Out and about, and afloat along the winter tideway

It’s always good to take stock of one’s surroundings on the turn of yet another new year.  Cabin fever and idleness need to be cast aside.  A trip out on the tideway has long been a Kent tradition.  Once a regular sail out on the Medway with chums armed with picnic lunch and hot soup in some hidden creek prior to a brisk sail back to the Medway Sailing Club.

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My first river outing this year was on board a more than comfortable Thames Clipper armed with a rover ticket (issued after 10am) which gives one freedom of pier-hopping.  By chance a clipper bound for the O2 gave me an opportunity to monitor the state of developments which are galloping ahead on both banks.  The top end of Greenwich Peninsula, once a forlorn marshland which was then developed for heavy industry, a place of stinks and smoke.  The Millennium Dome changed all that and now it’s a thumping great entertainment venue.  Even more riverside high rise buildings are evolving, including a high rise conference type hotel which will have dramatic panoramic views of Docklands.  I can’t wait to sketch a familiar landscape from up on high.

From the river one can see how much development is under way.  The once-empty gaps between the O2 and Millennium Village are being filled with a medley of apartment blocks.  Neighbouring Leamouth and up to Canning Town is also developing at a rapid rate;  even down towards the Thames Barrier massive developments are under way, spurred on by the extraordinary stimulus of Cross Rail – a similar magic that the DLR and the Jubilee Line have had.  Cross river access was once dependent on watermen’s skiffs and later two foot tunnels at Greenwich and Woolwich built to provide easier access for dockers and the like.

It’s worth seeing the base which the Thames Clippers at Trinity Buoy Wharf operate from and also meet the youngsters who man these craft by day and by night.  A few old salts add character to the voyage.  The contrast of the London riverside scene as one heads upstream passing Canary Wharf’s bustling financial centre – past old river settlements at Rotherhithe and Wapping, under Tower Bridge and calling at modern piers in the City and South Bank.  The freedom to drop off wherever you wish and set off again to investigate the hot tourist spots or the dignity of Westminster.

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Part of the purpose of my upstream survey is to locate the site of the proposed Garden Bridge which is planned to link Temple Gardens and the South Bank.  The two illustrations commissioned by Kings College back in 2006 highlight the extraordinary proposal.  The necessary height of the structure will obliterate the panoramic views which we are used to!!  Comments please?

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Be sure to spot the upstream high risers beyond Lambeth and up to Battersea where extraordinary schemes are climbing to the skies centred around Battersea Power Station where the influence of the new US Embassy in spurring Canary Wharf-type development.  To see these from the river take a fresh service from Blackfriars Pier up to Putney (at extra cost!!).

The joy of returning to good old Greenwich’s spectacular historic waterfront now being surrounded by high rise developments, however with wonderful new promenades where new and old watering holes beckon one in to investigate.

May I suggest you move around the vessel to provide alternative viewing points.  A seat by the coffee bar provides an opportunity to chat with the friendly crew!  Also to view their skilled mooring techniques.

About RiverWatch returns

Peter Kent shares his Thames riverside studio viewpoint

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