To Dartford (and not beyond)

After the surprise delight of my first trip ‘up east’, I decided to extend my route beyond Woolwich, with the original plan of getting to East Tilbury, via the Tilbury Ferry from Gravesend.  I was becoming increasingly aware of the disappearing summer, with every warm sunny day potentially the last for 6 months, so off I set post haste. (map at bottom of post)

The Ride.  I started along the now familiar Quietway 1 from Waterloo to Greenwich, except that it wasn’t as familiar as I had hoped.  I kept taking my eye off the GPS and finding myself way off track.  I think complacency was creeping in after having cycled it only once before.  Such arrogance!  At the Thames Barrier I found myself in a Car Park at the back of the building and discovered a free museum.  At a distance it looked like a load of strangely shaped metal objects on a roundabout and on closer inspection, that is indeed what it was.  The objects were parts from a fully operational scaled down model of the barrier, built at Imperial college to test the concept, and check that it would withstand the water pressure in times of flood.  You could see the dents in the metal ‘paddle’ where they had ramped up the pressure above and beyond what I hoped would ever be reached in reality.  I didn’t feel entirely re-assured.


Beyond the Woolwich Ferry to Woolwich Arsenal, and an area that I had no knowledge of before now.  It is crammed full of buildings and history dating back to the 1600’s and is currently being re-developed.  As military history is not ‘my bag’, I stopped briefly to examine the sculpture next to the pier and found myself peering inside a set of iron statues and for some reason felt that looking down on them might have given me more of a clue to their meaning.  I continued east to Thamesmead and a structure called Gallions Hill, which is a small grassy mound made up of rubble and building waste from an eco-friendly affordable housing project called Gallions Reach Ecopark. I cycled up the helical path to it’s summit, for what the Londonist describes as ‘probably one of the least famous view-points in London’.  I have to say that on this particular visit, the ‘eco’ and the ‘friendly’ credentials were not at all obvious, but the view was interesting, and more importantly, I got a snail shaped motif on my GPS route.

The path from here to the Crossness pumping station changes to gravel, and skirts the edge of the as yet un-opened Gallions Reach park.  Having seen Henry Bazelgettes pumping station building at Three Mills a couple of days ago, I was looking forward to seeing  his ‘sister’ pumping station at Crossness.  I was disappointed on two counts, one was that the architecture was much less elaborate, and the other was that it was closed to the public except on Tuesday. I consoled myself with a couple of Sainsburys flapjack squares (chocolate topped).

The last section of the Thames path, before Erith, is dominated by two large industrial sites, that I was educated about by a very  informative plaque next to the Thames on Erith Marshes. The less attractive and smaller building has the dubious honour of being the largest sewage treatment works in Europe and handles enough sewage to fill 20 Olympic size swimming pools every hour, and the larger building is the Crossness sludge-powered generator, which burns dried sewage as a renewable energy source.  I could have missed these details out of my ride description, but as I looked back and noticed the wind-turbines, I was aware of the slow but inexorable change from fossil-fuels to renewables and how it is starting to change the landscape.

At Erith, I had to make a decision about whether to continue along the Thames path.  The Erith Marshes are divided down the middle by the Darent river and the map hinted that there was a way across the Darent, from one side of the marsh to the other, but when I arrived at the river, there was no way across, forcing me to go inland on a single-track gravel path, and into the less attractive suburbs of Erith.  My resolve to continue to Gravesend and the Tilbury Ferry dissolved in the late summer heat, somewhere in the middle of an industrial estate just outside Dartford.  The Thames path effectively comes to an end at Erith and the inland cycling options in an easterly direction seem pretty un-enticing until you get beyond Gravesend, and I think I’ll leave that for another day.

The Verdict.  Points off for being an  A to B route rather than a loop, but getting the train back from Dartford was very straight-forward.  It has put me in mind to make a loop ride which includes exploring the Darent valley.

Essex from Erith Marsh, looking across The Great Grey Greasy ………Thames


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