Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The big smoke on Halloween-een

Ok, not actually taken on Halloween but rather yesterday - but anyway a nice sunset.

Today is, of course, also blog anniversary day, but the number of years involved is too big a number to mention in polite society.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Wildlife watch: the heron and the green thing

Ok, so above is definitely a heron, keeping a beady eye out for passing fish, but what is this green thing, spotted on Putney Embankment?

I'm not really an expert in bugs but after a bit of searching it could be the Pale Tussock caterpillar.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Boats! Boats! Boats! .... at the Putney Embankment Foreshore Festival

At the Totally Thames Putney Embankment Foreshore Festival (as posted here) there were a fair share of boats pottering around, from rowing boats, lifeboats, kayaks and stand-up-paddlers, just back from a Putney to Westminster and back race.

Oh, and there was also the royal barge Gloriana, out for a charity row:

Monday, October 23, 2017

Boats! Boats! Boats! .... at Richmond

At and above Richmond (where had gone to visit the Richmond Bridge Boatyard) the Thames is non-tidal and becomes a pretty idyllic playground for boaters of all types.

Above are some afternoon kayakers and below rowers by the historic Marble Hill House, built for one of the mistresses of King George II:

I also spotted this steam powered launch:

Its smoky smell wafted quite a way down stream: while atmospheric it probably doesn't do much good to London's already poor air quality.

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Richmond Bridge Boathouse

Richmond is one of those places where the craft of boat building has remained strong. As the Richmond Bridge Boathouse's web site puts it:

 "Master Boatbuilder Mark Edwards MBE leads a team of dedicated craftsmen excelling in traditional Thames Boatbuilding, heirs to a heritage stretching back centuries."

Mark Edwards was the builder of the Royal barge Gloriana and can be seen above putting an extra layer of varnish on this boat:
This is actually a film set boat which was used in the Robin Hood from 2010 (not that I saw it) and was about to be shipped to the island of Islay for another.

I had a chat about it with Mark Edwards who said the shape was designed by filming needs not sailing and it would be pretty hopeless upwind given the lack of proper keel. He also explained the difference between the hull shape and that of the Vikings - all pretty fascinating.

Also at Richmond during the Totally Thames Festival was the creation of artist Ros Burgin which used wood from various Thames built boats to recreate the curves of the tidal river from Teddington Lock out to the Thames Barrier:

It was good to see both forms of craft work on display in such as nice part of London, and was all part of the wider Totally Thames focus this year on boat building on the river:

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

No Cash, No Splash, a film about Thames Boat Yards

I could tell you what I thought about this film but its a lot simpler just to say I found it fascinating so suggest you give it a watch.

It was put together and shown as part of the Totally Thames festival back in September.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Boatyards on the Aits

One of the focuses of this year's Totally Thames was the boatyards along the river.

As well a film (post to come), boatyards in Richmond there was also talk by archaeologist Dr Fiona Haughey on the boatyards on the aits. I'd been on one of her walks before looking at London's pre-history on the Vauxhall foreshore where we'd found some old flints and Anglo-Saxon fish-traps.

This talk covered a lot more than boatyards, covering histories of the London and the riparian counties going back up to 5,000 years ago, and given she is an expert on the history of the Thames this was packed full of interesting nuggets.

An ait is an island, in particular in the Thames, and the word goes back to the Anglo Saxon for little island. There were many more back in those days when the Thames meandered more and the tributary rivers had small deltas.

The word also was attached to various places, such as Battersea, where the island has now been absorbed into the land (as is the case for the island which used to be where Westminster is now).

Given the location in Brentford there were many local stories, such as why Brentford was such an important place (it connected the Thames, and hence the Port of London, with the British canal network). Another story was about the film The African Queen, much of which was filmed around Brentford including that scene where Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn went swimming.

The non-boatyard history of the aits was also covered, including that of Oliver's Island. This was once where the City of London had tolls for use of the river (after all, this bit is within the scope of the London Stones). Now that island is owned by the PLA and a nature conservation area where deer have been seen, swimming to/from land in the direction of Richmond Park.

Many of the aits were owned by Richmond to the south and they would often plant trees to hide the dirty industry of the north bank from the gentry living on the south.

There was of course coverage of the boatyards of the ait, but you can get a good idea by watching the film as in this post so will leave that to tell that particular story.

Dr Fiona ended up with the quote above which sums up brilliantly the joys of rivers and in particular the Thames.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Putney Embankment Foreshore Festival

The Putney Embankment Foreshore Festival was part of Totally Thames with support from the Thames Tideway Tunnel (aka the super sewer) team.

There was a band (above), opportunities to try out paddle-boarding or rowing and chance to meet the PLA, RNLI and Tideway Tunnel team, with whom I had several interesting chats. Apparently comedian Bill Bailey was there, but I didn't see him, though I did spot our local MP, Justine Greening.

The environmental angle and theme of the plastics in the Thames was also covered by a stand about microplastics with this mini- Future Dust installation (made by the same artist):

There was also a chance to go onto the foreshore with a historian and discover a bit more about the history of Putney, such as this remnant of the old bridge:

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Future Dust at Canary Wharf

I was pretty impressed by the Future Dust installation, part of the Totally Thames festival, which I saw in St. Katharine Dock. It wasn't just at that location but moved around London during September, and in the last few days managed to see it in its final home, Canary Wharf.

It was quite a dramatic sight, with the towers of the City of London in the distance and Thames Clippers coming and going, ferrying commuters going home and the likes of me up and down the river.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Cory, Blue Funnel and the Working Thames

An earlier post described one of the main working boats of the Thames, namely the sailing barges. There used be hundreds of these and other craft thick upon the waters.

Now they have almost all gone, but there are still some working boats on the river. One of the main tasks is to take rubbish from the centre out to incinerators and dumps down the estuary.

One of these is shown in the photo above, part of the Cory fleet, heading downriver as seen from Canary Wharf.

But it is a rare sight, unlike that of a crane in central London, an uncountable forest stretching to the skies building the tower blocks of the future.

Random fact of the day: for a time Blue Funnel's parent Ocean owned the Cory fleet as part of an ultimately failed attempt to diversify in response to containerisation.

Friday, October 06, 2017

London Open House: Clipper boat at the Foreign and Commenwealth Office

The London Open House weekend is an opportunity to visit the insides of some of London's most iconic buildings.

One of the grandest of them all is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office built at the time of Empire and the sun never setting.

Rooms, hallways, staircases and courtyards echo back to the days of India and wars in far away places or the fallen of the World Wars.

This building was almost demolished in the architecturally dire 1960s (can you believe that?) but fortunately was saved, even if it does need continual TLC. For example, the staircase below is actually a double staircase with a mirror image behind this view, but this was covered up as it is being restored:

There was nods to Britain's maritime history around the building, but also the present, with this very detailed model of one of the Clipper Yacht race boats:

We were also welcomed by a video from.... well you can probably guess who:

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

London Open House: inside Customs House

One of the Thames Sailing Barges I posted on early can be seen above in front of the Customs House.

This grand building was built in 1825 to handle the collection of customs duty for the shipping of the Port of London. It was open in September as part of London's Open House weekend.

I went in expecting a historic building, which it was indeed, but what I didn't realise was it is still a working office of HM Government's Customs and Excise. So the grand Long Hall was being used as a large open plan office:

One of the top tips of visiting a Government office for Open House is that the people directing you around usually work in that building and if you get chatting you'll hear really interesting stories of their work.

So one such Customs & Exercise worker told his story of catching people exporting weapons illegally to Iran while another investigated tax evasion of the very rich. There was something about it that made me exclaim things like "we have never traded with Iran!!!" and "I just do what my accountant advises!!!".

Elsewhere, there were sniffer dogs demonstrations and displays of things caught during airport searches - all very interesting.

Apparently they are about to move out to much less glamorous offices in Croydon so this might the last time to see the Customs House actually doing Customs and Exercise work.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Thames Barge Parade by Tower Bridge

There's something very right about seeing a Thames Sailing Barge on the river that is its natural home.

As part of Totally Thames a mini fleet of them assembled downriver and then passed under Tower Bridge, which was raised in their honour.

They then assembled for a parade in the traditional Pool of London, and were rather a magnificent sight (above).

Then sails were raised (or tugs deployed) to turn their noses round and head back down river under Tower Bridge again:
On the way they passed by the Customs House, which was to be my next destination as it was London's Open House weekend in addition to Totally Thames.....