Thames Pathway

Journal of a Walk Down the River Thames

by Keith Pauling


Deptford has nothing on Greenwich. Whatever depths I had been through were mere blips as the surroundings crashed to a new low. This was industrial wasteland of the lowest order. Shoddy factory shells producing goodness knows what. Groups of depressed-looking people in shabby clothes with that unmistakeable look of the itinerant worker from some bedraggled desperate country that always seems to end in –stan. Notices say “Danger – Keep Out” and strange smells fill the air, telling me that somewhere there is a chemical works that would only be allowed to operate far from regular habitation.

Do you remember the old westerns where the town was deserted? The film director always seemed to show a ball of tumbleweed being blown down the main street. As I walk around the Millenium Dome I can not help but look for the familiar tumbleweed. This was Tony Blair’s great vision for the future of Britain and what a depressing place it is. If this is the result of rejuvenation then God help Stratford after the Olympics have gone. It is a desolate place.

The “Dome” itself still looks a very impressive building. Designed by award-winning architect Richard Rogers it is instantly recognisable. Built upon the meridian line it has twelve 100m high support towers, representing the twelve months of the year, (or some others claim it is the twelve numerals of the clock-face). The diameter is 365m, representing the days of the year.

It was not the building itself that was the problem, it was what was on the inside. Or to be more exact what wasn’t. The dome was to hold “The Millenium Experience”, which was so hyped-up and over promoted that it would have embarrassed the great P.T.Barnham himself. What was on display was a load of pseudo-sociological nonsense. The popular press had a feeding frenzy. Amazingly the Millenium Experience was still the top tourist attraction for the year 2000 with over six million visitors.

However, what was not there were a further six million visitors. All of the finance had been calculated on the assumption that the Dome was capable of attracting twelve million people. This wild speculation over attendance figures caused the financial ruin of the whole project. When the exhibition was closed at the end of December 2000 there were not many tears shed.

The dome was purchased by the Anshutz Entertainment Group, who have redeveloped the building, and sold off the name to a telephone company so it is now officially known as “The O2 Arena”. The main arena can seat 20,000 people for a concert, and there is a second hall, “Indigo2” that can accommodate 2,350. An eleven-screen cinema complex completes the facility.

So, we have the complete opposite of the year 2000. Then we had a fine building and surroundings with a load of tat inside, and now we have a marvellous inside with desolation outside.

The deserted landscape continues around the Greenwich peninsula, and then it is back to an industrial estate again. I trudge along past unit after unit representing the bottom-end of the automotive market, thinking to myself that it would have been far better to have finished my walk at Tower Bridge. Just as this low ebb was reached I came to the end of the estate and before me lay the last wonder of my journey.

< Previous Page | Next Page >