Kayaking Architecture on the Thames

After a memorable paddle on the Saturday, we joined in the Shadwell Basin paddling festival on the Sunday and although we didn’t paddle that far we had an illuminating talk on the architecture and history of the area by Toby, from the Tower Hamlets Canoe Club.  Next time we visit the area we will be looking at the buildings through different eyes.
William Kidd was executed a few yards below Wapping Old Stairs, on May 23rd 1701.  Pirates were normally hung and then chained to a post on the foreshore for 3 tides, as a warning to others.  Today the pirate is commemorated in this riverside pub.
Wapping Police Station is the site of the oldest police force in the world, formed in 1798.  It was formed because of the level of crime on the river.  It was estimated that 11,000 of the 33,000 people who worked on the river, at the time, were known criminals.
Toby was really well prepared with numerous visual aids.  He would land and whilst talking about the area use the photographs to illustrate the history of this area of London.
 Crossing to the south side of the river our first stop was Butler’s Wharf.  Built between 1871 and 1873 it was supposedly the largest tea warehouse in the world at one time.  Today as the docks have moved downstream it has been developed with luxury flats and apartments.
Looking west towards the city skyline, which has changed significantly in the last few years.
 The design of Tower Bridge was the result of a competition.  A number of the submissions were a bit more unusual.
 The bridge was built between 1892 and 93 using granite blocks from near Liskeard, in Cornwall.  Many people are surprised that the bridge isn’t older.
One feature we passed over but couldn’t see was the Thames Tunnel.  It was built between 1825 and 1843 and was designed for horse and carts.  It now forms part of the London Overground railway system, between Wapping and Rotherhithe.  This was the first tunnel in the world to be constructed under a navigable river and when it was completed a banquet was held to celebrate the engineering marvel of the Brunel family.  Although we couldn’t see the tunnel we did pay our respects as we paddled above its route.

A capital paddle – London and its river

There is something quite special about paddling through the heart of one of the world’s great cities.  Over the years I have been drawn to urban areas, as diverse as, Paris, New York, Seattle, Vanvouver and Venice to dip my blades into the water and without exception have never been disappointed.  London is the city, which over the years I have paddled through most regularly.
Each year I have returned to London, to enjoy a weekend on the water with other members of the Jersey Canoe Club, in the company of Tower Hamlets Canoe Club.  The last weekend proved to be particularly enjoyable with perfect weather and tidal conditions, which allowed a number of options.
On the Saturday we paddled through the heart of London, from Shadwell Basin to Putney, where we took advantage of a riverside pub to top up our energy levels before heading back to the east end on the ebbing tide.

 Approaching Tower Bridge from the east.  It is interesting to see how the skyline has changed in the 5 years that we have been visiting London for a weekends paddling.
 Underneath Albert Bridge.  Most people have their favourite bridge, with Tower Bridge most people’s choice but the Albert Bridge is a very respectable runner up.
The main reason for stopping at Vauxhall is to buy some egg custards from the Portuguese restaurant across the road but today we were in the company of 4 statues.  The Rising Tide, by British sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor, are 4 horses which become visible as the tide drops.  Their heads have been replaced by oil well pumps, which is apparently a statement on our reliance on fossil fuels.  The are part of the Totally Thames Festival which finishes tomorrow, 30th September.

 With a view like this, it has to be one of the finest day trips that it is possible to do in a sea kayak.  If you haven’t paddled through the centre of London, you should start planning a visit soon.
 The London Eye always looks spectacular when seen from the river.
 The OXO building was a river landmark from the 1930’s until it fell into disuse in the 1970’s.  Refurbished in the 1990’s it is now a vibrant area of the south bank of the Thames with shops, design studios and a delightful restaurant where we once had a memorable meal overlooking the Thames as the sun set over London.
 The old and new of the London skyline.
 Nicky passing the bow of HMS Belfast.
 It was a real surprise to see the PS Waverley, which is the worlds last sea going paddle steamer.  Built in 1946 she spent her working life on the Clyde, in Scotland before retiring in 1973.  Restored to her 1947 appearance she now operates passenger excursions around the British coast.
This was a real surprise to see Tower Bridge opening, to allow the Waverley through.  Although the bridge opens about 850 times a year, to allow ships with a mast height greater than 30 feet to access the Upper Pool of London, I think that this was the first time I had actually seen it open.

London Sea Kayaking Day 2

After a welcome evening in Richmond and energy levels replenished thanks to Pizza Express we launched early on the Sunday morning.  Almost immediately we felt the impact of the flow of water, average speeds registered on the GPS was between 1.5 and knots quicker than the previous day.  This was more like it.  Familiar features passed quickly by and the consistent drone of aircraft departing Heathrow was soon a distant sound.
A quick stop at Vauxhall for our annual visit to a Portuguese restaurant for some of the best egg custards to be found anywhere and we were soon passing through the heart of London, one iconic landmark quickly following another.  All too soon it was time to cross the river and land back at Shadwell Basin, with a celebratory pint at the Prospect of Whitby before heading out to the airport.  A great way to spend a weekend.

Kayak London
The view from the balcony of Richmond Canoe Club, kayaks are being prepared for the return paddle to Shadwell Basin. Already there was more current flowing than we had experienced all of the day before on the journey upstream.
Kayak London
I am not sure that I have ever seen a kayaking Club in the UK with such comprehensive facilities. I am certain that if I was living in west London I would be looking to join Richmond Canoe Club.
Kayak London
Paddling through London there are some superb bridges. Tower Bridge is clearly the most iconic but Albert Bridge and Hammersmith Bridge (above) have a certain style.
Kayak London
The Harrods Furniture Depository close to the river has some of the characteristics of the more well known building in Knightsbridge.
Kayak London
Just downstream of Vauxhall Bridge there is a slipway in the shadow of the MI6 building. It is well worth stopping here because just across the road there is a Portuguese restaurant which serves the best egg custards anywhere. They didn’t blink when we walked in and ordered 21 egg custards to take away.
Kayak London
Approaching the London Eye. This is probably the busiest section of the river and it is important to have pretty tight group control and an understanding of the actions of the commercial traffic to avoid conflict with other water users.
kayak london
St Paul’s always looks great from the river.
Kayak London
Approaching HMS Belfast. It is surprising how quickly you approach stationary objects, including ships, in the the river. Thinking ahead is an important part of safe paddling on the Thames.
Kayak London
The huge crowds around the Tower of London were partly the result of the poppies to commemorate the First World War. In previous years paddling past the Tower there were nowhere near as many people.
Kayak London
Journey’s end, back of the Prospect of Whitby. 32 nautical miles paddled in 2 days, through the capital city. A must do sea kayaking trip.