Thames Travelers

My mid morning coffee break was taken on ‘top deck’ with its large picture window which gives an amazing panoramic view of the tide from Convoys Wharf in Deptford down to the Greenwich Peninsula and the O2 with Canary Wharf and the Isle of Dogs across the other side of the River ( the latter provides dramatic night views as well). The top deck is on our fourth floor and easily accessible by the mini lift which we had installed a year and a half ago – all because of my ailing knees.

Just as I write, a yellow skiff with two rowers and a cox come ashore on the ebb tide – a most unusual sight. I bellowed out a welcome and thinking that no one from the next door rowing club would be around, I went down to the foreshore to welcome them, but all was OK as pre-arranged stowage for their fibre glass craft in the Globe boathouse smoothed their arrival. With a tray of welcoming tea I found out that they had rowed all the way from Oxford – having previously tackled The Rhine. Father had rowed at the Curlew and Globe when at Eltham College and now lived in California – the two strapping boys are off to Trinity and Berkley in the Fall. Their voyage down the historic Royal River with dad at ‘the wheel’ was a memorable part of their European Tour which included ferry hopping in the Cyclades.

cox and sons

I was very pleased to tell them that my son Ben had been to Eltham too but had learnt his rowing skills at Boston, USA on the River Charles. There he met his wife Venetia a cox while at Caius College Cambridge – one never knows who one will meet on the water!!

Meanwhile another youngster wearing knee pads and wellies is dodging the  in-coming wake breaking on the foreshore. Armed with bucket and trowel he investigates the waterline for curious creatures and perhaps abandoned treasure – not an unusual sight as parties of mudlarks are often seen on both sides of the River clearing up people’s chuck outs – a welcome sight.

Later in the day a much larger arrival at East Greenwich. Victoria Deep Water Wharf is the extensive aggregate complex which was once a container port for the short sea trade. The Arco Avon, an aggregate and sand dredger arrived on the incoming tide – she swung around ready for a quick departure. Crewmen at her stern cast lines ashore to a waiting stevedore or landsman in his yellow high viz jacket – just as well as the mooring lines were hastily wrapped around the mooring point.


Her starboard side conveyor belt crane swung over the pedestrian Thames Path and shot wettish sand into the designated area. An awaiting grab crane manoeuvred into position to attempt to divert the incoming cargo into more orderly heaps.

The unperturbed cyclist and runner dashed under this moving conveyor belt with little concern.

Extraordinary to think that this material was excavated out in the estuary’s designated dredging channels and remains salt water damp until it is made into mini mountains where it eventually dries out just like a beach. No doubt this trade has boomed as high rise flats now crowd this once unfashionable reach of industrial South East London.

An unexpected bus ride to Belvedere’s depot gave us both an insight into the urbanised hillside where once great woodlands thrived. Our Victorian forebears certainly knew how to cram their terrace developments further up to the higher ground away from the marshy lowlands which have now been exploited into vast industrial and distribution estates.

Downtown Woolwich has new life injected into its sorrowful state in and around the Arsenal.  A quintet of 13 storey flats, at birth betrayed by their give away lift cores proudly numbered for all to see, loom over the ever approaching CrossRail – just like the impact of the first electrified trains and the wonder of the DLR cross river links bring fresh hope of employment and manoeuvrability of population to Canary Wharf and the City of London.

A strange coincidence comes to mind as I write – the last visit to Belvedere’s riverbanks was to draw the Ford works across in Dagenham – now closed. The workers from the Kentish side commuted by a ferry link with plenty of parking too. As I sketched I hailed a lone traveler on a sail board as he came into view. Full of curiosity I hailed “ where are you bound” the lone punter replied “Southend” – “where are you from” – “Weston-super-Mare he cried!!


I have never worked out which way he came – via Bristol?- the Kennet Canal and then the Thames? – who knows?


About RiverWatch returns

Peter Kent shares his Thames riverside studio viewpoint

One response to “Thames Travelers”

  1. Nicholas Sack says :

    (Tony – please print out and pass on to Peter. Thanks.)

    A lovely post, Peter: such interesting and unexpected encounters. On a tour of the American Midwest in 2005, we stopped at Cairo, Illinois, a decaying old port town at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. Two young men in a canoe came ashore for supplies: they were spending a couple of months voyaging down the Mississippi from source to sea, pitching a tent on the bank at night. Some weeks later I received an e-mail from them in New Orleans, saying they were going to write up their journey for publication.

    You mentioned Anne Christopherson in an earlier post. I know her very well, photographed her paintings and portrait for her book ‘Time and Tides’.

    Your postings are always a joy to read, Peter.

    Best wishes – Nicholas Sack

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