BBC Travel piece
Few visitors know that London has 640km of waterways – and there’s a serious movement taking place to restore these “blue corridors” to their former glory.
Though most visitors to London think only of the River Thames, the city is a myriad of waterways. Old maps show a skein of rivers and brooks that provided “blue corridors” traversing the city for centuries, providing both sources of food and recreation. But as London boomed, these waterways faded from consciousness – encased by walls, turned into polluted backwaters or simply covered over to run unseen beneath busy streets.
But these “secret” rivers are imprinted on London’s geography. Marylebone started life as St Mary by the bourne (an old name for a watercourse, in this case the Tyburn); while Bayswater, Knightsbridge, Westbourne and Holborn are all named by waterways that ran through them. Deptford was the site of a deep ford over the Ravensbourne, while Wandsworth is named after the River Wandle. East Ham and West Ham get their names from an old word for an area between rivers (hamm) – in their case, the Lea and the Roding. And while Britain’s leading newspapers have left Fleet Street, the River Fleet still runs beneath.
“London should really be one massive wetland – a salt marsh on an estuary,” said Will Oliver, a development manager at Thames21, a charity helping guide 40-plus river restorations. Thanks to the organisation’s efforts alongside other groups, buried rivers have returned to the light, while others are being rewilded in ways that will improve the lives and environment of millions of people, as well as provide a key boost for nature.