Each year we try to spend a day or two up on the upper reaches of the Thames.
Our favourite outing is by boat up to Kew, Richmond, Kingston and Hampton Court. One has to turn up at about 10:15 at Westminster Pier to catch the regular ferry, leisurely enjoying the varied river reaches. The skipper usually points out the principle sights but is more restrained in the rural stretches.
A new and fast way is to catch the commuter river bus from Blackfriars Pier which will take you up to Putney where you join the Thames Path up to Richmond and beyond, even to Lechlade!
From Greenwich the fast Thames Clippers provide an all-day wanders ticket when one can stop off when and where you like. Costa coffee and naughty biscuits to be had, but why not try a pub crawl which takes a little more planning. Phone 020 7364 4900 for a copy of Waterside Gastronomic Guide published by Tower Hamlets, which I enjoyed illustrating in spite of being on the wagon!
At Kew and Richmond Piers there are delightful eateries only a pace or two away. Kingston market and church are worth exploring too. If you go the whole trip to Hampton Court you need to use the simplistic on-board bar, because you don’t get up there ‘til tea time (suggest you take the train back).
City Cruises from Greenwich take you to Embankment Pier where their handy Hispaniola floating bar and restaurant lies just upstream from the pier. The Beckwith family from the Isle of Dogs built up their fleet for the millennium celebrations and have upgraded with continental craft.
The Livett family have invested in many different types of craft: The Elizabethan, an elegant Mississippi stern wheeler (built in Greenwich) is great fun – Ben and Venetia Kent had their wedding reception on board – great photo opportunities during the cruise! Their largest vessel Dixie Queen is a floating restaurant and night club based at Butlers Wharf; when fully floodlit, it’s a very glamorous floating venue which we often see pass by in party mood.
The Woods family have the most sophisticated craft, which operate from their pier just near Temple Underground station. Their monthly champagne lunch is the ideal impressive way to view the magic of London’s majestic waterfront. They introduced the Australian-built Thames Clippers to Father Thames. These local ‘watermen’ not only provide a living for river folk but also support the great occasions played out on the Thames, and have taken a leadership role dealing with the PLA Environment Agency and Mayor Boris’ lot. Many historic craft have been upgraded to conform to even more rigorous safety regulations.
Other tripper boats ply their trade from Central London’s piers which provide a variety of services within the capital. A short trip downriver to the Thames Barrier and back is available from Greenwich too – a Sunday evening trip leaves Greenwich at 7:00pm and cruises up to Westminster returning by 9:00 – a friendly evening out enhanced by a drink from their bar. Many historic craft have been upgraded to conform to ever more rigorous safety regulations.
Chartering craft for special occasions and voyages is fun. Judy and I boarded a Dutch barge from Surrey Docks all the way up to Pangbourne – a memorable 7-day and night occasion, viewing Father Thames from an on-board deck chair with no responsibilities what so e’re. A later holiday on hotel boat African Queen provided an ‘all-in’ experience. The South African owners looked after 10 guests or so in a very special style (which we would like to repeat).
Years ago, son Ben and I with Ken and Rupert boarded the Thames Spritsail ‘tin pot’ sailing barge Ironsides for some memorable barge matches on the Blackwater and Colne rivers – our week-long voyage around the Maplin Sands and Thames Estuary. A similar adventure appears in another blog.