ship, Naval College, Greenwich University, National Maritime Museum & Royal Observatory, casting out its green laser over the land which defines Greenwhich Mean Time. I would often begin about lunch time, popping into Greenwhich market to partake of a generous helping of the lovely Ethiopian vegan food on offer there, with which to fortify my body for the afternoon jaunt.
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In the past there were many industries based along the stretch of Thames between Greenwich & the Thames Barrier (the farthest extent of my venturing), from whaling to flour refinery. Some of these industries still exist, but are more frequently closing down & being replaced by luxury flat developments, which, far from being affordable to the local & native populace, drive them ever further outwards. A current trend in London for the wealthy of the world is 'buy-to-rent', & much of London's property market is being purchased by unscrupulous landlords, taking advantage of the exorbitant rents forced upon a population, the majority of whom can no longer afford to buy.
The journey when sticking to the river path is 7km (4/half miles), (4.5 km as the crow flies), and follows the bow of the river around the Millenium Dome (now called the O2 Arena). If my memory serves me correctly, a key element in the design of this structure was it's low weight to size ratio, as it was built on previously condemned land; soft land that would not hold the weight of regular brick & mortar or concrete buildings. It was erected to coincide with the turning of the millenium, the year 2000, went massively over budget, was payed for in taxes by the British public (who generally could not even afford the entrance fee), & eventually sold to a billionaire American casino owner, including 30 acres of surrounding land for the paltry sum of £1. Such is government corruption. Here're some pictures of the surrounding area to take your mind off such a sad tale of greed.
The first stretch of the Thames path from Greenwich up to the dome is a particularly desolate area. The proud companies that once thrived on the banks of the river are long since gone, their premises demolished, or standing in ruin. There aren't many people who walk this path, a few joggers & commuter cyclists, dog walkers, graffiti artists, etc. But there is a great deal of peace to be gleaned from the deserted calm of the environment, & an inquisitive minded individual will find themselves easily absorbed in kicking about the flotsam & debris, typically found along the shoreline & wasteland roundabout.
A bit further along one encounters the cable car ride which provides access to the north side of the river. I've been up there a couple of times & really enjoy the view, if it's a good clear day, or equally, has some great dramatic heavy cloud coverage. The ride only lasts for about 6 minutes though, & the excitement is short-lived. Near to the cable car entrance & by a river bus jetty is an Antony Gormley creation, a metal sculpture, seemingly of the figure of a human, obscured by an egg-like panoply made up of curved metal shards.
Past this point is the part of the path which leads up towards the Thames Barrier. Along here there is some kind of gravel factory which has a couple of conveyors leading out over the river, presumably to dump unwanted hardcore, or maybe even more toxic waste. There is also, incongruously situated along the way, a small wildlife sanctuary, home mostly to local bird-life, & with a little waterway & patches of overgrown shrubbery & trees. There is a back-street rough boozer here too, should one need to quench a thirst, an indoor go-kart racing club, & a boat club.
I imagine that I took a couple of hours each direction by foot, maybe longer, since I stopped frequently to take photographs along the way. I enjoy the walk back a little more, since twilight & sunset images are often prettier & more alluring to the eye, though getting a fruitful opportunity is a rather rare thing. More often than not the sky is too cloudy to capture a good sunset. But with good timing one can find oneself back at the Cutty Sark pub, (not near the ship, but about 10 minutes walk further north along the Thames path), out front, perched on the old red brick wall overlooking the water with a tasty beverage, & basking in one of the occasional dramatic sunsets.
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I am a freelance photographer specialising in performance arts.
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~ Comfort Zone is Not Your Friend
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