The impact of London’s ever growing population is best seen and understood from the Thames.
The vogue of living by the river has generated massive residential developments where once working wharves lined the tideway. For instance the height of the Vauxhall tower blocks can now be compared with oriental cities – obviously our city planners have lost control as the same old riverside developers seem to be acquiring the prime riparian sites and piling high rise schemes in West London’s fashionable locations. Dolphin Square in elite Pimlico set the style providing dense blocks for the trendy thirties – recalling a European style of apartment living. Now this once dominant group of buildings, complete with restaurants,swimming pools and gymnasiums has been overtaken in dominance by a whole rash of expensive schemes.
The skipper’s commentary as we travelled upstream from Westminster towards Kew says it all – accuracy in detail garnished with a cockney accented anti establishment theme was a delight – the usual appeal for his rewards is made in good time before docking- an old sailor’s cap or Ice bucket is proffered as one disembarks with his aid to help you safely ashore.
However, it must be said that the once decaying riverside hamlets ( the so called ‘string of pearls’ as commentators once proclaimed them to be when riverside accommodation was far from fashionable) with their characterful pubs, rowing and sailing clubs look amazingly prosperous in spite of this so called recession.
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With summer threatening to slip away we clambered onto the regular ferry from Westminster Pier to Kew – far from packed its prewar design reminded us that this very craft was one of the small ships that helped the B.E.F back from the military defeat at Dunkirk. The skipper was keen to point out to us the elegant and luxurious craft that are still to be seen moored alongside expensive moorings – are also part of the Little Ships Fleet which are still maintained by wealthy enthusiasts.
They provide us with a gentle reminder of the elegant state barges which conveyed the great and the good from their palaces that once lined the river. Last year’s great river pageant produced yet another elegant replica, “Gloriana” is still rowed in style on select great river occasions such as at Henley Regatta – Lord Stirling’s generosity is still being called upon in order to keep her in the style to which she has become accustomed.
Cheating by taking a bus from Kew Bridge to Richmond’s riverside town gave us time to enjoy, yet again, a lunch in the elegance of a riverside Argentinian steak house which cost me an ‘arm and a leg’.
My humble beer was served with great pride as it was brewed in Royal Greenwich by you know who !!
Alas time did not allow us to make the return journey by river. but the ‘Overground’s’ North London line took us in a circuitous journey over many railway connections in air conditioned comfort. The journey from Richmond to Stratford shows off the real London with its fascinating backyards, markets, prisons et al – finishing up at the remains of London’s Olympics with its amazing transport hub where main line trains interconnect with undergrounds (Central and Jubilee) and the new comer to the DLR system. Amazingly crowded as new Londoners and their families head for home amongst the latest generation of high rises which grace Docklands and its environs. Quite a trip !