Postcard from Erith and the Thames Path, February 2015

Varied and rewarding walk along the Thames Estuary starting and returning to Abbey Wood rail station on a circular route comprising paths of the Green Chain and the Thames Path routes. We were surprised and impressed by the quiet grandeur of the river Thames, here fully tidal in the estuary downstream of the Thames Barrier. And there really is a ruined Augustinian abbey in the woods at Abbey Wood!

Lesnes Abbey and Abbey Woods on the Green Chain route near Thamesmead, East London

Visiting first Lesnes Abbey, which was founded in 1178 AD and dedicated jointly to St Mary and St Thomas the Martyr ie Thomas à Becket, who was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral in nearby Kent. Lesnes Abbey was dissolved in 1525 and much of the stone was reused for other buildings so only the ground plan remains of the church and cloister. The abbey’s water reservoir and fish ponds in Abbey Woods survive as reminders of the self-sufficiency of the monks living under the Augustinian Order but parakeets now screech in the trees.

We followed the Green Chain long distance walking route which aims to link the river Thames with the multifarious green spaces south of the river. A curious speciality of this route are signposts with three fingers, each indicating a Green Chain path. They are all correct as Green Chain offers a number of loops and alternatives but you need a map to decide which to take.

Erith is pretty much the last rail station in this direction that can be visited for a Oyster card fare. Erith has a deep water jetty which has been restored as a condition of redevelopment of Erith Railway Wharf as a large supermarket. The concrete pier featured two rail lines for which the buffer stops have been restored at the end of the pier.

We enjoyed a picnic on the pier of provisions supplied from the supermarket: roast chicken (still hot) and a fruit flan, messy but probably counts as one of “five a day”. The morning’s grey cleared revealing fine views of the QEII Dartford Crossing bridge a few miles further downstream. The receding tide revealed impressive channels in the mud and food on the waterline for the birds so we were untroubled by pesky gulls.

The quiet grandeur of the view from out on the pier was a welcome surprise: interesting new industrial architecture aside decaying wooden wharf piers and steel structures, all passed ceaselessly by old Father Thames.

Walking back upstream past Jenningtree Point and opposite the huge Ford works at Dagenham, we were rewarded just before sunset by a memorable skyline view from Cross Ness of the skyscrapers of London both at Canary Wharf and in the City; Shard, Walkie-Talkie, Gherkin and so on, it’s unusual to be able to see them all in one view. The Cucumber and Cheese Grater are still to come!