Saturday 9 May 2015

London Docklands / Limehouse Running Route

Click here for route map 
Length 6.9 km (4.3 miles), terrain: flat

London Running Routes:
Best London Running Routes: Overview
Thames Embankment
Docklands-LimehouseRegent's Canal and Camden Town  
Hampstead Heath  
3-Parks Route: Hyde Park, Green Park, St. James' Park  
Regent's Park  
Hyde Park   

Heathrow Harmondsworth Moor  

Richmond Park
Notting Hill
Victoria Park
Wimbledon Common Trail Run
Royal Docks/ExCeL Route 
Kew / Brentford Thames Run  
For more running routes, see Route List.
NOTE: An alternative start for this route could be the Canary Wharf tube/DLR station

If you're staying/working in London's spellbinding Docklands, or if you just want to explore it, here's a route that takes you past the most compelling spots. This East London area was once a thriving harbor, importing/exporting goods throughout the British Empire. It was full of ships and dock-workers and warehouses and grain-silos. Most of the peninsula, surrounded on three sides by the Thames, was called the "Isle of Dogs". Before the harbor quays were built, it was a swampy area that needed dikes and windmills to protect it from frequent flooding.
Along Millwall in the Docklands
But after World War II, the Docklands area declined and much of it went to waste, with weed-filled lots separating abandoned warehouses. But London decided early, in the 1970s, to do something about it, and the city came up with a plan to redevelop the area. The plan called for new office buildings, apartments and entertainment areas, connected to the rest of the city via new public transport lines, partly running on the old freight-train tracks.

The result was an amazing rejuvenation, and an impressive architectural collection along the old quays. The most interesting old buildings were re-purposed, while a lot of modern buildings went up between them. The little harbor basins were re-used as marinas and as homes to floating restaurants and museum-ships. Now the area houses a major financial center around Canary Wharf, and pleasant neighborhoods built around the former harbor basins, the way urban life should be.

So, if this sounds like something you might want to take a closer look at, just jump on a DLR (Docklands Light Railway) train out to the Limehouse station to begin this fascinating route. The DLR can be traveled using the normal London Transport Oyster-Cards (make sure to swipe in- and out on the machines in the stations).
The start of the run: coming to Limehouse Basin
Limehouse is a basin at the west end of the Docklands, now used as a marina, surrounded by nice, new apartments. The basin connects Regents Canal to the Thames.

Get out of the station and turn left to get onto Ratcliffe Lane, on the south side of the station. Now turn left again and run eastwards, with the elevated train tracks to your left side.

The lane ends after a block, but continue running straight ahead onto the wide pedestrian path. You will soon see Limehouse Basin open up along the right side, full of narrow-boats (canal barges, now used as houseboats) and sailing ships and yachts.
Narrow-boat with Limehouse Basin
Now continue running along the water's edge. You'll soon run over a little footbridge that spans the spot where Regents Canal connects to the basin at a boat lock.

Now turn right to run past some modern, pointy buildings, keeping the water on your right side. After the pointy buildings, the basin path comes back to the elevated tracks, but just keep following the water as it continues southwards again.

You are now running along the east side of the basin. Cross the little footbridge and continue following the basin until it narrows at the next ship lock and then ends at Narrow Street.
Along Narrow Street
Now turn left and continue heading eastwards. The Thames itself is just behind the houses on your right side, and you can see it occasionally between the houses. Narrow Street has a nice collection of restored old buildings and newer apartments.

At the 1-km mark, when you come to a green square on the left, you'll see an arched entrance through the Duke Shore Wharf building on the right, with a sign pointing that way for the Thames Path. Turn right and run through the building and onto the courtyard behind it.
Heading into the Docklands along the Thames
You are now right at the Thames, and you have a nice view along the river in each direction. Turn to the left here and now follow the riverside walkway, with the river to your right.

You'll go through a metal gate and then over a little footbridge, but just stay along the river now.
The Thames Path on the Isle of Dogs
Ahead, you'll see the tall buildings of the main Docklands financial district around Canary Wharf. The river curves to the right, around the Isle of Dogs. That last red-brick building that you can see in the distance is the spot where we'll leave the riverside path, after the 2.7-km mark.

The path first goes along a rounded area, where you'll pass the Canary Wharf Pier. You'll later pass a park, McDougall Gardens.
McDougall Gardens, with the red-brick flats behind it.
The modern red-brick apartment building comes right after the park. Run past the building along the riverside path, then turn left just after the building. You are now running east along Arnhem Place.

In just a block, this little side-road ends at the main street along the west edge of the Isle of Dogs, Westferry Road. Turn right here and run the short 100-meter stretch to the bus-stop and the red mail box. Now turn left to run down the narrow footpath, running under several big harbor cranes, and with the basin of Millwall Outer Dock opening up to your right.
The turnoff from Westferry Road to Millwall Outer Dock
After 200 meters, the water turns to the left, so you turn with it, now running along Millwall Inner Dock. You're now heading north, past more cranes and floating restaurants. This area looks as if they once wanted to make it an entertainment district, but most of the ground-floor space is now being rented as office-space. Too bad that it didn't work out!

When you come to the north end of Millwall Dock, you'll run under the DLR tracks at Marshwall. Turn left here, and when the tracks cross overhead again in just a few steps, turn right to run to the water of South Dock.
The footbridge at South Dock, with DLR train in background
There are some museum ships tied up here. Now turn left to run westwards towards the modern footbridge that spans the South Dock water.

Cross the footbridge, heading north again, and run right through the glass building with the café inside (I don't normally route a run through an office building, but what the heck: this is the most interesting way to go!).
The indoors portion of the run: maybe stop for a coffee?
Coming out the other side, you'll be at Jubilee Place, with the Canary Wharf underground station ahead. At rush hour, this place is packed with people hectically rushing to and fro. Here, at Jubilee Place, you are surrounded by all the biggest Docklands office buildings, home to many financial institutions. The neighborhood is basically an extension of London City.

NOTE: This is the alternative starting spot for this route!
Jubilee Square Tube Station
Cross the square towards the north, running towards the tallest building here, but before you get there, turn left before the round-cornered Reuters Building to run along more water, Middle Dock, with the water to your left. This is Mackenzie Walk, going by a row of pubs and restaurants, full of bankers every evening.

The walkway turns to the right where water blocks its progress, and you run a bit uphill to W. India Avenue. Turn left on this tree-lined street and run straight into the circular park in the middle of Westferry Road, Westferry Circus.
Westferry Circus
Cross the circus and you'll see that you have looped back to the Canary Wharf Pier again, at the Thames. Now run down the steps to the riverside walk and run back northwestwards, following the way you came.

You could continue on the same route all the way to Limehouse Station, but let's see some other scenery here first. Just after going under the crane and over the footbridge, turn right and take the other walkway to Narrow Street again.

To the left, you'll see that same park that we saw before turning onto the riverside walk. But this time run through the gate into Ropemakers Field park, and run straight through this pleasant spot. This long, narrow park was once used for rope-makers to twist strands of twine together into thicker ropes. Interestingly, the notorious "Reeperbahn" in Hamburg was used for the same purpose, with Reeperbahn meaning "Rope-maker lane".
In Ropemakers Field
At the end, you go over a little footbridge, where you turn left and run the 100 meters back to the west side of Limehouse Basin.

So now, just cross the next footbridge on your right, and follow your earlier footsteps back to the station, a half-kilometer to the west.


  1. We did this as a family walk in August 2017. Really lovely walk, great, easy to follow instructions.

    We couldn't go through the Duke Shore Wharf archway, but the next access to the riverfront is just a little further on, on the right. It's the way back described later on in your route
    Thank you!

  2. It's one of those less touristy parts of London. I'm glad you made it!