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A little bit of London heaven


A writer often faces a dilemma when writing about a favourite place, especially when it is still undiscovered by the masses.  Sharing is caring and all that, but sometimes the secret can be coveted with possessive glee, leaving it to someone else to reveal all.  But some places are just meant to be shared and London’s Thames Barrier Park is one of them. 

Built for the people of Newham and opened in 2000 it is London’s largest new park in fifty years.  Newham is an industrialized of East London, on the North side of the Thames.  Home to London’s great Royal docks the Borough was a major target during both world wars when much of the riverfront was destroyed.  The skyline is still dominated by the vast architectural wonders of the Tate and Lyle factory, built in the late 19th century and the now derelict Millennium Mills of the 1930’s, although the Thames Barrier pulls the visitor’s attention rapidly back to the current Millennium.

It is this juxtaposition of modern and historic urbanisation, which gives the Thames Barrier Park an almost surreal quality.  The entrance to the park itself is a building site, as the DLR extension tries to catch up with the rest of the development all around.  The unprepared visitor may have a sense of entering some sort of derelict urban wasteland, as they pass under this concrete viper winding its way along the bends of the Thames.  And then the smell of lavender hits.  Children’s squeals of delight upstage the builders’ banter and lead you to the heart of this reclaimed landscape.

The park itself is 22 acres of award winning landscape design of the 21st century.  It has a symmetrical layout, and consists of square and rectangular pockets of varying horticultural styles. The heart of the park is a dry dock now filled with exquisitely crafted topiary in the shape of waves leading down to the Thames.  Each wave basks in a bed of lavender, and many other seasonal plants offer colourful crests.  Grassy paths in between conceal perfect hideouts for children running to catch a wave down to the river.   A steel bridge provides the perfect viewpoint to take in this fluid floral foray.  At the height of summer the beds are being sprinkled, and through the misty haze men in overalls and masks are on the attack with weed killer.  Their backdrop is the Thames Barrier itself, a majestic structure almost gleaming with a sense of its own self-importance.  The same unprepared visitor could be forgiven for feeling the urban waste ground had been swapped for a set from a science fiction film.  The dominant dark green of topiary and purple lavender offer such a dramatic contrast against the steel of the Barrier it takes your breath away.  Rather like a red carpet streaming up the aisle of a pale sandstone cathedral, the textural contrasts are lusciously dramatic.

Turning away from the natural water source of the Thames at the distant end of the dry dock is the man made source of the children’s joy.  32 fountains jump out of the ground, soaking the children as they dance from one to another.  The set has changed to one of New York’s bursting water hydrants.  Adults look on in envy at their lost youth, and one parent shouts, “Don’t get your school uniform wet”.  Luckily the sound of water pounding on the concrete below helps to deafen little ears and the fun goes on. 

Walk along one of the peripheral paths down to the riverfront where architect Andrew Taylor has created a modest yet graceful pavilion of remembrance.  This is dedicated to the people of Newham who lost their lives at war.  Four tall slender oak pillars support a wooden roof, offering comfort and shade from the summer sun.  One visitor who is reading the peace dedication on a stone bench announces smugly, “So, all this development is thanks to the Luftwaffe”.  Each to their own, but looking up through the circle in the roof of the peace pavilion, the only planes to be seen are those using the facilities of the Parks’ neighbour, City Airport.  It might be more appropriate to offer thanks to the inspired Newham Council, which commissioned this most perfect retreat.

Nestled between Boeings and barges, butterflies thrive on the meadow areas of the Park.  When children have wrung out their clothes there is space for them to cycle, scoot, and play football or basketball.  In the enclosed playground, one parent bemoans the fact that they have travelled from Kent as the Park was described by friends as one of the best in London, and that the playground was tiny.  Not only that but their children were now soaking wet from running through the fountains.  So, be warned, Chessington it aint.  But if you enjoy green space with design elements which lift this area out of the rubble into a brighter future, where children jump out of gushing fountains to try and touch the wings of the plane taking off over their heads, where people just seem to smile and feel it is their own secret discovery, then this is worth a visit. 

How to get to the Thames Barrier Park

The Pavilion
Thames Barrier Park
Barrier Point Road (Off North Woolwich Rd)
London
E16 2HP
United Kingdom 
Thames Barrier Park is situated on the north bank of the river Thames, just off North Woolwich Road in Silvertown, East London between Canning Town Station and London City Airport.
By Underground
 Take the Jubilee Line to Canning Town. Thames Barrier Park is situated approximately 1.25 miles  from the station
By Bus
• Bus service 474 or 69 from Thames Barrier Park to Canning Town. Jubilee Line from Canning Town to North Greenwich
• Bus service 161 or 472 to Eastmore Street
By Docklands Light Railway (DLR)
Take the Beckton Service to Canning Town. Alternatively take the Beckton service to Custom House and cross the Royal Victoria footbridge following the footpath to North Woolwich Road (15 mins walk).

For further information see the Park’s website:  http://www.thamesbarrierpark.org.uk/

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