Accidental Holiday is a guide book and guided walk in Greenwich, in the area around the Dome.
Accidental Holiday is a guide to the Greenwich Peninsula created at a time when the Peninsula is poised for dramatic change in the form of a “ master planned community” . Consisting of a walk and suggested activities this guide invites you to engage with the area in playful ways that call into question the appropriate uses of public space. It is the result of collaborative research that brought together people with a particular link to the area, each with their own perspectives. They included: a local liberal democrat councillor, children and parents from Millennium Primary School, local residents and workers, employees of the company developing the area - Meridian Delta Ltd and local media arts company Independent Photography who commissioned the project. Together we took outings across the peninsula: engaging with each other and the environment. Our activities raised discussion of pertinent issues which you will now find printed throughout the guide.
All over the Greenwich Peninsula, plants are bursting through fences and breaking through concrete. Sometimes in big cities, the people are doing little more than surviving, while in forgotten corners a diverse array of plants and animals, birds and insects are really thriving in a complex web of interdependence. This leads to the question, what do people need in order to thrive in the city? Do we need to copy some of the characteristics of wild and feral plant and animal life and be:
lawless devious exuberant curious trusting
challenging risky nurturing patient primal
Inspired by wild things, this guide invites you to behave in a variety of ways that contrast with the increasing homogenisation of public space. This behaviour aims to retain some of the complexity that is lost when concrete asserts itself and when public space is privatised, controlled and sanitized.
Once marshland, the peninsula is always changing. Places you are directed to, may no longer exist. Many things including a large farm, market gardens, houses and allotments as well as a gas company, existed here before the current developments. Records dating back to 1622 make reference to nettles and brambles in the area . Are wild plants and animals so persistent that they will thrive here long after the present phase of development? Or do we need to provide the right conditions for the wild and feral plants of the future?
Lottie Child July 2006
WALK- some preliminaries
The walk will take around four hours, finishing with a campfire on the beach. You may want to gather a few adults and children together for it, as some of the activities are more fun in a group. You will find it helpful to carry a few lengths of string with you and could also bring a picnic. Rather than carrying it with you, why not hide it in the bushes at the far end of the car park at North Greenwich tube, behind the blank billboards. The walk will return you there later.
Deliberately testing socially imposed boundaries can result in risk and insight, responsibility for one’s own safety and those around you are essential. Please be alert when you are climbing on fences and walls, be polite to security guards and be careful tending the fire.
Start at the entrance to the Greenwich Peninsula Ecology Park on the Thames Path, off John Harrison Way. The ecology park is an important wetland site, protecting and nurturing plants and animals whose UK populations are falling.
The first activity takes place on the foreshore directly below the ecology park. To get down to the water’s edge, either climb over the fence, or, with the Thames in front of you, turn right along the Thames Path until you get to a gap in the fence. Be careful on the rocks as they are slippery and wobbly. Turn left along the shore and head for a concrete area and a rusty sewage outlet pipe with a hinged opening. This pipe is for waste water from the ecology park.
CURIOUS ACTIVITY: sit very quietly next to the pipe, notice the sounds, and take in your surroundings. Then lift the lid at the entrance to the pipe and peer in. Is there a frog inside?
RESOURCEFUL ACTIVITY: collect the longest, largest pieces of driftwood you can find. You will use them later to make a shelter. Driftwood is often found high on the shore, in the undergrowth where the tide has tossed it. Get a few useful pieces over the fence, turn right, with the river behind you, and carry them along the Thames Path. Turn left at John Harrison Way and walk along until you reach Central Park.
You have arrived at the site of the CHALLENGING ACTIVITY: this is where the lengths of string will be useful. Using the wood you have collected, make a shelter among the trees.
PLAYFUL ACTVITY: if you have children with you, ask them to show you how to play, on the low walls that run down the middle of Central Park. Or, try walking along a wall and jumping off the end into the ivy, getting up and running back to the beginning of the wall and repeating this until you feel like moving on. You might also like to try some guerrilla gardening in Central Park. During a research outing, local children planted sunflowers and a nettle.
EXHUBERANT ACTIVITY: if the fountain has water in it and it’s a hot day, take your shoes and socks off and get in. If the fountain is switched off, you might have fun playing football with a pebble. During the research for this guide, 23 people played in the fountains next to North Greenwich Station, aware that security guards would normally intervene.
PLAYFUL ACTIVITY 2: cross the road from the fountain and play on the bike racks in the car park. Try balancing, swinging, going under and over the racks. Then head over to the blank billboards at the back of the disused car park. In midsummer, you will see lavender, crickets and, towards the end of summer, blackberries. You may also see empty fried chicken boxes – a sign of foxes. Retrieve any food and drink you have hidden in the bushes. During a research outing, people had a picnic with homemade elderflower cordial and food made with organic vegetables given away at the end of a fruit and veg Market.
PATIENT ACTVITY: here you have a good view of Canary Wharf and the Millennium Dome. If you stay very still and silent, a mouse might emerge from the undergrowth. When you are ready, with Canary Wharf in front of you, turn right and right again onto West Parkside. Walk past the blue fence and notice the diversity of plant life bursting through the fine mesh. You will come to a cut-through on your right. Turn down it until you join Millennium Way.
FORAGING ACTIVITY: opposite you is Boord Street. Cross the road towards the clump of trees and bushes. From the middle of July, the Mirabelle plums will be yellow and ripe, on the second tree from the road. When you’ve eaten some plums with the tree in front of you, turn left heading south along Millennium Way until you get to Old School Close. On your right is the Victorian school building that now houses artefacts from the Horniman Museum. Straight ahead of you, is the site that used to be allotments for workers at the gasworks. It has now been boarded off by English Partnerships.
LAWLESS ACTIVITY: there is a metal gate ahead with a large concrete block, conveniently placed for you to step on as you carefully climb over. This bio-diverse area provides a refuge for many plants and animals including foxes, butterflies, skylarks and insects. Foxes have made pathways through the grass. Choose a fox trail to follow. In mid to late summer you will find plenty of blackberries as well as horseradish, which looks like a tough dock leaf and has delicate white flowers.
On leaving this area, turn back along the way you came and walk up Millennium Way, past the gas containers on your left. Then turn right onto Edmund Halley Way and left through the car park. Follow ‘desire lines’ places where people have walked across beds planted with Ivy to reveal the vital knowledge that eluded planners when designing the area, that is, the most direct routes from A to B bypassing traffic islands and barriers. Ahead of you is The London Diner Company. If you stop to chat, you may meet Emma or Kenny and you could ask them what they need in order to thrive.
DEVIOUS ACTIVITY: head towards the underground station but don’t go in. Turn left and walk along with the steel and glass building on your right. To your left, you will see a traffic island, covered with small trees and bushes. There is an opening at the far end. You may want to go into the hidey hole in the bushes and see if there is anything interesting inside. Have a nap, play a game, have fun.Try not to be seen as you leave the cover of the bushes and watch out for buses, as they won’t be expecting anyone to emerge here.
PRIMAL ACTIVITY: Head out of the station, in the direction of the Dome. Turn left, cross the road and you will see a sign for the Millennium Motel pointing to the right. Take the path, bear right and follow the concrete wall till you get to Blackwall Lane. Then head down to the river, turn right and then left. Go down towards the jetty and slightly to the left, walking over all kinds of flotsam and jetsam thrown up by the tide. You will find a good spot near the water to have a campfire. Look around for some dry wood: try to collect different sizes- small, medium and large - to get the fire going.
• Clear a 3 metre (10-foot) diameter area for the dry wood
• Remove any other grass, twigs, needles, firewood nearby that could catch fire.
• Ideally, build a circle of rocks around your fire, to keep it from spreading.
• Don’t build a campfire on a windy day. Sparks and other burning material can travel large distances.
• Try to keep your fire to a reasonable and manageable size.
• When you've finished, make sure you put out the fire by pouring on lots of water.
• Don't leave the fire until it's out cold and make sure you don’t walk away from any smouldering embers.
At this place which is soon to change forever, at the water’s edge, by the fire, surrounded by a chaos of undergrowth, plants and objects displaced by the constantly shifting water there is a view of the sky and the wide open river as well as Canary Wharf - a great spot for feeling like you’re on an accidental holiday.
Travel to and from the Greenwich Peninsula
North Greenwich Tube
Excellent local refreshments can be found at
London Diner Company at North Greenwich Tube
Millennium Motel on Blackwall Lane
Pilot Inn off West Parkside
To know more about the Greenwich Peninsula try one of Rich Sylvester’s guided walks exploring the area’s hidden history. email@example.com
Commissioned by Independent Photography
There are more Peninsula projects here