The arrival of the new East London Line puts Sydenham for the first time within direct reach of many communities further up the line. Here we investigate some of the attractions of our new “friends in the north”
Surrey Quays Come out of the bright glass-fronted station at Surrey Quays and you are immediately confronted by the Surrey Quays Shopping Centre just across the road, which includes retailers such as Tesco, BHS, Mothercare and River Island. Just a short walk behind the Centre brings you to the wide expanse of the Greenland Dock, home of the Surrey Docks Watersports Centre, which boasts a wide range of sailing, canoeing and sailboarding activities as well as a large gym. Further along Greenland Dock, close to the river, is the Surrey Docks City Farm, open to the public Tuesday-Sunday 10am-5pm.
Canada Water This futuristic station with its distinctive conical-shaped glass roof is at the heart of the ELL providing an interchange with the Jubilee Line. Canada Water lies close to the massive Decathlon Sports Centre, the largest sports retail store in the UK and a must-visit for any sports, cycling or camping addict. A little further along Surrey Quays Road is the Odeon Surrey Quays, a giant multiplex cinema – and just next to it, the Hollywood Bowl, a vast ten-pin bowling alley. We’re always complaining that our part of the world has no cinema, now there’s one that can be reached by a regular 15 minute train ride followed by a 5 minute walk.
Rotherhithe is the last station on the ELL south of the river. Close to the entrance lies the Brunel Museum which hosts a fascinating exhibition about the Thames tunnel, the oldest tunnel in use on the London Underground – and the world’s first underwater tunnel – constructed by Mark and Isambard Brunel, and which is now used by the ELL to cross under the Thames. Close by is the historic Thames-side pub, The Mayflower, close to the spot where the Pilgrim Fathers first set sail for America in 1620. A short distance further west is another famous riverside watering hole, The Angel – famous for its view of Tower Bridge and reputedly, as a favourite spot of Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon when they were courting!
Wapping with its trendy restaurants, warehouse apartments and cool parks such as the Wapping Rose Garden just opposite the station is at the heart of a regeneration which would startle those who knew this formerly run-down area twenty years ago. The riverside has three historic pubs looking across the Thames foreshore to the south bank. Best-known are The Captain Kidd and The Prospect of Whitby (with its eye-catching mock gallows close to the seating area at the back of the pub – a reminder of the former Execution Dock which once lay close by). But well worth a visit is the outwardly plain-looking Town of Ramsgate with its own historic “stair” leading down to the river.
Shadwell This tiny neighbourhood station is a brief distance from Wapping DLR station just around the corner. A short walk along Candle Street takes you into Cable Street, scene of mass battles against Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists in October 1936. Look out on the far side of the road for the looming tower of St George in the East, one of Hawksmoor’s east end masterpieces. Further on is the newly refurbished Wilton’s Music Hall, the oldest surviving music hall in the world which is currently running an attractive programme of music and cabaret.
Whitechapel The interchange station for the District and Hammersmith & City lines, lies directly opposite the Royal London Hospital. Walk east along Whitechapel Road and you’ll find the Blind Beggar pub, “front office” for the infamous Kray twins and scene of one of their most outrageous murders. In the opposite direction, along Whitechapel Road, is the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, Britain’s oldest manufacturing company, founded in 1570. The foundry’s output includes the famous American Liberty Bell and Big Ben, the largest bell ever cast at Whitechapel. Travelling one stop along the District Line from Whitechapel to Aldgate East brings you to the Whitechapel Art Gallery and to Petticoat Lane, a 1,000-stall market spread across Wentworth Street and Middlesex Street. Near here are the well-known gastronomic attractions of Brick Lane. You’re deep in trendy art territory here so look out for independent galleries such as Artcadia, The Spitz Gallery and NO:ID, all based along Commercial Road.
Shoreditch High Street This new dedicated station lies on the north-eastern edge of the City, just a few minutes walk from Liverpool St Station and Broadgate. North-west of the station, Curtain Road and Old Street have a large number of clubs and pubs. Dennis Severs House in Folegate Street recreates a former Hugenot silk-weavers home and traces its history, in an almost magical theatrical recreation of family life. Check whether you are trendy enough to enter Hoxton Square (down Kingsland Road and west of Shoreditch High Street) where the White Cube Gallery and bars such as Bluu, The Hoxton Apprentice and Zigfrid are located. From here, SE26 suddenly seems like a long way away.
Hoxton station is adjacent to the beautiful Geffrye Museum – you look down into the museum’s attractive herb garden from the up-platform of the station. The museum, built in a terrace of former almshouses is a sister to our local Horniman Museum, and its collection traces the history of the British home. Head a short distance south-east across Hackney Road for Columbia Road Flower Market (Sunday 8am-3pm) and a plethora of craft, furniture and deli shops. This is the Handbag Capital of the UK with more handbag shops than any sane person could surely want.
Haggerston Don’t be put off by the grim housing blocks surrounding Haggerston Station. Cross Kingsland Road into De Beauvoir Square with its beautiful early 19th century town houses; then head south down pretty Mortimer Road or De Beauvoir Road until you reach the Regent’s Canal. Walk west for three-quarters of a mile along the towpath until you reach beautiful Haggerston Park (awarded a Green Flag in 2009). Visit Hackney City Farm situated in the south of park, open Tues-Sunday 10am–4.30pm; animal feeding time is around 4pm and there’s a brilliant café. From here, it’s a short walk back along the Hackney Road to Hoxton station.
Dalston is the end of the line – for the time being, at least, until the ELL is extended as far as Highbury and Islington in May 2011. The area contains a rich mixture of culture and places of interest including Ridley Road Market, just north of the station, the Rio, London’s largest independent cinema and The Vortex jazz club in Gillett Square just off Kingsland Road. A few hundred metres north is the wonderful Arcola Theatre, one of the best small theatres in the capital.