Passage by narrowboat along the tidal Thames is a special journey: the river is powerful, and it needs planning, the right equipment, good weather and a sensible approach to make it safe. It was something we’d really been looking forward to, but we knew the plan was subject to the weather. Stormy weather had made passage on Saturday unsafe, and mid-week we’d rebooked our trip through Limehouse Lock from Saturday to Sunday, hoping that conditions would have improved enough by Sunday morning.
Saturday evening and it is very windy and the Thames is looking ruffled. Not a problem in a boat designed for the Thames, but not suitable for a narrowboat primarily built for the calm waters of the narrow canals.
Limehouse Lock from the Thames side, looking up into Limehouse Basin where we are moored for the night
Sunday morning at 6.30am and the waters are much calmer and we are set for our 7.00am locking
7am and the gates are opening for us
After some shuffling of boats as one boater was convinced he’d booked, three of us are ready to descend.
Leaving Limehouse Lock
And out onto the broad Thames. The other two narrowboats have gone ahead and their diminutive size shows how we are undersized for the river
We were on constant watch for other boats, which move much faster than us, are bigger than us, and can generate a fair bit of wake. This passenger cameraman zipped past going vastly faster than us.
A key highlight of the trip has to be passing under Tower Bridge. All is going well, but in the far distance you might just be able to spot a hint of orange under London Bridge
…and then the white light in the centre of the spans started flashing, indicating a large boat heading our way. The orange is getting bigger and we turn to the right. It is quite safe to pass under the span to the right, but not quite as iconic. Paul put the boat in hard astern to see if we could gain enough time to revert to the centre span.
As the rubbish barge heads past, we are in full astern and still doing two knots upriver as the tide carries us along, illustrating the challenge this mighty river poses to a little narrowboat.
But we’ve gained enough time and can return to the central span.
You can see the bits of glass floor in the passenger walkways, added since I visited Tower Bridge
Passing HMS Belfast and the Shard
The Tate Modern and the Millennium Bridge
Blackfriars Railway Bridge and railway station
The London Eye
Approaching Parliament and Westminster Bridge
A passenger boat waits just long enough for us to pass before setting off from the pier
The SIS or MI6 Building
Battersea Power Station, at long last being redeveloped
We have, eventually, decided to overtake the two boats with which we locked into the Thames
Harrods Furniture Depository, now converted to residential use
Me at the tiller
Isleworth, and there is still a lot of tide to come in. Have we made too much progress too quickly?
Yes, was the answer to that question, so here we are exiting Richmond Lock, the semi-tidal barrier having still been raised.
A look back at the Richmond lock and tidal barrage, which keeps the water depth to at least 1.72 metres from here upriver. It’s also, incidentally, where the Capital Ring crosses the Thames on its journey around London.
Sea Cadets in training at Kingston. Just upriver of Kingston Bridge, we stopped the boat briefly for Lucy and me to abandon ship and return home, while Paul and Christine continued along the Thames, eventually up the Oxford Canal and northwards to Wigan on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal for me to join them again.
And so ended a memorable journey which I’m really glad we had the opportunity to experience, seeing many familiar sights from what is now a familiar boat but in an unusual setting for the boat.