Today is 11 months since the Olympic Opening Ceremony, which means it's one month until the Olympic Park reopens. Alternatively it's two days until the Olympic Park reopens if you have a ticket to see Kasabian on Saturday. That's at Hard Rock Calling, the first of this summer's big events in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, taking place on a succession of weekends leading up to the official opening. But how much of QEOP will you be allowed to get inside this year? It turns out, disappointingly little.
It was always the plan for the Olympic Park to reopen in stages. The North Park, that's the grassy bit along the river, would open first in July 2013. The South Park, that's the bit near the stadium and the Orbit, would open later in Spring 2014. You might therefore be expecting the entire North Park to be opening up in a month's time. Not so. Only the central bit of the North Park is reopening, that's the two lawns where the Park Live big screen viewing areas were last summer. The rest remains resolutely off limits, except for extra bits that ticketed guests will be able to access when they come for their events. Perhaps the Park's management don't want the flowerbeds wrecked again, or perhaps they're just not ready.
Here's the official map of the 'Park opening summer 2013'.
Prepare to be underwhelmed.
Visitors to the Olympic Park last year will remember there were two broad footbridges in the northern half of the Park, crossing from the main spine to the Basketball Arena high above the River Lea. The bit of the Park that's reopening is precisely the area between the two. Not the River Lawns to the north, nor the Wetlands to the south, but the bit where BAlet you sitand watchthe TV. That's about a third of the greenspace in the North Park, or if I'm charitable about 40%. Not ideal for a lengthy riverside stroll, nor for an exploratory wander, more a place to sit down and admire the view. By my calculations you could fit the Olympic Stadium almost precisely within the boundaries of the newly open section, which might sound quite a lot, but trust me, it's only a taster.
What you will find in this unlocked rectangle is an adventure playground. It'll be called Tumbling Bay, but nobody's yet revealed much more about it save that children can enjoy "playing in the sandpit, building a den, discovering insects or roaming the walkways among the treetops." Alongside you'll find a wooden visitor centre called Timber Lodge, inside which will be the community-led Unity Kitchen Café. This'll be run by a Camden community group and will have "all the facilities and refreshments you need on a day out at the Park". The choice of drinks will range from coffee to wine, while food offerings will include brunch (weekends only), picnic packs, "traditional cafe favourites" and "foodie surprises". Could be good. Turn up at 2pm on Monday 29th July for the first public opportunity to poke your nose inside.
There'll only be one entrance into the Park. That's from the southwest, in the corner by the Copper Box - the rest of the perimeter will be sealed off. The Copper Box is opening too, it'll become a mixed-use venue for boxing and court sports, plus a gym and fitness classes. It's the first venue in the Park to enter legacy use, the first facility to improve the sporting lives of the local population. Hackney Wick station isn't very far away, although it'll still be a roundabout route to get there via White Post Lane. That road is still firmly locked, as it has been since 2007, but next month (woo-hoo!) we'llall be able to walk/cycle/ride straight through again. Given that a huge chunk of the Lower Lea Valley has been an inaccessible black hole for the last six years, don't underestimate how big a deal this is.
Or you could walk in from Stratford. It's quite a hike, a little less so from Stratford International, but almost nobody's going to start from there. This road is already open, but only if you're in a car, for the benefit of those who want to drive to the shops at Westfield. If you walk or cycle you are absolutely forbidden from travelling this way, for the time being. Yellow signs have been set up at the traffic lights on Westfield Avenue warning "No pedestrians or cyclists allowed", while a bored-looking security guard stands beside to police the law. Presumably security are worried that freewheeling souls might step off the carriageway and intrude into part of the site where they're not welcome, whereas those inside cars are securely trapped. Big Brother disappears, hopefully, at the end of July.
If you're going to Hard Rock Calling this weekend, or some other event over the next month, Stratford is your only way in. Here, you may be pleased to hear, the magenta signs are back. They were a big success during the Olympics, so they've returned as the wayfinding method of choice. Arrive on any platform and you'll see pink arrows pointing to 'Park events', or 'Olympic Park events' if there's room. At present these arrows dump you immediately outside the station where there are zero onward clues, but I assume that'll change once ushers appear at the weekend. The website then says to expect a 20 minute walk. The Olympic Park's just as huge as it was last summer, and the small bit you're allowed into remains just as far away. For improved access and the full park to explore, it looks like there are still nine months, not one month, to wait.