Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Our Picnic at the Thames Barrier Park

By Whimsy ChiChi

The Thames Barrier is a likely place to visit particularly if you live in the area. I had never been there and after clicking into their official website I came upon the Thames Barrier Park. The site promised "stunning views" and a park that was "A jewel in the crown of London's parks", "An excellent children's play area", "5 a side football/basketball court", "Great places to picnic and play", and the ultimate highlight: "A fountain plaza where 32 jets spring from the ground to provide a cooling and entertaining delight for children to splash and play". With promises like that, our party of 3 adults and six children set off.

The Green Dock (the Thames Barrier is visible in the horizon)

To get there you take the DLR from the Cutty Sark to Westferry where you hop onto another DLR that is bound for King George V (a 20 minute journey in total). You want to get off at Pontoon Dock where as soon as you walk out of the parking lot you come across the Green Dock, where supposedly if you want to train for the 2012 Olympics is the place you should be as a complete circuit of the boundary paths totals 1 km. At the start and finish of your trek you get to lounge on the deck of the Visitor Pavilion Coffee Shop. This we found to be useful for two reasons: our java fix and the toilets (they could do with more maintenance). There are no other toilets on the premises. You have been warned. But the coffees were freshly brewed and wonderful. You could keep the kids happy with a whole range of cakes, biscuits and ice creams as well.

Anyway, we checked where the play area and the water jets were to be located and tucked away our cameras as the sign read that filming was prohibited anywhere near there unless by consent of management. Great we thought, well-organized. Off we went only to find to our amazement that the fountains were no longer there. They had been vandalized some time back (according to our source from the coffee house) and they since removed them but she wasn't sure whether they were being repaired or were gone for good. That was our first disappointment of the day. The day was still young though and there were to be a few more surprises up ahead.

The Thames Barrier

After appeasing the kids, we assured them that all would be OK and promised them the joys that awaited them at the "excellent play area". On the way there, I must credit the park's architects. The landscaping had been done by renowned International horticulturalist Alain Cousseran and Alain Provost who had selected colourful flowers and shrubs in a spectrum of tints, shades and shapes creating a climate infused with an abundance of butterflies and crickets (they provided background music for our picnic all day). The kids were highly amused by it all and spent a good time searching the shrubs for a glimpse of them. Things were looking a lot better until we were hit with the next discovery. The playground was shut for renovations.

Now it was the adults' turn to be furious. We all have our limits. But we had promised the kids so much and so far we hadn't delivered a single one of those promises. We just couldn't explain to them that it would all have been avoidable had the park's management posted something on their website. Anything! But you just can't explain anything really when you've got a bunch of kids who've been wound up to expect something and then don't get it. Add to that the fact they were getting hungry and tired from their trek. So we laid out the picnic, and things just got better from there.

The view from our picnic site of the Thames Barrier.

We picnicked on the lawn facing the Thames Barrier and very close to the Thames Barrier Walk. The view is stunning, relaxing and the sci-fi look of the barrier itself is enough to spark any imagination. The Children took turns guessing what it was all for until my Junior brought all their wondering to a halt by stating the simple fact that they were from space and that they were brought by aliens (for those of you worried about our children's education we did eventually tell them what the barrier was for but they still preferred the alien theory).

In all, the day was not a loss. The playground did finally open its doors and the kids played on the roundabout and slides but the swings were off limits as they had some digging being done around them. The football area remained shut as well. But the kids still managed to throw a ball around in the picnic area, so our tip would be to bring a ball, a Frisbee and possibly some bubbles for the kids, and when they're bored with that have them look at the water, roll down the grass slopes and chase the butterflies. If all else fails, there's nothing like an old game of hide and seek behind the trees.

What you realize is that it really doesn't take a lot to please the children. It's just giving them the space and freedom and just sit back and watch how creative and imaginative they can all be. It always helps to pack enough food to go around (A hungry kid is a nightmare simply put). But our trip was fine in the end and we did get to go somewhere we hadn't been to before. As for the park being a "jewel', it leaves us wondering what type of jewel they had been referring to in their ad.

Adult DLR return ticket (zone 2 & 3): 3 pounds.
Coffee: 1.5 pounds.
Thames Barrier Park website:


Brockley Nick said...

I love that park and love the fact that it still feels like an undiscovered gem. The fountain is great for kids on a sunny day. Sorry your day there wasn't all it should have been.

The Greenwich Gazette said...

I do agree with you Nick that it does have its own unique style that sets it apart from the others. Unfotunately had it not been for the inconvenience of having told the children about the fountains all would have been ok. But as I said, all was not lost and we did end up having a good time. I do intend to visit again and check out the barrier more closely and have another cup of the park's delicious coffee and maybe the fountain will be back then. :)

Oleg Mihailik said...

If you are interested in Barrier, there is a little museum with a small playground directly opposite, on the South bank of the Thames.

Then you simply walk go further to South and see Marion and Marion Wilson parks, very green and bushy. Marion Wilson Park also has got a small Zoo with peacocks, hens, ducks, some deers, sheeps and other animals.

And also down the river, about 20 minutes walk or 5 minutes bus journey you hit the Woolwich Ferry. The big old loud iron ferry floating back and forth between river banks, belonging to breed extinct decades ago. It's free and if you went again to North bank you'd found Royal Victoria Gardens, small nice park with a big playground.

I could not say Victoria Gardens is a jewel, but I love that place. And I love that old melancholic ferry.

And there used to be an end station of Silverlink railway. It was really an interesting line. You could run around the whole London from North Woolwich to Richmond. Such a shame they've closed the station.

Oleg Mihailik said...

BTW, here is the way to see on Thames Barrier from the top:

Window Live Maps Bird's Eye View

The Greenwich Gazette said...

Oleg thanks for all the info and I will be sure to visit all these places. My kid will love Marion Wilson Park. I'd been there a long time ago and I'd forgotten all about it. Thanks for reminding me of it. But i'm sure a lot of people out there will benefit to go to the places you mentioned.

Mark B CMLI said...

We went on 1/07/2012 and found the park to be disgustingly littered as a result of the Pleasure Gardens event over the road.
As a Landscape architect I was really disappointed at the lack of information on the park and the amazing selection of plant varieties. 1 faded sign isn't enough. Unlike the author of the article I actually thought the coffee offer was appalling - the management of the beautiful pavilion was woeful - a complete betrayal of the original design team. I love this park it is stunning and one of my favourites in London. They need to get a decent operator into the pavilion (one of those who manage the royal park pavilions would be a good start)and a new signage and information system.