Monday, October 03, 2011

Waverley up the Thames

As promised here are some of the photos from the cruise down the Thames on the Waverley. From Southend we headed up the Thames. I was surprised by how many different areas of water there are on the way. I'm sorry I didn't take notes so I can't tell you all the names, but if you can be bothered it worth looking them up as they often tell you a lot about the history of that area.

As you approach the Thames it becomes obvious how a large trading area grew. It is a very clear broad inlet and you can easily imagine sailors seeing it as a suitable entry point to the country.  All the way along the Thames there are docks. Some old, some new, some in use and some abandoned. It was great to see one being built, which will be a large container port. It is on reclaimed land built from dredging the Thames itself to make a channel deep enough of the container ships to get to it. I like industrial areas and we have a lot of pictures of the various docks and their loading equipment.

There are a few landmarks along the river I especially wanted to see and get pictures of. The first of them was the QE2 bridge, also known as the Dartford crossing. The road going over it is the M25 and I much prefer this angle for seeing the traffic jams. It is a very modern bridge, but I think it's rather lovely.

The river winds back and forth a lot and it makes it quite difficult to work out where the buildings are in relation to each other. However, Heathrow airport is the other side of London, so this plane is landing at City Airport which is on the site of the old King George V dock. I found it quite amusing that people would point out things and name them wrongly usually a second before the announcement told you what it was you could see. The comments about the plane landing were perhaps the most obviously incorrect and most popular.

The next landmark I was really looking forward to was the Thames Barrier. When I was studying civil engineering this was the latest and greatest project. I read so many articles about various aspects of its construction I couldn't fail to become fascinated by it. A few years ago we managed to persuade one of the tour boats to take me to see it on my birthday but we weren't allowed to go very close and certainly not to go through it. This time we could and for me that was very exciting. Sad, absolutely :)

It was a bit of a shock to see it looking well used and frankly quite old now. I guess it is because I remember it being built and how significant it was. I doubt anyone really thinks about it now, even the Londoners it protects from flooding on a fairly regular basis. In the photograph you can see one of the sections raised to the defence position.

I hadn't seen these buildings before, they are next to the Dome which isn't somewhere I visit, but these buildings are cool. They look like patchwork and each has a different pattern. I think I feel a quilt coming on at some point. That may mean I need to go back and take more pictures, maybe I need to do this cruise again next year.

I suppose I should include a picture of the Dome. It never really grabbed me as a building. I find it rather dull. I can't even say it's ugly, I think it's too dull for that. It just is, and I suspect it's going to stay so I guess I will just keep ignoring it.

 The sculpture in front of the Dome I do like. I think it's clever. From listening to the other passengers on the Waverley  I'm in the minority. I think part of the problem is you do need to be at the right angle to really appreciate it. A lot of the time it looks like a cloud of metal, but then you are suddenly in the right place and you can see the man standing in the cloud. The sculpture is called Quantum Cloud and is the work of Antony Gormley.

This group of buildings has changed a lot in the time I have been living in London.  They are at Canary Wharf in the West India docks. When I first moved to London only one of the four tall buildings existed. One Canada Square is the tallest of the group (the pointy one) and was the first. For several years the working light on it's roof was my beacon to get me home.
 Canary Wharf itself takes its name from the sea trade with the Canary Islands, whose name comes from the dogs (Latin canis) which the Spaniards found there, producing the linguistic coincidence of trade between the Dog Islands and the Isle of Dogs.

As well as the new towers there are a lot of older  building still on the Thames. Very few are still being used for their original purpose, but personally I would rather see the buildings survive than not. Conversions that keep the look of the building while keep them in use and thus in good repair are fine by me. I wasn't so convinced by the building that has been all but removed with just it's facade left. Really it was just a set of arches now everything else has been removed.

Another highlight of the trip was coming through Tower Bridge. I like the bridge anyway but this was a special trip because it had to be opened for us. That means stopping the traffic for several minutes each time. Sorry folks, the chaos at rush hour on Monday was partly our fault, and it was great.

The large tower to the left of the bridge is the new Shard of Glass. It left me somewhat underwhelmed. It does look better in this picture than it did in real life but as with the Dome I found it rather bland. Maybe it will be better when it's finished but I am sceptical. I think it is going to rely on being tall rather than any other architectural feature. Maybe big is all you need now, but when you are surrounded by really great buildings I'm not sure.

As the Waverley is hard to manoeuvre at low speeds we were towed through the open bridge and turned just the other side of it. We got to spend 30 minutes the other side of Tower Bridge before it would open again to let us out. It was funny to become a tourist attraction while being a tourist. A lot of people passing by asked for the Waverley to sound her horn and mostly she obliged. It was a lot of fun.

While we sat waiting for the bridge we had the chance to admire our surroundings. Tower Bridge is right next to the Tower of London. The main tower is called The White Tower and was built by William the Conqueror in 1078. It was used as a prison for many years which is probably what is is best known for.

To the other side of the Thames is a more recent piece of military hardware. HMS Belfast. She is now a museum ship, but saw active duty in WWII. Initially she was part of Britain's naval blockade against Germany, but after being damaged by a mine and undergoing extensive repair and improvement went on the escort convoys through the Arctic Circle to Russia. She retired in the 1960's and had many rocky years while her scrapping was debated. A trust was formed to save her and the government transferred her to them. Since 1971 she has been moored in the Pool of London and open to the public.


Pamela said...

Absolutely fascinating, I would sure like to take one of those cruises! Glad you had such a fun time, and thanks for sharing!

Stacy Hurt said...

Thank you SO much for this tour! I felt like I was right there with you. As a huge fan of the new Doctor Who series it is wonderful to see what all the structures are, what they are called & so forth so: from across the pond I wave hi and say, THANKS!