Thames Barrier review
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The Thames Barrier is a bit of a pain to get to because you need to catch a bus from The O2. You can't really walk it (you'd need an extra pair of legs for that), and you can't catch a tube train either. TRS has some boats that go to the barrier but they don't actually stop and let you off -- all they do is sail around it. And the Thames Clippers keep motoring on to Woolwich -- that's too far to walk back. So it really is the bus or nothing. And it's hardly worth the bother, to be honest. It's not the kind of place you'll want to take your partner or your kids. I think you need to be on your own, a bit bored, a bit melancholy, with nothing better to do than stand on the river staring at the rain.
Start off by catching the tube to North Greenwich. When you step outside the station you'll be standing next to the O2 Arena. Look around for a branch of Costas and have a coffee in there -- that's where I go. If the O2 Arena is open then you might prefer to have a nose around inside because they've got a lot of pubs and restaurants underneath the rim. It's like an indoor street in there, like an undercover town -- it's quite impressive the first time you see it.
After that I recommend walking towards the river for a quick look upstream. Just follow the signs to the Emirates Air Line Cable Car and keep going until you reach the river. Can you see the Thames Barrier in the very far distance? You might be able to see an occasional plane taking off from London City Airport as well. If you look in the other direction then you can see the twisted metal of the ArcelorMittal Orbit by the Olympic Stadium.
Now head back to the bus station (same place as the tube station) and catch the 472. It's quite an ugly bus ride so don't bother getting your camera out. It's all concrete, car parks, car washes, cash and carry warehouses, and big huge hoardings hiding half-finished building sites. Everything seems to be a work in progress around here, but showing no progress whatsoever. After ten minutes you need to get off by the Royal Greenwich Technology College. Then head down Eastmoor Street and keep going through the park.
I only ever come here on a grey day because the river is very raw and industrial around here, and you need to get the weather right when you're in a melancholy mood. I'm happy just standing here listening to the clanks and bangs coming out of the smokestack factory on the other side. The Tate & Lyle sugar refinery is unloading a boat at the moment, and there's a load of rusty-coloured birds dive-bombing the water.
Do you fancy walking through that concrete tunnel on the left? I know it looks a bit scary but you get a better view from the other side. It's not exactly the prettiest of riverside walks but who cares -- this is sightseeing of a different sort. It's all padlocked piers and rusting metal fences down here. The bare branches growing through the railings look like prisoner's fingers wrapped around some prison bars. Every wall has got a roll of barbed wire on top with shredded carrier bags trapped and flapping in it. Instead of flowerbeds it's empty beer bottles, plastic bottles and crushed up Coke cans.
They've nailed a few lifebelts to the fences but trust me: nobody falls in this water by accident. If you're drowning then it's because you jumped in deliberately. That's the kind of place this is. Everything's waiting to be covered up by weeds.
After a few minutes you'll be able to pick out the distant cable car and where we were standing before we boarded the bus. If you walk far enough then you can pick out the Gherkin, Sky Garden and Shard.
Before you go home you have to visit the museum. You'll find it inside The View cafe on top of the hill. It's sort of like a council cafe, I suppose, something you might find down the Citizen's Advice. I've been here a few times and it's always the same experience -- it's like a dream that keeps repeating. It's always shut, it's always raining, and the benches are always soaking wet so I can't sit down. When it finally opens I buy myself a polystyrene cup of weak tea and try and drip-dry in the corner.
You have to ask for a museum ticket from the canteen lady who is probably nattering on her mobile phone. It's only a few quid to get in, and you'll probably be the only person down there. You might even be the only person down there all day (hence her look of startled surprise when you ask for a ticket). It's basically just one little room partitioned off with a few information boards which tell you why we needed the barrier, how they built it, and how it works. They've got a little cutaway model of it as well. That's pretty much all there is. Even if you stand there and read every single word then it won't take you more than fifteen minutes. And they've got some toilets as well. Then you can go home.
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