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ISLE OF DOGS: Route D (Northeast) 

This is one of a set of walks in the Isle of Dogs.
 It's a circular route,  from South Quay DLR,  taking in the area round the tidal lock at West India Import Dock, plus Poplar Marina. Much of the trail takes you away from the modern business area and includes  a narrow cobbled street that saw some amorous adventures and a fair bit of smuggling.
From South Quay station cross Marsh Wall to find two sets of steps (opposite bridge) leading down to West India South Dock.Take the eastern flight (or slope) and follow the path as it goes to the right. The dock was built in the late 1860's, created from the City Canal (1805) that cut straight right across the Isle of Dogs. The idea was to save the awkward journey round the Island, but it was a commercial failure, largely owing to the fact that the effect of the tides seems to have been underestimated. Incidentally, the canal made the peninsula a real island until in 1930 the western entrance, unused for decades, was finally filled in following the rebuilding of the Blackwall tidal lock, now spanned by the slightly menacing Blue Bridge you can see to the northeast. Nowadays all kinds of vessels tie up at South Dock for a brief stay, but the lovingly-preserved Portwey, an old (1927) coal-fired tug and the Lord Amory (centrepiece of the Docklands Scout Project) have permanent moorings.
The scene around the time of the Diamond Jubilee was amazing - I counted around 30 narrow boats waiting in the huge (178m long, 24.4m wide) lock and it was still only half full. The Dunkirk boats were berthed all together - I swear I could hear them exchanging reminiscences! At the end of the broad dockside path follow the fenced way left past the boatyard to get to Preston’s Road. Turn left. You are now at the Blue Bridge (1969). This is a drawbridge that lifts to let in  large.  Pause to take in the size of the lock - a bit bigger than those pretty countryside canal stops you may know. . .To the east is the (unpretty) dome of the O2. Cross the bridge to pass Wood Wharf where three cranes remain.

At Lovegrove Walk eight dolphins grace the water ('Leap', Franta Belksi, 1982) in what  used to be  a small repairing dock. Continue along the road as it runs across the old Blackwall Basin lock. Just beyond this is Bridge House (1820) built for the Superintendent of the West India Dock Company. Go a little further to Landon's Close. On the left, just inside the entrance, is a small brick tower with double red doors. This is an 1857 hydraulic accumulator tower which served the London and North Western Railway. Return to the road. A  few metres away  you will discover the entrance to Poplar Dock Marina. At first a reservoir, then a pond for storing timber, in 1851 it became London's first railway dock. An avenue of chestnuts leads past a great variety of boats - several with little gardens on their roofs. At the northeast corner of the dock there is a delightful sculpture Figurehead for Docklands (Anna Bissett 1997). Wander round the marina past two red cranes. It is possible to walk past the inlet to reach Blackball Basin where more boats are berthed, but please be aware that there is no official exit from this residential area within easy reach, so return to Preston’s Road the way you came.
Retrace your steps in the direction of the Blue Bridge, but this time cross at the traffic island nearest the bridge to get to Coldharbour. At the corner of the narrow cobbled street is another dockmaster's residence, Isle House (c.1820). Note the north-facing bow window - an unusual orientation, but one which which would have given a clear view of the entrance to the Blackwall Basin. Next door is Nelson House, tall and plain - unlike Emma Hamilton, mistress of Nelson who was a renowned beauty. In the late eighteenth century he had acquired the house that bears his name and from here he would check on the guns in the docks. It was also handy for discreet meetings with Emma in The Gun a few doors down the road. 
There has been a pub on this site since the early eighteenth century, and during much of that time plotting of one kind or another has been going on. It still has a smugglers' tunnel and in the staircase there's a spyhole which in in bygone times was used to keep a look out for Revenue officials. In spite of it now being a smart gastro pub, staff were very welcoming to me, a distinctly unsmart windswept explorer, when I dropped in for coffee. Go to the end of Coldharbour, past some cottages, to regain Preston's road. Walk back towards the bridge. The modules of the Thames cable car link can be seen moving slowly backwards and forwards to the O2. A bit creepy. You should now trog down to the traffic island - it really isn't safe to cross nearer the bridge. Once over Preston’s Road turn right, back towards the lock. Follow the path as it turns left into the passageway you used before. Make your way by the dock until you are reach the steps that lead up to Marsh Wall and South Quay DLR station. If you wish to carry on to Canary Wharf, take the second (western) flight of steps (or the easy access slope further on) back down to dock level and walk straight ahead. Go round the corner and along the dockside. In a few minutes there is a row of restaurants with a pleasant path lined with hanging baskets and soon you will reach the gracefully curving South Quay Footbridge. From the centre of this (slightly bouncy) crossing you get a good view of South Dock. When you are over the footbridge, walk down the steps (or take lift), then pass through two sets of glass doors, crossing a large atrium. Turn left and cross at the lights – you are now at Canary Wharf. For details of the walk in that area click here.

Useful links:
General Island History 
The West India Locks Power and TransportThe West India Docks history
Printer friendly version of Route D

Photos: (click to enlarge)
Portwey and Lord Amory in West India Dock
West India Dock lock, June 2012
Leap/Bridge House
Figurehead for DocklandsPoplar Marina

This is just one walk from the many to be found at London Tube Rambles. There are architectural gems, beautiful country views, historic places and quirky buildings even in the most unpromising areas covered by the outer London Underground stations. Usually the discoveries are within a mile of the Tube or DLR - often only five minutes walk away. If you reached this as an individual page via a search engine, you might like to click on the above link and see the other destinations explored. You'll be amazed at what's out there!

© DR