People, be not afraid

"On this road there are no godspoke men. They are gone and I am left and they have taken with them the world."
Cormac McCarthy, The Road

On Sunday we went to Bow, to a cafe called The Counter on the unpromisingly-named Roach Road. Tucked away down streets of industrial estate, it sits next to a canal that forms part of the perimiter of the Olympic Park. If you can put up with chaotic service then we can heartily recommend their bacon sandwiches, but this site does not need another cafe review right now. We want to talk about the waterway next door.

Aside from the dynamic backdrop provided by the Olympic park works, it's not that different from some of the places you'll find east of Greenwich, towards Charlton and Woolwich. But compare. It's possible to walk for miles along some parts of the Greenwich riverside, without seeing a soul. In the twenty minutes we spent walking the Bow towpath, these are some of the things we saw:

  • A woman, sculling down stream
  • A man landing a 14 pound pike – and other people gathering for the weigh-in
  • People cooking on their houseboat
  • A man drinking wine on his balcony
  • An blank brick wall made extraordinary through a huge grafitti mural
  • People cycling

A landscape that feels industrial and desolate when deserted, becomes a wonderful short work with the addition of people. The people that animated the towpath also sustain a cafe on an industrial estate and another built from shipping containers.

The best bits of London have lots of people in them, the worst bits are empty. Some of that is effect, much of it is cause. We're looking forward to more people discovering Brockley when the East London Line comes.

29 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hopefully there are no cannibals north of the river! Cormac McCarthy, The Road is a great read but surely lots bleaker than an industrial estate near Stratford! Or maybe not?!

Brockley Nick said...

@Anon - It's possible that the people cooking on the houseboat [spoiler alert] had a baby on a spit.

Brockley Nick said...

Ps - I wrote this last night and I now realise that it slightly jars with today's other article about overcrowding, but I stand by it, nonetheless!

Anonymous said...

That's two East London Line anecdotal sermons in one day.

Praise be to Nick!

Brockley Nick said...

Yes, sorry about that. But I really liked that towpath.

Paddyom said...

I agree with the sentiment of this thread, bring on the influx of fresh blood to the SE4 area which hopefully the East London Line will bring. Contrary to many peoples wishes I hope Brockley does get 'discovered' and continues to thrieve as a result. The businesses which open to benefit from a population increase would be a welcome addition to the area in my eyes. Any further improvement to Brockleys retail/gastro offering is very welcome!

Ol' Man River said...

There's a lot of difference between walking along a canal towpath and a massive tidal river like Old Father Thames.
Not sure what your message is: bring back the Croydon canal?
Have to get rid of the trains then!
(They roughly follow the old canal route).

Brockley Nick said...

The message is that people make cities great. It was a response to those who say that they'd rather Brockley keeps its head down and hopes that nobody notices it.

Anonymous said...

Well there's an underlying assumption that the people who come will be affluent, people who'll want to frequent places like the Orchard. Supposing it's refugees people more averse to attend the Redeemed Church.

Tamsin said...

Anyone else know the poem by James Elroy Flecker - the Oxford Canal? Again a lovely description of the life beside the tow-path. With the slightest encouragement I will cut and paste it into a posting for you when I get home.

Brockley Nick said...

That's not an underlying assumption on my part. The people on the towpath were a very mixed bunch.

Anonymous said...

Oh go on then ...

Tamsin said...

Actually don't have to wait for either encouragement or to get home - the wonders of everything being on the web here it is

I hope!

Monkeyboy said...

Kosovans love fruit, it's been proven.

Graham said...

Lets hope so Nick - I admire your optimism

Ross said...

weirdly enough a new brockley resident works at the counter and also makes our soup.

Goldie Locks said...

The best bits of London have lots of people in them, the worst bits are empty. We're looking forward to more people discovering Brockley when the East London Line comes.

Brockley is not the best bit of London nor the worse for me it's just right.

Mb said...

So not bad enough the be unpleasent. Daming by faint praise?

Rowley Birkin QC said...

Once you factor in value for money I'd say Brockley IS the best bit of London.

Very friendly community (after 8 years I know LOADS of people despite having never worked locally), great transport links, lots of arts-related stuff going on (Brockley Max, Open Studios, Brockley Jack theatre), relatively affordable and very attractive property, Hilly Fields (I love Hilly Fields!) and to top it all this great blog to let me know what's going on locally.

It's possible I've had a couple of glasses of wine tonight, but I do genuinely think Brockley is great. And I've lived in several ostensibly "nicer" bits of our beloved Capital. The difference there was I never knew my neighbours, there was a lot more traffic, and you now pay up to £1,000 per square foot for property.

Tamsin said...

And don't overlook the arts related stuff on your doorstep. There's the Telegraph Hill Festival starting on Friday website here and lots going on in Depford too - Creekside Arts, the Albany and the Laban Centre.

Headhunter said...

I have to say though, I sometimes love the walk along the deserted riverside between Deptford and the Thames Barrier. It gets a bit busy round Cutty Sark and the old Naval College and then the crowds thin out to nothing.

I love some of the abandoned dockyard machinery you can see along the way. Last summer I cycled out to the barrier and back and was so busy looking around me I ran into a random metal post that the local council had seen fit to place in the middle of the path. I cycle up to 120 miles per week, a lot of it through London traffic, largely without incident, then crash into a solitary post on an abandoned stretch of riverside.

The other way is good too. Last summer I walked from Brockley to Deptford then along the river, stopped at Borough Market for food and then walked up to a friend's birthday bash in St Pancras. The riverside is completely abandoned until you reach Tower Bridge when all of a sudden there are tourists everywhere. I love the sense of space you get on the people-less bits...

Tamsin said...

The Creekside Centre do walks actually up the creek at low tide. The people concerned are livid, now, with the powers that be for cladding all the creek walls in one fell swoop with sheet metal, destroying the bio-diversity there, but it is still an enjoyable walk. Waders and a large pole to use as a walking stick provided.

Used to be the case that in walking along the Thames path downstream from Greenwich at one stage it went throught a working wharfside (not very busy, but you had to go along the path painted on the tarmac).

Anonymous said...

I had no idea you cycled so much Headhunter, do tell us more ;-)

Anonymous said...

I agree with Headhunter, sometimes I crave to see no one at all, to have time outside and feel unmolested by crowds.

Headhunter said...

Really anon? You didn't know? Ooh, I could wax lyrical for ages about cycling if you like?

ppp said...

I don't care who comes here as long as they share my values; fairness, respect and civic responsibility.

Anonymous said...

Another vacuous comment, sounds very much like the empty padding that most mainstreem politicians fill their speeches with.

ppp said...

Like clockwork...

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