An uncanny encounter


It seems rather ominous, the gate swung open, the warning sign and the water which creeps up onto the stairs. I have passed by this gate a few times throughout last year and every time I did pass by the gates were closed. I thought it was permanently shut, and I was always curious where the stairs lead to. Why are there stairs leading to a gate that always seems to be closed? Maybe the door only opens at certain times. Because this time I passed by the street it was still broad daylight and the gate was open…

The signage mentions the London Council which indicates it was a guarded gate, adding to the image of the gate, heavy metal with spikes on top suggests it’s not a place that welcomes people. Location wise it’s situated near the river perhaps it’s only accessible to workers? Perhaps people who operate boats need to unload or transfer items between land and water. It didn’t seem like a public access. It also didn’t seem much like a work area.

A friend who lived in this area for many years then told me that the public can actually walk up the stairs and pass through if they wanted to. I was surprised to hear this because the stairs didn’t seem to lead to any further paths. What was there on the other side of this gate? She then mentioned how on a low tide time of day a small beach is revealed below. Some people go down to collect things the water sweeps up on land, or some people go below as another scenic route to walk through to the other end. Since the door was left open for the first time throughout my previous encounters I walked up to see what the other side looked like. To my surprise, the stairs were consumed by the water and there were no barriers or rails to prevent people from falling on the right side. I can sense where the moss-covered steps end that is where the water reaches its risen height, and at that time I stepped inside the gate, the water was still in the process of rising.

Even if the doors were open, with stairs leading to enter through the gates, there was an uncanny feeling to this encounter. I would like to see how different this passage would look on low tide, perhaps it would feel more inviting, but even in daylight this route did look a little unusual and not reassuringly safe on both sides of the door. The area often appears vacant, the stairs on the main pavement only had one rail. The signage was eroded with an imperative warning aimed at children. All of this looked like a scene that could be from a horror movie. With industrialised materials of stone, concrete and metal the passage looked harsh and out of reach to the general public. Even though the gate was open, it didn’t feel very welcoming.