It’s nothing like a walk in the park, really - but that’s only because this is actually a walk around the former Olympic Park.
Or, to be precise, the newly fashioned Queen Elizabeth Park.
Closed-off to the public since the last firework fizzled, it has left a massive footprint in East London. And while some areas of it will be re-opened to the public in July - effectively marking the anniversary of the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games - the best way of taking-in what’s happening on both sides of the fence at present is to find your way around what really is one of the most fascinating four-mile hikes in Britain.
Hackney Wick is as good-a-place as any to start the walk which will take you back in time and over new ground.
As unprepossessing as Hackney Wick overground station may seem, it won’t take long for you to prise open the shell and discover The Hackney Pearl - just one of the many hidden gems you’ll find in this particular neighbourhood of London. Arty, edgy and very (VERY!) tasty, it’s a good place to sit and savour a ‘flat white’ before setting-off on the graffiti-strewn route to your next stop - The Yard Theatre, to see what’s coming-up in a place which has already made it onto the radar of the likes of GQ Magazine.
From there, it’s one short hop to Crate Brewery which offers pints, pizza and wine in equal measure - as well as a totally chilled canal-side berth. One of the most unusual beer gardens in Britain, it’s also one of the few where you can take your drinks outside to a moored rowing boat, as opposed to a table and chairs.
The Hackney Navigation Cut leads northwards to Hertford, and southwards - with some fantastic views of the former Olympic Stadium - to Old Ford Locks (yes the Old Ford Locks, once “home” to Channel Four’s Big Breakfast).
From here, the towpath takes you to Three Mills Island - a tiny parcel of “Olde England” in an otherwise urban landscape, and boasting the largest tidal mill in the world.
The island is now a conservation area bordering the River Lea. The architecture and location - with its cobblestone streets, oast house architecture, clock tower and old brick buildings - are a real discovery…
…as is, another short distance away, Dane’s Yard Kitchen. Open for breakfast, brunch and dinner, this modern day eatery offers fresh, contemporary British cuisine with an international influence - and is as good a place as any to kick back and relax with a drink after the first half of the walk.
Setting off along the High Street towards Stratford town centre, landmarks include the old Yardley Building, countless new multi-use high-rise developments, several big name budget hotels, the very stylish Westbridge Hotel, and Discover - the children’s story centre which most recently drew plaudits from Camilla The Duchess of Cornwall.
Three miles (and around three hours) into the walk, and it’s already time to think about somewhere to eat. The choice is endless, of course, from the Moroccan and Lebanese cuisine on offer at Dar Mrakesh, to the gastro-pub menu at the historic King Edwards VII pub (“King Eddie’s”) on the Broadway.
But there’s still a sense of saving the best to last, as you then head into Stratford’s Cultural Quarter, with its art cinema, Stratford Circus, and the genuine star of the show - the world-famous Royal Theatre: built in 1884 and with a long and varied history of producing plays “for the people”.
Passing by the art installation, The Shoal, this particular walk finishes at the biggest shopping mall in Europe - Westfield Stratford - boasting shops as far reaching as Primark to Prada, not to mention one of the top 20 places to stay (according to TripAdvisor) in the whole of London, The Staybridge Stratford.
Stratford International Station is already installing a Border Checkpoint in anticipation of becoming a gateway to Europe. But for the moment, Platform 2 - and a bullet train back to St Pancras - is the last port of call for the walk round this particular park.
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