Our own divine Ralph Ward (UKR head of Lea Valley projects, all-purpose Olympic legacy know all, and now visiting prof at UEL) had offered to lead an Open House walk "Beyond the Olympic Park" into the mysterious, and quite unmoved, water-world of the Lower Lea Valley, covering several miles from the arty bustle of Hackney Wick on through increasingly uncharted territory all the way to East India Dock, and the nearby cable car terminus, where the deathly hush would be broken only by the occasional cries of seabirds in the mist and of lost knots of tourists who had confusedly ventured over from Greenwich peninsula. Who could resist?
So far so good. We professionals can cope with 60. But when he got to Hackney Wick at 1.45pm, for a publicised 2.30pm start, to stick up a few "Open House Walkers gather here" type notices he found himself already worryingly surrounded by 15 or 20 people. When he asked why they were here so early they handed him a list of their names to ensure that "they had a place on the 20-place tour". Hmmmm.
He of course despatched them to the pub (or "bar" actually, as this WAS Hackney Wick) and thoughtfully adjourned there himself to meet Jim Clifford, the eminent Canadian urban historian of the Lower Lea who was also hosting the walk. When Ralph's brother Geoff also arrived at 2pm to say that there were around 100 people milling around the station, and the bus couldn't get through, Ralph and Jim thought they had better return and take charge... to find what had now turned into a crowd of 215 people, plus a few extra kids and seagulls in tow.
But, hell, no one was going to be denied the glories of the Lea River on a sunny afternoon. So off they went, with a spring in their step, sometimes in single file down river and towpaths, negotiating joggers and cyclists coming the other way, in a crocodile stretching at some points several hundred yards, but morphing together at selected stopping points, including Dane's Yard, Strand East (properly Sugar House Lane) where Valli van Zijl gave a spirited presentation of Landprop's plans for the site.
A small group led by Jim Clifford peeled off to take in that fine Cathedral of Sewage, the Pumping Mill at Abbey Mills, and got a bit lost, Jim's knowledge of contemporary local footpaths being not as strong as his knowledge of footpaths in 1852; the rest doggedly heading direct for Three Mills, and the group by now beginning to stretch out across time zones. But coalescence was again achieved at the extraordinary Cody Dock, where a stunning stretch of river is backed by wholesale ex-industrial desolation, with the towers of Canary Wharf brooding in the near distance, and where host Simon Myers (www.gasworksdock.org.uk) was able to say that they had tripled the number of walkway visitors in that one afternoon.
I think it is fair to say it was a huge success. Oh I do wish I'd been there, and not round the in-laws'. Michael Palin meets Mike Leigh meets Benny Hill.... and, as Ralph later observed in his usual laconic manner: "We may have lost a few; some could still be wandering the Bow Back Rivers trying to find their way out. Thank god for the weather; in fact they all seemed to have a very good time and wanted to know when the next one was happening..."
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