It's a quarter to three and I am off out the gate and up Charlton Lane. I am wearing two layers and a windcheater. I am bare-legged but am wearing my Elgin City FC beanie which will ensure I return warm. I turn into Harvey Gardens and amble past the Valley looking up at the impressive mock-stone club badge that I use on my blog. Down the narrow terraced streets keeping one eye out for dog droppings as I skip up Floyd Road. I feel awkward. Not yet into my stride and my breathing has not yet adjusted to my pace. I wheel left up Charlton Church Lane and cross into Wellington Gardens. Past Valley Cars and the Charlton Takeaway (head and shoulders the best Indian for miles around). I am still getting used to the struggle and have to clear my airways before I reach Vicky Way. I make my way up Highcombe and along Bramshott Avenue before turning up Eastcombe Avenue. This is the last uphill stretch of my run and I have to shorten my stride and breathe a little harder to get to the top. That's a mile or so done and the least interesting part of my route out of the way. I have about another seven miles to go.
I head over the A102 and look down at the O2 Arena where I will be in little over half an hour. I leave The Standard at Westcombe Hill and bear left along Westcombe Park Road. I forgot my gloves and my hands have been stinging cold so far. The red and blue of my knuckles is fading and I know I will be comfortable in Greenwich Park. There are some fantastic houses in Westcombe Park Road. It's a modest enough road but there are some real gems tucked inconspicuosuly behind high garden walls. My favourite is the last house on the left across the road from the strange Vanbrugh House, or Vanbrugh Castle as I have always known it. This house is well maintained and has it's living room on the corner of the house with panoramic views over the Park and London beyond. What sunsets they must get on good Summer evenings.
I love Greenwich Park. I enter from the gate at the top of Maze Hill and follow the footpath to the crest of the hill above the swings and the boating pond where I spent hours as a nipper. From here I get my first view of the river and I can judge the height of the tide. The Dome is prominent again and I am looking down on Docklands. As I start my descent, the City comes into view and I am again reminded that this is the best vantage point in London. Down the hill and I am quickly onto the Meadow between the Observatory and Queens Anne's House. You can always judge how busy the park is at this point. Not bad for a cold but bright Saturday in January.
Out through the park and I throw an envious look at the drinkers in the Gloucester. It's not so hard in the winter but it's a killer in the Summer when the sun's warmer and the beer colder. There are always tourists up and down King William Walk so I stay in the road and negotiate the traffic on the one-way system. Again, this stretch is great in the Summer and you don't notice the road or feel your limbs when there are so many people to look at. I check the works at the Cutty Sark for signs of progress but there still aren't any. The Thames Clippers are operating their queues further around by the foot tunnel now so no wave or abuse from "Captain" Eddie, Dundee's own legend who is usually charming the queues on behalf of AEG.
I am now on the riverfront and heading back home-ward passed the Naval College. For years these fanstastic buildings were closed to the public but no longer. Not only are the grounds open, but students abound and there is usually something happening - the odd film crew or, as this Summer, our very own "Greenwich Eye." Two weeks ago as I ran along in front of the Naval College I was treated to a spring tide and the footpath for two hundred yards was six inches deep with Thames water and the waves lapping the perimeter wall of the college. Once my trainers were wet, it wasn't a problem but I did feel for those I passed who had ventured beyond the point of no return and were getting properly wet.
I turn passed the Trafalgar and there are only a handful of Customers sitting outside and they all have hot drinks. Into Crane Street and the fleeting food smells from the Yacht. The flag stones here are large and irregular and I can't avoid altering my stride to avoid stepping on the cracks. Trinity House appears next on the right and I glimpse in as I pass the front doors. There are still a few locals out and about and the odd tourist but this is where things change. The Cutty Sark pub isn't doing much business and it's outside tables and chairs are empty - definitely a better Summer trade here. Onto the cobbles of Ballast Quay and I have to stretch to peer into the elegant front rooms behind the imposing sash windows. Lots of money here and how handy for Greenwich. There are luxury flats going up at Enderby Street which promise much needed new customers for the Pelton Arms. Somehow though, I think they might take some time to arrive and they might be the sort who prefer a bottle of wine indoors than a drink in a back-street boozer. I have left the river for a minute or two but am quickly back running down a dark corrugated iron alleyway that might have tourists deciding to turn back towards Greenwich. On either side of this alley-way is a scrap metal business which I see as the gateway to the industrial riverfront.
The footpath opens to the river again and winter sunlight is shining brightly on the Thames and illuminating the tower blocks of Docklands to my left. A Thames Clipper speeds passed and I subconsciously count the number of passengers on board. I am always concerned that these services cannot be run profitably and that AEG will one-day pull the plug on this fantastic service. Above me loom the enormous concrete grain silos built towards the end of the 70's which employed my Old Man for a time. There are a couple of tales here but no time today. The path twists and turns here around former yards and businesses and there are a few rare trees before Dog-Shit Alley. I'm not sure if it's got a proper name but the smell is always intense. It has nothing to do with dog-doings and everything to do with Tunnel Refineries. I am told it's malt or a variety of other harmless sounding substances, but the smell is always fresh. I always feel for tourist or other day-trippers I pass here because they look in pain and are invariably wondering how long they will have to put up with it. Amazingly, it disappears after 80 yards or so and the path is fenced through a flattened building site which was undergoing soil tests last year. The previous business was a dirty operation and the top yard of soil has been lorried away. I guess it may be a while yet before luxury housing appears here on this prominent riverfront. A hundred yards or so and I am back on the river, this time in front of open aggregate works and directly across from Docklands. It is quiet today but there is often a barge being unloaded via a mobile crane on the quayside or a huge tanker disgorging it's own cargo using it's onboard gear. If there's work going on, there will be someone patrolling the Quayside to alert the crane drivers to the occasional passers-by who are usually on two wheels if not jogging.
Today I look up at the monuments to progress across the river. I count up the 13 floors of Harbour Exchange Tower where I once occupied a glass walled office in the corner of the building which was the envy of many I worked with at the time. I look at the most prominent buildings in Docklands which belong to the Bankers and allow myself a wry smile. These will be empty today but during the week I wonder if there's anyone chained to their desk by the window who look down on me padding by on the other side in my own time and wish they could swop places.
Out on the river there are three small yachts in a line at ninety degrees to the riverbank and a man is standing in a dingy apparently giving them lessons. I wonder if this is what's actually happening. The tide has turned half an hour or so ago and they are very unlikely to be beginners. I run past the premises of Peters Pies (now appearing at the Valley?) and the dis-used Delta Wharf as I turn onto the Millenium footpath that runs around the outside of the Dome. I cross the Prime Meridian of the World here and momentarily imagine I am somehow more important for a second or two. I can see Blackwall Reach and the Thomson-Reuters building on the other side of the river. Here there are steel and concrete moorings put in for the Millenium and perched high above them are two Cormorants. Both sit as they are inclined to do in any sunshine with their wings half-opened and warming, Phoenix-like. They rarely move in this position and I find it hard to avert my gaze, just in case.
I am now at the back of the Dome and the smells from the restaurants under cover are fed into the open air via the vast stainless steel extractors. You can't make out any one style of cooking but the blend is delicious and spurs me on. "Slice of Reality" sits here too. It's a cross-section from the wheelhouse of an ocean tanker and it sits on a pedestal above the river-bed. I've seen it a hundred times but I have to peer inside again for some more mundane detail. Do they really sail the seven seas on half-inch thick steel plate?
The winter queue for the Thames Clipper at the O2 pier is small and there is more activity on the building site in front of the Dome. The first building is up and the second, which is larger, is now up to 13 floors. The mock-up of the finished Peninsula was pasted up on a huge hoarding outside North Greenwich station. I thought it was a romantic vision of a mini-Manhattan and something of an artists' dream. However, the first two buildings to appear look just like those on the poster, so I am intrigued as to the future here. All of that is presumably on hold and the never-never as things stand.
The Dome is behind me and I am glancing sideways at the David Beckham Centre. Two huge aircraft type hangars which hold football pitches but never seem to have anyone coming or going. The car park is usually empty too, so I wonder how it survives. On the river here are the first boats of the Greenwich Yacht Club. They are moored to buoys and left to the ups and downs of the river. My obssessive side means that I count them and, as always, there are 31 or 32. I find this reassuring as it once again confirms my view that boats are largely a waste of time. Most boat-owners are people who got really fired-up at the prospect of boating but for whom the novelty has long-since worn off and they can't find another buyer. That's why there are always the same number of boats on view. It's a Saturday afternoon and none of them have slipped their moorings. It's pretty much the same in the height of Summer.
Ahead are the multi-coloured lego buildings of the original Millenium Village. Darren Bent owned one of the penthouses and lived here whilst entertaining at the Valley. I wonder when he was last here? There is an ecology centre here too attached to the man-made lake that provides the outlook for the inhabits of the "village." Give it it's due, there is always a couple of visitors here and today is no exception. The main modern Yacht Club boat-yard is also here with it's beautifully positioned bar on two floors above the river. What a great looking venue - almost worth owning a boat for. Unfortunately, it too always looks empty. I accept I am usually running during the day but I've never seen it heaving like it should be in the evening either.
Jut over a mile to go and I am passing the deserted aggregate works on the Charlton riverfront. Today they are silent but during the week one or more of the conveyor belts are usually grinding away and depositing powdery contents from moored ships onto accumulating mountains on the other side of the wall. The footpath here is sandy due to the wind the first runner I have encountered today passes me and nods in mutual understanding..
Back in civilisation and I pass the Anchor & Hope. No takers for their improvised marquee and the front room looks quiet too. January is not a good month for publicans. My pace quickens as the Barrier approaches. The sun has now dropped out of sight behind Blackheath but it's light is reflecting brightly off the Barrier's metal piers. I leave the river here and take the home stretch up Westmoor Street. On a week-day I can expect a few derisory looks from the oily overalls and spanner-wielders but they've all packed up early today and it's deserted. The Albanian boys at the hand car wash catch me passing and I get a friendly cheer. Three minutes later I am home and Mrs Peeps give me a look that tells me what I already know - Charlton are losing.
I shower quickly and am dressed and tuning into the game on CAFCTV. The first words are hear are "it's there, two-nil to Sheffield United and Charlton look to be heading out of the F A Cup." I hear the consolation as I begin to type this but am not really listening. I can't be bothered with the rest of the scores or for reading any reviews. Time to play with the kids before bed. I'll worry about Charlton tomorrow.