As everyone knows – or can at least guess by the name – London City Island is very much its own little island surrounded on all sides by the River Lea. For many, the benefit of such a setting is to lap up spectacular views from every angle and enjoy riverside strolls that feel a world away from Central London. The island’s unique locale is seeped in dockland history and is very tranquil, almost secluded, yet is within easy access of Canary Wharf, the City and East London’s trendiest addresses. But another unexpected perk of island life is how you can interact with the water in a way that is totally unique to London City Island.
‘If, like me, you love the open water, then London City Island is certainly a great place to live,’ says actor and local resident Daniel Dewhirst. ‘It offers a plethora of nautical experiences.’
Dan, who has performed in Netflix series The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance and Ridley Scott film Prometheus, has owned an apartment at London City Island since 2016. Outside of acting he is a keen kayaker and passionate about the great outdoors, especially water. As an active member of the London City Island community (and an active person in general), Dan is always looking at ways to improve what’s on his doorstep. Recently he set up a plastic bag recycling facility on the island (inside the mailroom), which generates revenue for other green initiatives on the island. The Islander asked Dan to share his favourite unique and unexpected riverside experiences that make life at London City Island so special.
Daniel and a friend kayaking near London City Island
Dan refers to kayaking around the island as ‘taking the scenic route’, and is a member of the Trinity Buoy Wharf Kayaking Club. ‘I know firsthand that this is one of the most visually breathtaking ways to explore the immediate area,’ he says. ‘With riverboat access to some of the best pubs in the country, such as Admiral Nelson’s old drinking hole, The Gun [on the Isle of Dogs], you can explore a truly romantic side to London City Island that’s often overlooked.’
As well as a unique location and destination in itself, Dan highlights the incredible ecology and wildlife to be found around London City Island. Nearby Bow Creek Ecology Park attracts a plethora of birds and marine wildlife, including seals, herons and Egyptian geese. The kayaking route is also ‘framed by some of the finest modern British architecture and engineering’, says Dan, who highlights the Thames Barrier, Millennium Dome and the modern skyscrapers of Canary Wharf. ‘It truly is the most scenic route to see London City Island.’
Please note that these routes are only suitable for advanced kayakers holding a licence and following all health and safety guidelines.
‘If you love the open water, then London City Island is a great place to live. It offers a plethora of nautical experiences.’
Daniel Dewhirst at the Greenwich Yacht Club
Egyptian Geese are just some of the wildlife to be found around London City Island
Dan is also a member of the Greenwich Yacht Club, which is the closest club of its kind. Here you can sign up to a range of training courses and services, no matter your level of experience. And if you don’t have sea legs, you can also volunteer to work at the boatyard to help restore old boats – something that Dan enjoys immensely. The clubhouse is also, he says, one the area’s cheapest bars, with pints costing a little over £1.
‘As a member you can hire out dinghies, go rowing and further your nautical prowess with courses such as learning to “crew” and how to captain,’ explains Dan. ‘The club also has a rather charming garden with a collection of beautiful fruit trees. It’s definitely one of my favourite hangouts – plus a couple of City Islanders have boats there so, if you play your cards right, you might be able to blag yourself a private cruise!’
WAKEBOARDING & OPEN-WATER SWIMMING
Located just a stone’s throw from the island is WakeupDocklands, a place to try your hand at high-octane nautical activities such as wakeboarding, stand-up paddleboarding and hydrofoiling. It also has a designated open-water swimming area, which is run by the National Open Water Coaching Association (nowca.org), who run various swimming sessions and courses. Lessons and equipment at WakeupDocklands are provided, but you’ll need a wetsuit. Dan actually hires out some of his personal kit, which you can find out more about here.
You may not associate London with beaches, and while the banks of the River Thames aren’t exactly Copacabana, they do offer a whimsical experience that the whole family can enjoy: mudlarking. ‘If you enjoy your history, mudlarking is truly a magical experience,’ says Dan. Mudlarking simply means exploring the riverbanks once the tide goes out to dig and hunt for treasure left behind. Bring sturdy boots, practical clothing – and a bucket, Dan advises. He regularly takes his nephews, who view it as a real-life treasure hunt. To date, his finds have included a clay pipe, a goat horn, the foot of an old Chinese dog statue and an old Victorian beer bottle. You’ll need a permit (an annual pass works out far cheaper than a daily one) and the Port of London Authority (pla.co.uk) has information on high and low tide predictions and regulations. Dan’s favourite mudlarking spot is Ratcliff Beach. ‘If you were to walk from London City Island, the entrance stairs for the beach are on the final corner of Narrow Street,’ he says. ‘The river does not declare itself at first, on account of the long wall of charming old warehouses that line the shore, but eventually you’ll come across some stairs. These were once watermens’ stairs, where passengers seeking transport along the Thames might get picked up or dropped off. Just as nowadays black cab drivers learn “The Knowledge”, watermen once knew all the names of the stairs that lined the banks of the Thames, of which only a handful survive today.’
Follow Dan’s London City Island adventures on @dandewhirst
*Please note that, while beautiful, the river can be extremely dangerous. Before taking part in any water-based activity, we advise joining a professional club for training and support. When mudlarking, please consult with the Port of London Authority beforehand and remember the safety guidelines. Know what the tide is doing, carry a phone, have your exit planned and stay in sight of someone else.
Kayaking photos courtesy of Daniel Dewhirst