Earlier in the week we visited Monks Hill Farm located a mile or so inland from Seasalter on the Graveney Marshes. Well worth visiting as it has a dramatic 360° panoramic view of North Kent’s marshland and the fruit growing region around Faversham.
The extraordinary view across the Thames Estuary towards Essex and the Isle of Sheppy provides those armed with binoculars the ever growing expanse of wind farms clustered around. I have always sought a good lookout spot and this recently opened school farm boasts not only a coffee shop but suitable bench tables to spread out charts and the like.
Shipping movements could be viewed as the port of London and the Medway still attracts vessels of every type. The giant Thames Gateway deep sea container port is certainly coming along as Europe’s largest logistic park takes shape. However, this is too far upstream to view but be warned as the A13/M25 and Dartford is going to be hit by the growth of container traffic.
Reading ‘Shipping Today and Yesterday’, a glossary monthy (£3.85) reports that the latest 18,27U TEU Triple E container ship has been launched. This Maersk owned colossus is now the world’s largest ship – recent press photos of the massive DP World Container port illustrates the massive container marshalling facilities for both road and rail dispatch – now taking shape – one of my previous blogs described the arrival from China of four of the massive cranes.
Foodies could well enjoy a visit to Macknade’s emporium on the old A2 Canterbury Rd out of Faversham – much prefer it to Harrods or Fortnum’s. When hungry in Faversham a creekside converted mill/ warehouse provides a delicious maritime viewing point as well – loacted to close to the Shepard Neame Brewery in a little back streetin the once industrial part of town.
The Start of a Global Voyage some 40 Years Ago
My previous blogs have described how redevelopment has taken off with high rise buildings becoming the ‘norm’. Looking back to the Greenwich we first knew when the Isle of Dogs was a vast waterway system which the Kent family loved to explore. How different it is to describe the vast tracks of quayside devoid of cranes, ships, barges, vast empty warehouses and broken up residential streets which were once buzzing with humanity. A vivid memory of a special occasion comes to mind – which conveys an image of yesteryear – The reports of a global adventure starting from the Isle of Dogs with the blessing of the Duke of Edinburgh bidding them bon voyage wasn’t all plain sailing. Vital equipment had gone missing somewhere in Docklands (not musical) and the ‘Benjamin Bowring’ had to ship back into her base berth. Intrigued by this news, the family set out in our Morris Traveler on a ship hunt and only found a distraught Trinity House pilot. This smoothly uniformed gentleman asked if we could help him find his ship – so off we all went attempting to keep Dickens our spotty dalmation under control , his malting white fur was already firmly attached to his immaculate maritime turn out. So we chugged over bridges, locks and railway lines till at last we found this bright red vessel with an anxious crew waiting to off again. The jolly pilot was sure that I would enjoy the first leg of this global outing following the prime meridian across the oceans and continents. The family was reassured that I would be dropped off with the pilot at Gravesend where a sea pilot took over – so as guest to this temporary skipper I was shown the ropes to how a global adventure should begin!! The compass was swung just off Crossness – a brief whiff of the adjacent sewage farms kept us on the move – the Dartford tunnel main air vents were pointed out as was Greenhithe riverside port – the home of Everards coastal shipping – this was before the QEII bridge spanned the tideway. Power stations marked the way downstream dominating the occasional lighthouse beacon and buoys marking the once busy channels that once sign posted the way to the greatest port in the world. The young bearded crew, led by a New Zealander admiral were getting everything shipshape prior to the pilot change over at Gravesend echoing many a previous historic adventure – as arranged my anxious family waved welcome from the Victorian Pier, Dickens going daft as usual singing in time to the beat of his wagging tail.
Trinity House who have provided pilot, lighthouses and lightships for centuries in the Vic are looking forward to their 500th anniversary of their foundation next year. An annual inspection of these are undertaken and it is a great honour to be mooted to join the Elder Bretheren of Trinity House to undertake this very special occasion. Tom Bowring, a well respected ship owner in the city was thrilled to accept his invitation – a neighbour and fellow dog owner, he shared his joy with me – he alas knew he was not long for this world – but his enthusiasm of going to sea again could not be put off in spite of his illness. Tom’s American wife knew that to fly the family flag on his garden flagstaff was most significant – as when lowered to half mast we all knew that the inevitable has taken place – Amen
Launching of ‘Daffodil’ in Faversham Creek
After four years of construction our neighbours at Oare completed the overall fit out of the Dutch work boat – Daffodil. The 7 ton lifeboat type vessel had been found in Faversham Creek and bought by Peter Philips as a retirement project – the Hinterland of Faversham Iron Wharf is choc a block with craft of all types awaiting refurbishment. Alan Reekie and his wife set up the ideal yard for both amateur and professional shop repair enterprises. The mobile crane plays an essential role with other useful bits and bobs to hand including two lighters converted into floating docks, one of which was being used by the ‘rival’, a Dutch barge which was having it’s bi annual scrape and paint. We had previously enjoyed a voyage up the Thames to Pangbourne from her winter moorings at Surrey Docks – 80 miles in all a journey we will never forget.
Immediately up stream in this tidal creek, Daffodil had just been ‘launched’ and we were both invited to wish her well. It was a thrill to see her settling into her muddy berth while last minute essential adjustment had to be undertaken before her next day short voyage into the adjacent creek of Oare – where the final fit out was going to be undertaken at the end of the creek wharf which was overlooked by the Philips and our own end of terrace cottage.
On a beautiful summers evening other folk came down to look over their new floating home and to wish them well. Peter, an engineer, had been working as a boiler repairer on a series of ancient steam locomotives – such as famous as the Flying Scotsman – knowledge of various engines took him to many corners of Europe and even to Rotherhide where he installed a replica chimney at Brunel Engine House – we hardly recognised him besuited, as the Duke of Wellington was going to cut the ribbon which would restart the pump – we wish them well – bon voyage indeed.
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 !
One by one, having reached their zenith some time ago, the new tower blocks which we see across the tideway near completion – their surrounding scaffolding is dismantled leaving the brand new building exposed to the elements. The bold and somewhat stark façades stand out, with only their corner balconies and window frames finished in smoked glass. The adjacent brick apartment blocks look older than their newcomers and provide the river frontage with a kind of variety which one has come to expect for marketing purposes. I hope the newcomers will enjoy their Thameside outlook as it twists and turns down towards the sea. It seems strange to me that even the great, white cruise liners seem to provide passengers’ cabins with their own private balcony – it was this week that Silver Cloud passed by Greenwich from the Pool of London; well worth a visit by DLR to Tower Hill to see the great, white whale alongside HMS Belfast.
The panoramic view from Trinity House and the old PLA HQ reminds one of yesteryear glories when the fruit and butter was unloaded by cranes off ships moored up against Tooley Street’s great warehouse. The towering Shard, City Hall and More London Place office blocks puncture the once familiar South Bank.
As we returned from Tower Pier by Thames Clipper, we sidled past the ‘popsie’ stewardess’ greeting Silver Cloud embarking passengers. Full of anticipation as the baggage porters wheel their luxury baggage onto the ferry which whisks them across to HMS Belfast’s gang plank, then up on board for their two-week long accommodation in utter luxury.
However, we arrive back in Greenwich to see both escorting tugs return to nurse her through Tower Bridge’s raised bascules and tow her downstream off Rotherhithe, where Silver Cloud is turned around to face the sea adventures ahead.
The gleaming, white ship slides past the changing Greenwich waterfront – many of the passengers wave farewell from their balconies, the same size as many of the new builds ashore! The newly arrived tenants no doubt shyly return the ship-board greeting – the etiquette for this not easily explained. Alas, I await someone to notice that we are both waving like mad as she disappears around the floodlit O2 and the Manhattan style of Canary Wharf’s illuminations.
Later, as I write, the incoming congregation to the Royal College Chapel is welcomed by a tolling bell which has invited landsmen and sailors through the generations. The incoming tide brings up a bevy of yachtsmen who might well think it’s for them alone!
Newcomers would be well advised to explore historic Greenwich with its splendid institutions and artistic happenings in the town which are promoted to give a richer experience to one and all!
Information about Silver Cloud
Luxury accommodation for about 300. 75% have teakwood balconies best suited for discerning, well-travelled passengers – especially American – who will be calling at Dublin, Fowey, Leith (Edinburgh), Invergorden, Portree, Falmouth and Southampton. Sounds a nice trip!