ISLAND GARDENS to LEWISHAM
1 1/4 hour
The DLR light railway was originally built in the late 1980s in order to link the redeveloped area of the Docklands with the City and it was built as a lightweight, automatic system in order to save infrastructure and staff costs. The borough of Lewisham was worried that potential jobs in the new office centre would be difficult to reach for commuters from the other bank of the Thames, a problem that had already been important in the 19th century and that had led to the construction of a foot tunnel under the Thames to make commuters less dependant on unreliable and expensive ferries.
The light railway was extended as required by the borough in 1999. It was expensive to build with a tunnel under the river and a long concrete viaduct over the course of the river Ravensbourne as there was no other route available in this densely populated suburb. The borough proved right in predicting strong commuting traffic and the line is very profitable. The borough was also very thoughtful in convincing the TfL zoning experts that all stations on the line within Lewisham and Greenwich be both in zones 2 and 3, saving costs for local commuters. Dual-zone stations are nothing unusual, but it is unusual for a whole line to be considered dual-zone.
The whole DLR system was operated by a private company for 25 years and is now operated by a 70% subsidiary of the French government-owned railway SNCF.
You need to be aware that Oyster pay-as-you-go cards are accepted as if you were on a bus but that they malfunction frequently depending on where you change to the DLR. You might be charged unexpected amounts.
Routing note: This route connects in Island Gardens with DLR walk 2. It does not connect officially with Underground Jubilee line walks 7 and 8, but both routes also use the Greenwich tunnel and are therefore easy to combine with the present walk. The route does connect in Greenwich with London Bridge network walk 5. Finally, it connects in Lewisham with London Bridge networks walks 6, 15 and 24A as well as with Victoria train networks walk 3.
The route is kept short because it passes close to many attractions in Greenwich. I suggest you choose the one or other and combine it with the walk. Particular convenient visits would be the craft market, the Maritime Museum or the Hospital. I commented on some of those in my London Bridge network walk 5 and will comment on others in my Jubilee line walk 8.
The station was originally a simple platform for the DLR terminal on an old train viaduct when it opened in 1987. This changed to an underground station when the tunnel under the Thames was built for the DLR extension towards Greenwich in 1999. Original plans called for a simple platform in a cutting but local residents managed to get a proper station built. I actually often used this station as an introduction when bringing foreign visitors to Greenwich so that the residents were right in pointing to the special location justifying an effort.
The new station has an interesting design as there was room to make an architectural statement. Seen from the park, it has a double set of rounded roofs on steel pillars, the interesting point being that the two sets are inverted in opposing directions. It is just a geometrical game but quite harmonious. Seen from the road, the entrance is an airy hall between strange towers with rounded ends, those being the aeration shafts for the tunnel under the Thames.
Exit the station and cross the street into a passage along a green space and sports ground. This leads quickly to Island Gardens park
The first mention of the location is a remark by the architect of Greenwich Hospital in 1680 about the nice view but the land remained idle until the first terraces were built in Millwall in the 1860s. The borough was aware of the location and started negociations in 1849 although the purchase only went through in 1894. Flower beds and a small bandstand were provided. This has changed only modestly to flower beds and a café with an unusually elaborate brick pattern.
Obviously, what has not changed is the magnificent view towards the main Greenwich monuments. Panels give you many explanations. My picture documents primarily the remarkable alignment of the observatory obelisk with the royal pavilion, the two wings of the Royal Hospital building perfectly symmetrical counterpoints as an excellent example of baroque landscaping. The fact that the view is strictly framed and controlled, showing nothing outside of the planned landscape, is typically European (and very alien to Japanese garden architects for example).
Cross the Thames using the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, the access is inside the small park
I comment on the tunnel more in detail in my Jubilee line walk 7. The tunnel was opened in 1902 and the lift cabins are copies of the original ones, explaining the luxurious wood paneling. Actually, the tunnel was mostly meant for the dock workers. It is customary for dock staff to be taken “off the street” in the early morning for the day and labourers from Greenwich often came too late to get a job if fog or traffic delayed the ferry.
The tunnel was a remarkable technical achievement and was extremely expensive, also because the borough had to buy the ferry business first in order to compensate the owners. The tunnel is quite long for a pedestrian and cyclists are often tempted to ride through it although it is strictly forbidden. What cyclists like even less is that the lifts are quite regularly out of order for maintenance or staff shortage reasons. You might want to count the steps on the Greenwich staircase, the result is interesting.
Cross the open space past the ship replica towards the corner pubs
The ship is a copy of the “Cutty Sark”, a cargo ship from 1869 built to carry tea from China. After the opening of the Suez Canal, it was rerouted and carried wool from Australia. It was later a training ship for the Royal Navy and is now a museum. A significant part of the original ship burnt down by accident in 2007 and what you visit is therefore a reconstruction.
The hull of the ship is enclosed in a glass bubble in order to provide sufficient room for hospitality and shopping, which has been criticised as giving the attraction a very artificial look. I have never visited the ship due to the extortionate entry fee of 13.50 £ (2017). The name “Cutty Sark” refers to a fairytale and the figurehead depicts the corresponding lass.
On reaching the main road, you can detour R to the next station into a pedestrianised passage, initially under a building. There is a large sign overhead with the station name in DLR blue.
CUTTY SARK for Maritime Greenwich
The station opened in 1999 together with the DLR extension. As opposed to most DLR stations, it was not rebuilt in the 2000s and some train doors do not open because it was impossible to lengthen the platforms without rebuilding the Thames tunnel.
The subterranean platforms are of no particular interest. The front to the street is modest and squeezed in the middle of a shopping street. This makes no sense in terms of accommodating the heavy passenger traffic on weekends but enabled juicy profits by developing the shopping street. The winding staircase to the platforms is unique for the DLR and gives the station a special atmosphere.
Turn around to exit the passage at the place you entered. Coming from the riverside, you now turn L into College Approach
R King William Walk (you do not enter the enclosed grounds)
At the corner with Nelson Road, there is a small green space in front of a large Georgian brick building that contrasts strikingly with the baroque premises of Greenwich Hospital. The building was originally an annex of the Hospital and was built in 1784 as a school for boys. It was converted later into a nurses’ home and in 1993 into a luxury hotel. The architecture is restrained as it was primarily a utilitarian building, with typically Georgian symmetry based on the central neo-classical portico. In my opinion, the actual entrance under the portico is badly proportioned, looking like the entrance to a cellar.
The green space in front of the building is actually the former cemetery for Greenwich Hospital. Some of the monuments are listed and you can have a look around, the most conspicuous memorial being the neo-classical Mausoleum for hospital officers. It is a listed early Georgian structure from 1714 built by major architect Nicholas Hawksmoor and had open arches until grave robbers defiled the site in 1806. They were probably looking for swords to resell.
R Nelson Road
Ahead past the church into St. Alfege Churchyard. Where the churchyard turns into a public park, turn L into St Alfege Passage to exit the park
For St Alfege church itself, please refer to my Jubilee line walk 8. Both green spaces were a single large churchyard in the 19th century but had reached capacity and were given to the borough in 1899. The section directly around the church had the more interesting monuments and still has the atmosphere of a churchyard while the more recent section was converted into a public park with a few flower beds and a choice of interestingly varied trees.
Ahead Roan Street
L Churchfields (a street)
Ahead Straightsmouth (a street)
Ahead along the tracks to the station subway, cross under the tracks
The Greenwich train station is one of the most venerable and most beautiful stations in London, dating back to 1840, but this applies only to the train station. When the DLR extension opened in 1999, a new platform was built parallel to the existing train platforms. It can be considered a completely separate station.
As such, it has only the standard DLR steel canopy and no ticket office.
Continue along the tracks, now on the south side, and cross the river
Routing note: due to construction works in this area, the exact route has been moved occasionally to the one or other side of the tracks between the station and the river footbridge. If in doubt, follow the marked cycle route for Deptford
From the footbridge over Deptford Creek, you get a good view of the DLR concrete viaduct. It appears surprisingly thin, which is made possible by the fact that DLR carriages are lightweight and run on tram-like tracks, not on a heavy gravel bed like trains. Deptford Creek is the tidal mouth of Ravensbourne River, a small but important water course because the valley was very useful for train lines and now for a cycle route towards the Channel coast. The creek became a major industrial site in the 17th century after the Tudor kings had opened a Navy yard in Deptford, attracting many subcontractors.
The train line crosses Deptford Creek on an imposing, historical bridge. The original drawbridge caused a number of mechanical problems and was replaced in 1963 by the present lifting bridge. For about 15 years, a section of track could be lifted vertically in order to let vessels with masts go through to the warehouses upstream. This has become redundant in the 1970s and the bridge has been welded shut. There are discussions about listing the structure as vertical lifting bridges are extremely rare nowadays.
L after the bridge over the river into Creekside (a road)
The first building you pass is set back in a large gravel space. It is mainly worth noticing for the very nice entrance gate in galvanised steel showing reeds, crabs, fish and water birds. This refers to the purpose of the building as an information centre on the ecology of tidal marshes. I do not know whether it is open to the general public and whether it charges an entry fee.
The following building is an ugly converted factory but is worth mentioning because it houses a number of art and craft studios. They have an open day twice a year when artists sell their production. I am always a little disappointed at having to pay a small entrance fee to be allowed to buy items, but this is customary in London for such events. If you feel suspicious that the stands on Greenwich or Shoreditch handicraft markets are only resellers, you might indeed want to meet the artists in their studios.
At the end L Deptford Church Street
On the corner, you walk along the tall brick façade of a local college. My picture shows green pillars while more recent pictures show red pillars. I don’t know what prompted the change; the green reminded me a lot of several modern buildings in Peckham and Brent and might have been a fashionable colour in the 2000s.
L on the main road for
The station opened together with the DLR extension in 1999.
As usual with the DLR, there is no station building and only the standardised platform canopy. Unusually, the station is on top of a viaduct crossing a road and the platforms are therefore supported by a concrete structure.
Take the marked cycle path under the DLR viaduct along the river.
You might notice a colourful sign underneath the viaduct. It looks like it might have been a school project to mark the cycle route. There are other similar markers further upstream but they are not as colourful. You will certainly notice that most depicted animals are dead. Either this is meant to remind you of ecological issues or it is the typical fascination of teenagers for death, skeletons, dystopia and Halloween.
The path crosses the river again, leads around a warehouse and crosses the whole length of Ravensbourne / Brookmill Park.
The park is part of a long string of green spaces built along the course of the Ravensbourne River. Taken together, they build one of only two good cycling / walking routes for people travelling from central London towards Sussex. The walking route is called the Waterlink Way and you would follow the markings for national cycle route 21.
Brookmill Park was built on former industrial premises together with the Dockland Light Railway and care was taken to make the river flow more natural whenever enough room was available. The northern end of the riverside park has a nice fountain with a circular pergola nearly all around it. The borough invests in nice flower beds and there are lots of seats with unusually shaped, bright red legs and armrests. It is usually a rather quiet and pleasant place. As the park is located between identikit flashy studios for young bankers on the east side and a conservation area on the west side, it does not normally attract the street gangs some people might expect in Deptford.
Continuing upstream along the “natural” section of the river valley, you lose the flower beds but you might see a heron or a fox. You will also need to pay attention to cyclists as they tend to go fast despite the lack of visibility on the winding path. At one spot where the cyclists are routed away from the pedestrians, you can have a look at a pond fully covered in green algae. It actually reminds me of frothy green tea as made in Japanese ceremonies but I did not try to drink the water from the pond.
After the park, the cycle path crosses the river
The station opened together with the DLR extension in 1999.
As usual with the DLR, there is no station building and only the standardised platform canopy. The really conspicuous element is the access ramp more than the station furniture.
The path crosses the river again just after the station and continues along the river
Follow the marked route R away from the river shortly before the DLR bridge over the river
The marked route crosses under a train line
L Thurston Road
At the end L Loampit Vale passing under the train line again
The DLR station opened in 1999 as the terminal of the new extension. It is not linked directly to the neighbouring train station and sits in the forecourt of the station between the diverging tracks of two train lines.
The terminal building is sizeable compared to most DLR stations and includes a spacious hall. The architecture is very plain and in line with late 20th century office buildings, all sleek glass and no colours except for branding purposes.