Wednesday 5 March 2014
This was Catharine's birthday, not to mention the birthday of the redoubtable Mrs Fuller who, in 1704, founded a school in Watford, in the descendant of which I had the honour of teaching for many years. As if these two anniversaries were not enough to make for a happy day, the weather was WONDERFUL, sunny, clear blue skies, not too cold. And all three of us were present. AND we were going down the river, from Embankment Pier to North Greenwich on board River Bus 1. A perfect outing.
We set off at 10.20, heading firstly west - or perhaps I should say upstream, since the river wiggles so much one can never be sure - to pass under Hungerford bridge and pick up passengers at the London Eye, with fine views of the Palace of Westminster.
This was a good way to start a route which was to take us past innumerable landmarks, once we had turned downstream.The Ministry of Defence lurks coyly behind some trees, so you can barely make out the statue of Icarus with his wax wings spread out, which is the memorial for the Fleet Air Arm. You might think it an odd story to use to commemorate flying men but, after all, the Fleet Air Arm did deeds at least as dangerous as flying too close to the sun. The RAF memorial and then Cleopatra's Needle re right on the edge of the river and so easy to see.
We came past Somerset House, with the RNLI station beneath it. The dangers of the river were recognised when the Marchioness sank in 2001 and the RNLI was asked to staff a base. Since one person dies each week in the Thames (on average) this is something Londoners appreciate.
Blackfriars Bridge has become (I think) the most beautiful railway station anywhere, from the rail passenger's point of view, so we were pleased to see that it looks quite striking from the river as well.
The Globe Theatre is the next sight we admired, and then Tate Modern and the Golden Hinde replica on the South side, while James' old school and St Paul's Cathedral were on the North side. A Primary School party in luminous vests hurried across the Millenium Bridge as we went under. We remember when Bankside was rather a depressing stretch of riverside, but now it's all very must-visit.
London Bridge has also improved radically over the past few years, and I enjoyed the way the Shard seems to sprout from the deck of HMS Belfast.
Looking back, we could see the newest of London's new buildings at 20 Fenchurch Street, as we passed one of the older ones, the Tower of London.
We also passed City Hall, and went under Tower Bridge, which of course did not have to open for us. But you can have the bridge opened if your vessel requires it, and here's how you arrange it all.
As we headed on towards Wapping, we admired the mixture of old buildings and new apartments, carved out of wharves and warehouses. The headquarters of the River Police is here, and I'm sure you don't need me to tell you that it is the oldest Police force in the UK, founded in 1798, well before Sir Robert Peel had his bright idea. It is now a branch of the Metropolitan Police, however
Wapping has become immensely trendy as an address now: I gather there is a Waitrose.... But there are still some of the older buildings and businesses, such as the Prospect of Whitby Pub.
At this stage we were going very fast indeed, but the river is pretty wide here, so it was fine. A few people got on and off at Canary Wharf, though they did not look like bankers to us, and I expect they were going to the excellent Docklands Museum.
On we went, pausing at Surrey Quays, but there was no need to lower the gangway as no-one wanted to disembark there.
It is amazing to us that this area, once completely commercial and industrial, and then for a long time derelict and nasty, is now such an extensive residential area. But the Port of London Authority still has its offices and jetty along here.
Reaching Greenwich Pier, we noted the Rabies Prevention signs, and watched most of our tourist co-passengers leave the boat. On the other side of the river is the Poplar Rowing Club: very different social classes divided by the width of the Thames. Some of the buildings on the north side have attractive step gable ends, which suggest a kind of Dutch influence, we thought.\
As we pushed on towards the Dome and North Greenwich, we realised that we were pretty well back at Canary Wharf. This bend in the river is so pronounced that I am sure it would have formed an ox-bow lake by now (the only bit of school geography I really remember) were it not for the fact that real estate on the isle of dogs has been worth protecting for many decades.
So here was the cable car, and the metal tree sculpture which shows that the bus has reached North Greenwich Pier.
The RB1 does sometimes go on to Woolwich, but only in the rush hours. Anyway, our trip, which had taken 50 minutes, was full enough of interest without venturing onwards the barrier and Woolwich.