We had never really visited this area of London before, but decided to explore as this is where the majority of the Olympic events will be taking place. We took a Blue Badge guided tour and got a great overview from our guide about why this area was chosen to host the Olympics, she described and pointed out some of the gems of London's industrial past and showed how the area has been regenerated and how they are trying to attract wildlife back to this urban area again.
We started off, across the road from Bromley by Bow underground station at 3 Mills Island. This is a lovely, quaint, cobblestoned area with the river beside it. There are some lovely old mill buildings, one of which is the oldest tidal mill in the country which was built in 1776. 3 Mills Studios is also in this area. It is a film/television/music studio where they are currently practising and rehearsing the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the Olympic Games. It has also been used for films such as Fantastic Mr Fox and the Reader, and also pop stars like Beyonce, the Black Eyed Peas and Lady Gaga have used the studios.
The River Lea is a tidal river and flows into the Thames. There are a lot of mud flats here, which can actually be very smelly at low tide, so they have taken steps to ensure that during the Olympic Games, the river remains at a high level, so visitors and spectators are not subjected to the horrible smells that you experience here sometimes!
We walked along the banks of the river - it is very pleasant and you can see how much work has been done to clean up this area and rejuvenate it. There is a lot of green parkland, recreational areas for the locals and places to sit and enjoy the views. Look out for the "holding or linking" hands statue/memorial. Apparently this is a memorial for miners, killed when they were overcome by gas fumes. One miner collapsed, another reached out his hand to rescue him but was overcome, and this happened again, until a number of them died.
There is a big metal structure, a bit like the Olympic torch on the river bank a little way down. Apparently it is lit up at night and has become a local landmark. They are building lots of new housing next to it - this is being built by Ikea. They are not building a shop here though!
Across the road, more construction work becomes evident. There are lots and lots of new apartment blocks and housing. One of the most striking is a block that is all different shades of purple. This was on the site of the old Yardley factory where they produced and boxed up lavender water - a sweet smelling fragance. In keeping with its heritage, they have made the building all different shades of purple and lavender.
The Olympic Park area is across the road from these new housing developments. Its focus is sustainability and regeneration. The legacy of the Olympic Games is that the park will become the largest new urban park in Europe for over 100 years. There are waterways all over the Olympic Park and 30 bridges in total. The north of the park, during the Games will be kept more natural. Visitors will be able to buy tickets to enter this area and have picnics, while they watch the Games on large screens. After the Games, the park will be accessible to everyone. The Orbit will be open to the public from 2014, as will the Aquatics Centre. The price to swim in this wonderful place, will be the same as all the other council run swimming pools in the borough.
Beyond the Olympic Park is the new Westfield Shopping Centre. This was a multi-billion pound scheme. There are 300 shops and it is one of the largest shopping centres in Europe. As well as all the shops, there are lots of restaurants, a cinema and a casino. It is a lovely place - it feels contemporary and fresh, and the indoor market eating area in particular is one of the best I have seen.
We really enjoyed our afternoon in this former deprived and run-down area. It has definitely had a rebirth thanks to the Olympics, is now a destination worth visiting in its own right, and even after the Games are finished, will be a great place to come to. We will definitely come back - to visit the Olympic Park and go up the Orbit Viewing Tower, if nothing else!