Competition on the Thames.

Woken by the sound of oarsmen boarding their light craft on the crunchy foreshore – our next door neighbour is the Trafalgar Rowing Centre, home of Curlew and Globe Rowing Clubs. They are always early risers and they bring welcome activity even at low tide when there are less big ship movements and a spacious launch pad.

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As a family we used to camp by the Thames at Remenham during the Henley Regatta which is being rowed as I write. Alas the rural atmosphere of yesteryear has been commercialised to such an extent that we keep miles away from the dense traffic and the crowded towpath now full of stalls and fast food.

Perhaps one should go to the picturesque Marlow which holds a town regatta or down to Gravesend where the club house is set amongst a wonderful promenade (at high tide the movements of shipping in and out of the docks is at its busiest).

The historic Thames waterfront downstream from the town pier is full of architectural interest and marine artefacts with a curious canal lock and basin which once linked the Thames to the Medway at Rochester. The fortifications provided a lethal cross fire situation with its twin across the river at East Tilbury – both worth a visit.

More action on the river on 13th July when the annual barge driving match takes place with the midday-ish start off the Royal Naval College – this traditional Water and Lighterman’s event echoes the days when craft were reliant on a large sweep (oar) and a muscular crew and the incoming tide to carry you through all the bridges to the finish at Westminster.

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Remember to add the Great River Race to your diary for Saturday 7th September. The start is best seen from Pepys Wharf, Deptford – from the footbridge linking the South Bank or up at  Richmond with the finish at Ham – it attracts over 300 rowed craft.

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Triumphant celebrations up in Windsor as the whole of the Royal family has a day out on ‘Gloriana’ – the 18 oared state barge was used for the first time as it was designed – a river conveyance which is most suited for the upper reaches. Lord Sterling’s dream has at last come to reality – a lasting legacy to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. And to have such a glorious summer’s day as well – do you remember the 3rd June 2012 appalling conditions? Her Majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh literally weathered the storm to be with her people all the way downstream to take the salute on HMS President – Bravo!

As mentioned earlier, another river celebration will be rowed out on Saturday when the Thames Watermen and Lightermen compete on board their traditional steel lighters on the rising tide to pass under the capital’s bridges propelled and steered by the use of a great sweep oar.

Hopefully one of the keenest of the PLA’s crew will witness his crew’s departure from Greenwich Pier recovered enough from his accident of last year which kept him hospitalised for some 100 days.

Mike Russell was crushed while helping out when a large Dutch barge became out of control. I wish him well and look forward to see him out and about on the Royal Tideway.

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About RiverWatch returns

Peter Kent shares his Thames riverside studio viewpoint

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