Upstream to Putney and back to Greenwich – Celebrating 30 years of the Great River Race
330 traditional rowed craft gathered in the tideway for the annual Great River Race. Their annual pilgrimage to the Thames starts from Millwall on the Isle of Dogs on the rising tide, rowing or paddling through the iconic bridges from Tower Bridge and up beyond Richmond Bridge to the water meadows at Ham with its least altered 17th Century House and Gardens.
Here the gathered fleet disembarks after the strenuous 21-mile row through the heart of the Capital, loading on to their trailers to take their craft home around the coast where enthusiasts have been preparing for this river marathon.
By chance, we had been in Putney the evening before and had spotted competitors arriving before the start. At the very top of the evening tide we had embarked on ‘Jupiter Clipper’ on her maiden week joining the fleet. The Putney Pier is the furthest point of the commuter service. We whizzed downstream, then slowed with caution to squeeze under the bridges groaning with heavy rush hour traffic. A keen, sharp breeze with threatening clouds scudding over the capital was indeed stimulating. The express service to Canary Wharf was far from packed – however, a medic practising in Chelsea Harbour was on his way home to King William Walk in Greenwich, a true enthusiast whose speedy commute was a delight. Let’s hope his enthusiasm will gather more punters to secure this visionary concept.
While travelling at speed, we had time to take in the astonishing amount of riverside development under construction, many with riverside piers. It seems a century since two of us rowed down to Cannon Street from Chiswick in order to provide a safety boat for a group of Poly art students having a Coronation party on board a Thames lighter. Then Thameside wharves were still in use. Although there was no hint of the future development avalanche, meetings were being held by the London River Association warning us of this intrusion about to hit these empty but useful wharves. Surprisingly, a new demand has popped up as construction depots are required for the Thames tideway super sewer – attracting Open House visitors!
Trial runs have been held on a commuter service from Gravesend Pier up to Central London. I spotted the radar scanner spinning around on a clipper which would, indeed, be essential down amongst the shipping lanes. We hear reports of successful trading down on the Thames Gateway Container port where even more cranes have been installed. Its neighbouring BP petroleum complex has been rumoured to have fallen to Chinese ownership, just like the vast residential developments on the Greenwich Peninsula, once owned by British Gas.
P.S. Paddle steamer Waverley is in and out of the Thames on day trips which are great fun, visiting unusual harbours, ports and piers!