In March 1843, the Thames Tunnel opened to pedestrian traffic. It was the first tunnel ever to be built under a river. It took 15 years and cost a lot of money and lives. I wonder they didn’t just build a bridge. If they had built a bridge, though, there wouldn’t be a Brunel Museum in Rotherhithe for us to delightfully discover. Because it was built by two Brunels, father Marc and his son, Isambard Kingdom.
This week, instead of turning left, we headed in the opposite direction, west along the Thames path from the Hilton ferry. Of course we started the day rather late with what amounted to lunch at Carluccio’s before heading down to the wharf to make the choppy crossing.
Our first stop was the Lavender Pond Nature Reserve. This is not far from the Hilton, just off the Rotherhithe Road. It was part of the whole docks and quays set up this side of the river, back when ships arrived to dump their loads of timber. It opened in around 1815 and served the area well until it was closed in 1970 (with most of the rest of them) and, in a amazing lack of foresight, filled in.
A few years later (1981), all of that fill was dug out and a new Lavender Pond was created. This amounted to one of the first urban nature parks in Britain. And it’s quite peaceful though when the museum is closed, you can’t wander along the boardwalks or within the actual reserve. We did see a mallard on the water though.
Thwarted, we wandered on, reaching the Surrey Basin just in time to watch a very long line of Ramblers stretch out across the waterway. Quite odd. I’ve never really understood walking in groups. It somehow takes the solitude out of it.
Walking along the Thames Path, when it actually goes along the Thames, is always a treat but when you find an interesting sculpture, it’s doubly so! And this is what we found today.
It’s called Sunshine Weekly and the Pilgrim’s Pocket and was made by Peter McLean in 1991. It shows a boy from the 1930’s, reading a comic while the ghost of a pilgrim reads over his shoulder, shocked at what the future will bring. I had a good look at the comic and it’s full of the sorts of things that would frighten the bejesus out of a pilgrim. Just look at the pilgrim’s expression. He is totally shocked.
The reason for the pilgrim is because this is very close to where the Mayflower left for the New World back in 1620. In fact, years ago, when I was working at Global Beauty, I went for a drink at the Mayflower pub, which is just around the corner from this statue. And we walked right passed it today, on our way to the Watch House cafe in the oddly named Rotherhithe Village.
I say ‘oddly’ because the village in question contains a pub, a church, a cafe, a restaurant and a museum…but no shops. Hardly a village, if you ask me. Though, because Mirinda was adverse to a visit to the Mayflower, we went to the Watch House cafe because Trip Advisor raved about it.
Originally, the Watch House was a shelter for the evening watch to sit and keep an eye out for grave robbers – it’s right next to the grave yard. These days it’s a sort of trendy cafe which sells amazingly huge white chocolate and sea salt cookies (delicious) and lattes (very, very, very weak – you’d like them, mum) as well as other light stuff you’d expect from a small cafe in an old Watch House.
Then, from the cafe, we made our way around the corner to the Brunel Museum. I’ve been a big Brunel admirer for many, many years so this was a wonderful find. The museum is in the original engine room for the Thames Tunnel and tells the story of its construction as well as delving a bit into Isambard Kingdom’s other great achievements. One of those is the now defunct cabled Hungerford footbridge across the Thames that is all but gone these days, replaced by a far more modern version that also takes trains across.
In fact, outside the museum, someone has created a few benches in the shape of some of his bridges. Mirinda found this old scruff sitting on the Hungerford one.
Having spent the requisite amount of time in the Brunel Museum, we made the long walk back to the Hilton, crossed the river then went back to the flat.
After a well deserved rest, we went to the Lotus for dinner. We’re becoming right regulars, we are.