Something different for a Saturday….What was supposed to be a leg stretcher of a paddle after a brief lay off, turned into an exploration of an East End tributary. Matt and I, put in at Poplar rowing club with the idea of pushing the tide to Leamouth, stopping for a bite at Fat Boys Diner at Trinity wharf then burning off the calories with a return paddle.
With a shy Sun and threatening skies we kitted and launched against a pushy Thames, big tides this weekend, and after a half an hour or so we were at the mouth of the River Lea…Just here on the north side of the Thames, stands Trinity Buoy Wharf. Alongside the walking boat, lightships and London’s only lighthouse amongst other historic buildings you’ll find a vibrant community of artists, tenants in homes made from ship containers and cafes and a diner, although the thing with a diner is, it really helps if it isn’t closed over a bank holiday weekend, as this one was. What to do? About turn and go to the barrier? No, been there, done that…we decided to paddle up the River Lea, firstly along a strip called Bow Creek.
The Lea winds it’s way through a seemingly unremarkable urban landscape but is potmarked with interesting places. Just beyond Canning Town DLR lies Bow Creek Ecology Park on the Limmo Peninsula. The peninsular is the site of an archaelogical dig which has unearthed remains of the Ironworks and Shipbuilding Company. Closed 100 years ago, the company finshed works on the world’s first iron warship, HMS Warrior, and were the founders of a football team which went on to become West Ham United.
Paddling on, we floated past disused bridges, industrial sites, residential moorings and wharfs which seemed to be full of old caravans, coaches and cars. Islay Wharf is one of these, on Lochnagar Street (Scottish connection there somewhere but I can’t find out why? On a map, nearby there are Oban St and leven Rd.. Whisky, maybe?).
A mile further, we came to The House Mill. Dating from 1776, the mill’s water wheels were turned by the ebbing tide, driving large millstones which ground grain for supply to the bakers of Stratford.
Retracing our path to Bow Locks, a portage was required to get our boats into the Limehouse Cut (built 1777 to avoid the long route along the Lea and around the Isle of Dogs ) which would then carry us, unsurprisingly, into Limehouse Basin. Here, the boats were carried past the locks leading to the Thames but not before we had some refreshment at The Cruising Association’s headquarters. Splashing down underneath Narrow Street, the paddle down the final stretch was on a bumpy high water towards Island Gardens, directly oppsosite the Cutty Sark at Greenwich.
A pleasant, unplanned, interesting day out was had. The backwaters of the River Thames’ tributary rivers are packed with history and well worth a visit if you’re seeking something different.