Sunday, September 28, 2014

Great River Race 2014 passing Putney

I tried a different watching position this year, north bank just upriver of Putney Bridge. This meant that the camera was pointing towards the sun but the boats were closer and there were some interesting light effects.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Great River Race 2014

The Great River Race has come round again and Chris from Rowing for Pleasure was spotted pulling hard through Putney on Gladys (above).

They looked to be in a good position to retain their title but we'll find out later.

Of course not all were taking it as seriously as Chris:
Some also seemed to have stopped off for refreshments:
More photos to come...

Friday, September 26, 2014

Open day at Hermitage Community Moorings

This month it's Totally Thames here in London while last weekend it was Open House 2014 and the intersection of those two was a chance to go round the Hermitage Community Moorings down by Tower Bridge.

These moorings are just down river from St. Katharine Docks in Wapping and are home to about 20 houseboats including a couple of classics.

Not all boats on display were residents. For example above is Sailing Barge Kitty which is usually based on the East Coast but had suffered engine failure. Built in 1895 she's clearly been well looked after as the brass work was gleaming:
Nearby were two other boats we visitors were allowed on-board, including the Dutch SB Volharding which is used to give opportunities to disadvantaged city children.

There was also the tug Touchstone which had an impressive electrical board and one of those old fashioned engine order telegraphs:

I couldn't help but notice how much more motion there was for these houseboats than moorings up near Putney, particularly as the Thames Clippers zoomed by.

But I guess the views must make up for it:

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Hannah White's Paddle Across England for the RNLI

Water is dangerous stuff. If it doesn't suck the heat from your body it can suffocate you, and its waves can crush even the strongest vessel.

But boaters are not alone, for here in the UK we have the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) which is on standby 24/7, and the two busiest stations are right here on the Thames.

To raise funds for the RNLI Hannah White, sailor, adventurer and Olympics / Extreme Sailing announcer, is currently kayaking across England and this afternoon stopped over in Putney.

It was a short stop to say hello to the support team and get a quick boost:
Then it was on downstream towards Westminster:
You can contribute by heading over to the JustGiving web site here.

Good luck Hannah!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Classic Yachts at St. Katharine Docks

I was a bit late to get to St. Katharine Docks to see the Classic Yachts but there were some still there - plus a rather well known rowing boat.

Monday, September 22, 2014

London's Murky Mesolithic Past

The site upriver of Vauxhall Bridge was investigated by the Channel 4 TV programme Time Team, and they had on hand a number of archaeologists including the two on our Totally Thames walk, Dr Fiona Haughey and Mike Webber (above).

It was interesting to get their take on the programme and also associated book, which was you shouldn't believe a word of either.

Apparently there are a range of dates associated with the fish trap and causeway, from the Bronze Age to Saxon eras, but this was simplified to make the TV story "accessible". One of the posts also got broken by one of the contractors falling on it, but to save blushes this was skipped over.

But then archaeology this far back is never easy given the limited evidence available, and at least at this site there are multiple structures and objects.

Below Vauxhall Bridge in front of the MI6 building there is an earlier site with even less evidence to work with.

The post in the photo below is almost certainly mesolithic, meaning its about from 4,500 BC or 6,500 years ago, but even less is known about it. This web site implies that there was indeed a human made structure but when I asked Dr Haughey she said that it wasn't so clear cut as there were arguments that it was simply a tree stump:

Either way, very old!

Its hard to see them as they are only visible at very low tide. I went on the 12th when the spring tide was meant to be just 0.15m above lowest astronomical tide (LAT). However the PLA's live tide gauge said the flow was 0.28m above predicted so I guess the water level could at best have been almost half a metre lower than I saw it.

I used this photo on the megalithic web site to fix its position using the line to the St. Georges development and it was pretty much at exactly the right location for one of the six posts they found. The day we went with the Totally Thames trip the tide was much higher so it didn't appear.

It felt surreal to be touching something 6,500 years old within sight of Big Ben and the London Eye, under, no doubt, the watchful eyes of those spooks in the MI6 building.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Flints and fish traps: signs of London's deep past

Last weekend I headed onto the Thames river bank just in front of the MI6 building as part of one of Totally Thames's archaeological walks. The group, which included the Totally Thames trust chair, was led by archaeologists Dr Fiona Haughey and Mike Webber.

We were going back in time, into London's deep past, thousands of years before even the Romans.

The area by Vauxhall Bridge has been the site of a number of fascinating discoveries, and the location is probably not an accident.

Back in 1,500 BC that part of the Thames would have been wider, marshier and include the delta of two tributaries, most importantly the Effra. This river comes down from nearby Brixton and now is little more than a buried sewer but in years gone by it was much wider and there were at least two branches.

The result of the branches and shifting mud and sands led to there being a host of small islands like the Chiswick Eyot. It is also though that the Thames was tidal up to this spot, giving trading vessels a free ride up or down twice a day.

So this could have been an excellent trading point, connecting bronze age communities up and down the Thames with those up tributary rivers such as the Effra.

An investigation by the C4 programme Time Team explored a site upriver of the bridge that was probably a causeway to one of the islands, with a fish trap nearby:
The metal spikes indicate where posts were or are for future reference as the Thames is continually washing away or exposing parts of this site.

We were encouraged to look at the ground carefully for the area is known to be a source of flint tools created then lost in the marshy Thames many thousands of years ago.

And we did!

It was really useful to have two archaeologists on hand to explain what to look for and confirm we'd found something crafted by stone age humans (though in what historically is called the Bronze Age).

I found the two flints above plus some other less good pieces, including wood that had been preserved in Thames peat.

It was a strange feeling to have something in my hand that someone else had made many thousands of years ago, to imagine the riverbank as mostly wild, with even the most historic of London's buildings still far in its future, before even the founding of Londinium.

You can get further back in time, but it gets murky indeed...

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Totally Thames Vision

Throughout September there is a month long festival of things related to the river Thames called Totally Thames.

Events, either directly organised or coordinated with Totally Thames, range from the Tall Ships, classic yachts, the Great River Race (next weekend), trips on Thames Barge Lady Daphne (which I went on in 2011) the Hippo, exhibition, fire garden, talks, walks, food, fireworks and much, much more - see the web site here.

Its a big step up in scale from previous years and I heard about the organisation's vision from the trust's chair Robert Gordon Clark (above) at one of their events, an archaeological walk to be described in another post.

I was impressed to learn that Totally Thames's plan for next year is even bigger than this one.

Take the famous Hippo (as posted about earlier):

Commissioned from Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman it was purchased outright so it'll be staying here on the Thames in the future rather than popping up around the world, and that cost a rumoured £ 100k.

But in the future Totally Thames wants to see Hippo sized installations all along the Thames, one in each of London's boroughs as part of their aim "to make this the largest river-related celebration anywhere in the world".

I think its absolutely brilliant, for the river is rich in history and connects so many aspects of life in this great city.

I just wish I could do more of the 100+ events on their web site.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Thank you Scotland

I was looking at this photo last night while wondering about the referendum results.

It's from inside the Olympic Stadium during the 2012 Paralympics and shows huge crowds waving the Team GB flag. People from Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Island united in their support for our team.

Was it to be the last hurrah, I wondered?

It was not and I am very relieved. Now we can move forward and remember that slogan written high around the stadium during the inspirational Olympics opening ceremony.

This is for everyone

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Scotland: Keep the best of both worlds and stay

Another diversion, but with the referendum on Thursday its hard to keep quiet.

I'm half Scottish but do not have a vote. I'm not alone, as C4's Jon Snow pointed out we could see the break up of the UK caused by just 2.5% of the population voting against it.

The debate has been incredibly depressing for the amount of misinformation coming from the likes of Alex Salmond and the SNP.

It's hard to take Salmond's accusation of the dirty politics of Westminster seriously given his behaviour. To business he promises low taxes while to the left wing higher spending, then his currency pledges are fantasies and oil forecasts unbelievable. Against those that question him there are bullying tactics to silence including personalising the debate and the squashing of reports in Holyrood's parliamentary committees.

There are real issues to address like the currency and EU to which Salmond et al's only reply is Scotland will be able to do what ever it wants despite these two issues being reliant on externals. Currency union with the pound is incredibly unlikely, ruled out by all concerned with a single voice, which leaves Scotland with the choices of having its own currency or using an external one (pound or Euro most likely) without political control.

In either case there would have to be a period of many years building up reserves and higher interest rates, at a time when North Sea oil is flagging and jobs would be heading south of the new border. There is a strong likelihood of austerity to the level of Greece with high unemployment - the complete opposite of the social agenda we hear so much of.

The attitude to the English has become borderline racist - at times crossing the line. If there is to be a divorce it will not be a clean one, and Scotland shouldn't feel it could avoid paying its share of the national debt without strong push back. The description of the pound as an asset rather than a financial instrument is again a sign of misleading statements.

It really doesn't seem like the right time to be increasing tribalism and reducing the ability to have flexibility of identity. To be part of the UK means you can be Scottish, English, Welsh, British or many other variants, including Glaswegian or Londoner. That flexibility, the openness is a true asset, and the venom aimed at the English by many Yes campaigners is truly worrying.

And is Westminster so horrific that its worth paying any price to get away? Seriously? When I travel round the world I return with a new outlook. In Italy, Spain and Greece there is really high unemployment and stagnant economies, France has flatlined, the US has political grid-lock and dominance of lobbyists, while others are totalitarian or corrupt or controlled by the military.

In the UK within days of election of a hung parliament we had a stable coalition, economic policies making the UK the fastest growing country in the G7, lower unemployment than Europe, free at point of access national health service and one of the highest levels of support for international aid and development. Yes there are flaws, things I disagree with, sometimes strongly, but that is democracy: each decision will leave some voters unhappy. In three of the four last elections Scotland has got the party it wanted in control in Westminster - that's a higher ratio than for many, including me! 100% of control and approval is unrealistic.

I hear much talk of Scotland being transformed into Denmark, but again there are rose tinted glasses on. Ask the Greenlanders about what they think of Denmark (as I did) and the answer is its a colonial occupier. And Copenhagen has much less diversity and openness than London. Then there's Sweden with the rise of the far right and bankrupt Iceland.

The yes debate seems flawed on so many levels. If the SNP said that there would be 10 years of hardship, unemployment, austerity etc. during which Scotland has its own (devaluing) currency followed by the option to join the EU we could have a proper debate, but the current argument is more fantasy than fact.

And the alternative is so positive. Scotland shares values, history and people with the rest of the UK, and devolution allows the best of both worlds.

Scotland is already a nation with its own parliament, legal system, flag, culture, sports teams etc but doesn't have to duplicate institutions such as embassies and can share the currency with proper political oversight.

I like the fact that the UK gives the flexibility to be Scottish, English, British and a Londoner. I like the fact that the wonderful highlands and islands are part of my country.

It would be tragic and highly destructive (in particular to Scotland) to end a union that brings so many benefits and gives Scotland the best of both worlds.

Please vote no.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Bridge House Estates

I spotted the symbol above on a trip down the Thames to see the Tall Ships and it took a surprising amount of googling to discover its background.

The key clue was its location, which was on the sides of London Bridge, for this is the mark of the Bridge House Estates, which is the organisation responsible for all the bridges crossing the Thames into the City since 1282.

The City is the heart of London dating back to the Romans, and for most of this history there was just the one bridge, the famous London Bridge.

This not only generated lots of tax revenue from the houses and shops built upon it but also there were many bequests, for giving to "God and the Bridge" was considered an act of piety.

The bridge master could receive "tolls on carts passing over the Bridge, tolls from ships passing under the Bridge and fines for unlawful fishing from the Bridge".

These funds were used to maintain London Bridge, and then many, many years later (but still a hundred years ago) built or purchased the likes of Southwark Bridge, Blackfriars Bridge and Tower Bridge. A very recent acquisition is the Millennium Bridge.

It is thought the logo was designed by 17th Century surveyor, William Leybourn.

Nowadays the income so exceeds the expenditure that its legal framework was changed in 1995 to permit it to fund charitable activities, and a list of recent gifts can be found here.

So if one day you should find that:

London Bridge is falling down,
Falling down, falling down.
London Bridge is falling down,
My fair lady

Then at least you will know who to call!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

London's Cryptic Symbol

A great way to see the sights of London is by taking the Thames Clipper along the river. The eagle eyed will also spot this cryptic symbol along the way.

Where could you see it and what is it?

Hint: this does not in any way involve Leonardo da Vinci, Opus Dei, Tom Hanks or Andrey Tautou.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

More Tall Ship Photos

It was a shame I wasn't able to go to yesterday's parade of sail, missing much of the tall ships in London, but at least I got a few photos.

It would have been more dramatic had they been bunched together such as in the old days when London's docklands heaved with more ships than you could count.

Nowadays the city's skyline is a forest of yellow cranes rather than masts, so shot angles had to be selected carefully.

At least the sun was out.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

More Tall Ship Photos

Some more photos from the Tall Ship Festival.

As Chris pointed out the festival is pretty spread out over a series of sites between Greenwich and Woolwich, some boats on moorings and others in the old docks.

So it would take all day to visit all sites and go on-board as many ships as possible. There were all sorts of packages to go for sails, from VIP hospitality to joining them on the leg from Falmouth to London.

I took the easy option for one still not feeling his best, namely the Thames Clipper river bus. One ticket taking me all the way there in three hops: from Putney to Embankment, then Embankment to Greenwich to pick up the last leg through the Thames Barrier to Woolwich.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Friday, September 05, 2014


Yesterday's picture puzzle was indeed, as Tillerman spotted, of a hippo.

Created by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman, HippopoThames it is a 21 metre long hippopotamus currently wallowing in the river just above Vauxhall Bridge.

Hofman is famous for creating the giant yellow inflatable ducks that have been spotted around the world in harbours from Baku to Hong Kong, sometimes deflating.

The hippo is a bit more substantial wooden construction so I think its safe from the odd pin-prick.

It is part of the Thames Festival this month and celebrates the discovery of hippo remains in central London.

Yes, that's right, 100,000 years ago hippos lurked in the Thames and fossilised bones were found in Trafalgar Square as described here.

The spot where it is moored was probably selected as being the most central place out of the way of busy city centre river traffic, but it has an interesting ancient historical connection.

Vauxhall is where one of the oldest archaeological structures has been found within London. On the river bank at very low tide it is possible to make out the remains of a causeway (or even bridge) constructed around 3,500 years ago. Recently remains of an even older structure - possibly a staggering 6,500 years old - have been found downstream in front of the MI6 building.

However to be honest what it makes me think of is something else that the Thames is famous for, namely mud, and in particular the classic song by Flanders and Swann. Feel free to join in....

Altogether now:

Mud, mud, glorious mud...

Updated: a list of other things strange things to have been floated down the Thames here.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Picture Puzzle

Couple of questions for you:

1. What animal is this? (*)
2. What animal is it not? (**)
3. Where is it?
4. Why?

(*) not the seagull, the eyes bit
(**) ok, not just any animal, one that is associated in some way with this object