ELL Walks – St Katharine Quay to Limehouse Basin

The tussle between private and public land is dramatically apparent along the Thames Path between Tower Bridge and Limehouse. Huge blocks of flats and luxury apartments dominate the riverside and hog whole parts of the path as their own. They also boast beautiful gardens, replete with signs urging members of the general public not to congregate within them. However, when the sun is out and the temperature warm, there isn’t much hope of stopping the hordes from seeking a pretty spot somewhere along the Thames. Walking through this part of Tower Hamlets affords some stunning views and serene spaces but it is also worth checking out for the geographical power struggles alone.

Tower Hamlets walk info:

  • 2/3 hours long
  • Accessible by foot/bike
  • Comfortable shoes and pre-packed food and drink recommended
  • Pubs, parks and good views along the way
  • For half-day trippers and inner-city strollers
  • Use Shadwell, Limehouse or Wapping overground stations

Ravenous developers aside, there are other noticeable contrasts too. The Thames Path can obviously be accessed at many points along the river, but I chose to travel to Shadwell overground station and walk, which is where I saw that two traditional pubs within spitting distance of each other have been converted into a convenience store and fried chicken joint respectively. Only their signage remains, mere furniture in a part of town that has left them behind (real ale lovers beware: there are more corpses scattered around.) But what is here now seems just as vibrant as any old school boozer. Move down Chapman Street and you’ll find Halal wholesalers complete with bright strip lighting and freezers full of food tucked neatly beneath the railway arches. They are packed with customers.

Moving out onto Cable Street, still walking parallel with the elevated train track, the environment begins to feel like something out of one of Guy Ritchie’s black-comedy gangster flicks; now car dealerships and taxi ranks fill the arches and at any moment it feels like a haphazard group of East End hard men could pull up and dump a body on the pavement. There’s a hotdog stall out the front of one chauffeur agency with a couple of suited guys hanging out in the warm midday sun. They look like they might be talking about how to topple Big Boy Caprice or what to do with the remains of The Teflon Don. It’s not somewhere I’d want to be in the evening, but on a hot blue-sky afternoon it’s safe enough to day dream and wander on.

View East London Lines – Tower Hamlets Walk in a larger map

Eventually you’ll find St Katharine Quay which is a world away from the grit of Shadwell. Here are glistening white luxury yachts and splendid apartment blocks. It’s a haven for city boys and girls who line the edges of the quay during sunny lunchtimes, eating food bought from the nearby Waitrose. Business talk fills the air and if you’re wearing anything but a suit or office dress then you’ll feel a right scruff, but this little enclave of prosperity is worth a peak if you haven’t seen its spoils yet.

With a little bit of navigation it’s quite easy to find the Thames Path and the glorious open space, grand views and cool gusts of breeze that it affords. Look to the west and you’ll see Tower Bridge and to the east Canary Wharf looming large. The path reaches right out to Limehouse Basin and beyond, so the walk onward from St Katharine quay alternates between the riverside and cobbled, Dickensian streets.

This is where London old meets London new; whole sections of the Thames Path along here are closed off, having been turned into balcony or garden space for the ground floor flats of the luxury apartments that have sprung up beside the river. Some sign posts still point toward the path but if you choose to follow them you will be immediately greeted by a locked iron gate put in place to ward off intruders, flaneurs and tourists.

At first, having to alternate between the brilliantly refreshing path and pokey back streets is a little annoying and seems relatively pointless, but Wapping high street is great if you pay attention. Here you’ll find cobbles and the big, imposing backsides of the impressive old Wharf buildings that are coveted so highly by those with cash to splash. It’s all very much untouched apart from the few yuppie eateries that are scattered about as if at random. There are a few cosy looking pubs too. It’s all very quiet and peaceful, the bustle of the docklands long since swept away.

Things get a little more natural once you hit Shadwell Basin and the King Edward memorial park. The basin is a good spot for a rest where you can relax around this big inner-city pond if the weather is good. There’s an abundance of joggers, cyclists and dog-walkers and the area seems well used for recreation. Cross the road and hit the park where locals and students chill out and take photos of themselves next to the river. There is a great stretch of path toward Limehouse basin from the end of which you can either get back on the overground, head into Canary Wharf or move north up one of the canals toward Victoria park.

Tower Hamlets Playlist: Click here for a Spotify playlist to soundtrack your walk.

It includes an upfront selection of classic, British and electronic Hip-Hop and Two-Step from artists like Madvillain, J Dilla, Lewis Parker, Mike Slott, Flying Lotus, Ital Tek and the XX. You must have access to Spotify to use this feature.

Check out other ELL walks in HackneyLewisham and Croydon.

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