Like its Mediterranean namesake, Cyprus can be split into two: an uneventful North and a beguiling South.
Before going to Cyprus, I made a point of refraining from puns or drawing comparisons to its Mediterranean namesake. Although the area’s name is linked to the UK’s purchase of Cyprus in 1878, I thought I was above that. However, as you pass London City Airport on the DLR, you can’t help but wonder if someone, somewhere, has tried the obvious Valentine’s Day trick – the old surprise-we’re-going-to-Cyprus-get-your-passport-we’re-off-to-the-airport trick – and whether the relationship survived.
I quickly discovered that Cyprus’ nomenclature was clearly a well-used joke in the area. Upon entering New Beckton Park, a short five minutes from the station, a talkative street sweeper informed me that place shouldn’t be called Cyprus, but Siberia. Why? “Because it’s empty, everything looks the same and there’s nothing to do”. Ah.
Revelling in his new-found Tour Guide persona, the Newham Borough Council employee proceeded to expand on his original assessment, saying that Beckton (immediately north of Cyprus station) used to be the “most sought after place in Newham in the 80s”, but as useful as new houses and schools are, they “don’t exactly give the place any character”. With supposedly only one Victorian building remaining in the area, he may have a point.
Nevertheless, I set off through the New Beckton Park in the hope that Siberia was just one person’s opinion. Minutes later, I spied a postman doing his round. Who better to know little hidden nooks and crannies in the vicinity? Well, almost anyone besides this postie, who vacantly-grimaced at my enquiry and shuffled indolently into the warren of homogenous closes behind.
Unperturbed, I headed back to the park, but soon realised that its most distinctive feature was a boarded-up pavilion, with the array of goal posts a close second. That was until I stumbled across the Beckton Corridor: a former railway line that had been transformed into a peaceful, tree-lined thoroughfare; the first bit of character on show.
Three-quarters of the way down I spotted a sign to the Beckton Globe; naturally my mind stirred, but I soon discovered that the Globe was no more than a public library. I asked the two receptionists about their favourite local divertissements: ‘Go to East Ham or Manor Park’, they said, with the latter, “obviously famous for having the gym that Arnold Schwarzenegger trained in”. How could I forget?
Despite the lure of going to a place that an aged celebrity might have been, East Ham and Manor Park were not exactly close by. Not wanting to completely renege on their suggestions, I thought I better pop to the East Ham Nature Reserve, which proclaimed to be one of “Newham’s hidden gems…[which] offers the opportunity to meet the wildlife of your doorstep”. Unless by ‘wildlife’ they meant tombstones from the nearby Saint Mary Magdalene Church, I clearly didn’t seize the opportunity.
So far, the man from the Council had hit the nail on the head, but I had faith and headed south to the Thames. I was immediately rewarded: crossing over the Bridge at Gallions Reach felt like a Simba-on-that-log-esque transformation, as you are instantly greeted with diversity, which had been somewhat amiss before. From a marina to an airport, smart flats to junkyards, industrial depots to verdant gardens, ‘Southside’ was much more like it.
Walking through Royal Victoria Gardens epitomises this variety. On the one hand, you are strolling down a riverside park, with the sounds of seagulls and gently crashing waves filling your ears. On the other, the Tate and Lyle sugar factory dominates your view, while cargo barges and heavy machinery flitter in your peripheries. Such contrasts embody London’s docklands.
As I continued walking in the sunshine, I noticed a number of plaques on the pavement, which kindly informed me that I was at the end of London’s latest walking route: the Jubilee Greenway. 60 km long – one for each of Liz’ years as Monarch – the Route stretches from Kensington Palace to the Thames Barrier – 2.5 km away from my current spot.
The mini-trek to Thames Barrier Park took me past the Woolwich Ferry terminal, the Woolwich Foot Tunnel (almost identical to the one in Greenwich, but with a quarter of the traffic), the aptly-named “Standard Industrial Estate” (located on Factory Road), a suspect-looking Chinese supermarket warehouse, the Brick Lane Music Hall (“Britain’s friendliest venue”) and the derelict Millennium Mills, before I came face-to-face with the world’s second largest movable flood barrier. Since 1982, the Thames Barrier has protected nearly 50 square miles of London from flooding and – according to the Greater London Authority – without it “London’s flood defence walls would…have to be as high as Victorian streetlamps, effectively depriving Londoners of their river”.
Thinking this might be enough for one day, I went in search of a pub, but Silvertown is severely lacking in that department. My choice was limited to retracing my steps 2km to the Henley Arms or heading to the Fox – a “warehouse” bar at the Excel Conference Centre. I didn’t fancy either.
Continuing my journey, I was again surrounded by potential attractions and distractions. On Royal Victoria Dock, I could have embarked on the Emirates Air Line gondola, gone wakeboarding or explored the Crystal – the “world’s most sustainable event venue”, which has a permanent exhibition on, unsurprisingly, sustainable development.
Yet, I decided to by-pass these treats, head over the Leamouth Peninsula (where they are intending to build London’s own mini-Manhattan) and explore Trinity Buoy Wharf, which is home to London’s only lighthouse. It is also home to a myriad of sculptures and street art, one of London’s smallest museums and a series of buildings made of converted shipping containers. If that wasn’t enough, there are also permanent and temporary art installations, a floating studio, a quaint café and an American-style diner, all on a jut of land on one of the sharpest meanders of the Thames; magical. A day out in its own right – I feel spoilt. To think a couple of hours ago, I was stumbling through Siberia.
It may have not been a pub either, but I felt the diner a more than adequate replacement. I ordered the Fat Boys Dog (£4.50), a portion of cheesy fries (£2.50) and a Diet Coke (£1).
So, what cliché works best here? A game of two halves? Good things come to those who wait? Who cares, it’s a great day out. If you ever decide to pull that awful Valentine’s Day prank, I’d go south if you want the relationship to continue.
Time: 4.5 hours