London ain't quite the Gold Coast, but then who wants pristine sand when you can have broken bits of clay pipe and Thames Clippers whipping by? In this series, we keep our boots on, and take a stroll along some of London's beaches. This time: Millwall Slipway.
What is it?
Millwall Slipway, a 10-minute walk from Crossharbour on the DLR. Once the gateway to Millwall Dock, which specialised in grain and timber (slightly further anti-clockwise around the Isle of Dogs is another, more famous, slipway — the one from which Isambard Kingdom Brunel launched his enormo-ship SS Great Eastern.)
Enter through a small car park. The top of the beach is littered with a band of plastic jetsam the usual bottles, carrier bags and an (unwrapped) condom*. But don't be deterred. The rest of the beach seems relatively clean. Its centrepiece is an algae-slathered strip of concrete slipway — no longer used by boats (except, perhaps, in impromptu landings). While its Staffordshire blue brick walls (they look green to us) act as the sturdiest of windbreaks.
Millwall Slipway is not to be confused with Millwall slippers.
*Objects may vary on your visit
What's its USP?
That has to be this heavy duty piece of kit — part of the hydraulic ram used to close the lock gates. When the lock entrance first opened, it was the largest in London. You can imagine the creaks and clanks as great big steamers like the Russian ship Baku eased in.
What's it good for finding?
Clay pipes and bricks. We were first introduced to this beach on a Derelict London tour, where we found about five bits of clay pipe stem in as many minutes. This time, the finds weren't quite so prolific, although we did find one stem fragment:
It's humbling to think this was in some docker's gob a century or so back.
Millwall Slipway is also strewn with bricks; perhaps not fascinating in themselves, but it is quite interesting trying to work out the eroded names stamped into them. Like this Blockleys one:
A quick internet search informs us this particular type of brick is available in hues from buff through to traditional red, and textures including distressed, dragfaced and smooth. London teaches you something new every day.
Oh, and make sure you adhere to the rules of mudlarking, kids.
Anything else of note?
Millwall Slipway may also be an guerilla art gallery. We didn't think about it at the time, but surely, this little ensemble wasn't just washed ashore like this?
We could see it fetching £20k at a Mayfair gallery. Or maybe a more reasonable price at Gabriel Fine Art, across the road. Should have nicked it really.
This beach isn't a day trip. Apart from the art gallery, local landmarks include Hubbub and The Space — a cafe and events space in a former Victorian chapel, which does a reasonably priced bowl of homemade soup and bread, and has a decent little beer garden. For water that's actually safe to go in (we recommend against paddling at Millwall Slipway), try Tiller Leisure Centre, or Docklands Sailing and Watersports Centre. All are just a few minutes' walk.