The final and undoubtedly most well-known stretch of the River Thames passes through central London from Putney Bridge all the way to the Estuary, with dramatic changes of scenery and shipping, from fast-ferries to giant container ships.
A trip downstream starts in the Wandsworth Reach, with modern blocks of flats, mouth of the Wandle and the Western Riverside Transfer Station, from which rubbish in containers is taken by Cory's barges and tugs to Belvedere in Kent, to be turned into electricity and recycling product.
We then reach Chelsea Creek and the former Lots Road Power Station, Battersea Heliport, the house boats in Chelsea, Battersea Park with its Peace Pagoda and Wren’s Royal Hospital, home of the Chelsea Pensioners.
In Nine Elms Reach we pass Battersea Power Station, derelict for years and now being transformed, with a new pier, Grosvenor Railway Bridge, taking trains across from Victoria Station, the striking MI6 building at Vauxhall, followed by Tate Britain.
Then into Lambeth Reach, with the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lambeth Palace, St.Thomas’ Hospital and its Nightingale wards, another palace, this time of Westminster, the Houses of Parliament.
The river continues its journey through London, past the London Eye and the cultural centre of the South Bank , National Theatre, Royal Festival Hall, Tate Modern in another former power station, Shakespeare’s Globe and Southwark Cathedral.
On the other bank stands the City of London, with The Monument, St. Paul’s and the spires of many churches. Under London Bridge into the Upper Pool, to the Tower of London and Tower Bridge, which still opens for ships, nowadays mainly Thames sailing barges and cruise liners which moor alongside HMS Belfast.
We pass converted 19th Century warehouses and modern apartments, as well as City Hall, seat of the Greater London Authority and the Mayor, to the first of London’s former closed docks, St.Katharine’s, now a marina. To help walk around this area, a map published by Greater London Industrial Archaeology Society may be helpful. It was prepared for a walking tour led by RTS Chairman Peter Finch.
Past the old maritime areas of Wapping, Shadwell, Radcliffe, Limehouse, Bermondsey and Rotherhithe and the former London and Surrey Commercial Docks.
Historic pubs such as the Town of Ramsgate, Prospect of Whitby, Angel and Mayflower, new developments, the entrance to Limehouse Basin and the canal system, to start the turn around the Isle of Dogs.
We then reach the spectacular Canary Wharf complex, the West India & Millwall Docks, now used for rowing, sailing, house-boats and the occasional large vessel.
Continuing on past Deptford, with the Georgian warehouses of the former Royal Victualling Yard, to Greenwich, with the Royal Naval Hospital, Cutty Sark and Observatory, round Blackwall Point and the O2 Arena, Bow Creek to the Thames Barrier. We encounter the first sea-going ships at Tate & Lyle, Silvertown and aggregate wharves at Charlton.
Cranes of the old Royal Docks now housing the Ex-Cel centre and London City Airport. Woolwich Arsenal and Free Ferry, past Barking Creek to Erith, Crossness Sewage Works and Ford’s of Dagenham.
We now see more and larger ships as we leave the London boundary at Dartford Creek, past Purfleet , under the QEII Bridge and over the Dartford Tunnel to Grays Thurrock, Greenhithe and Northfleet. Past the huge Port of Tilbury with its container terminals and grain elevators, Gravesend and the Port of London Authority’s HQ and Pilot Station.
The river then reaches the former Tilbury Power Station, Tilbury Fort, one of a string along both banks, at Gravesend, Shornmead and Cliffe. On the marsh-land on both sides are nature reserves, fuel wharves, wrecks and Mucking where much of London’s rubbish used to be landed, where a new landscape has been created, then into Sea Reach.
As we leave London behind, we reach the remnants of Shellhaven, now transformed into London Gateway. the river’s and largest container terminal, oil refineries to Holehaven Creek and Canvey Island, behind its high flood walls, to Benfleet Creek and Leigh-on- Sea. Sandbanks are visible at low tide. Fishing boats and many ships arrive or depart on the tide, with some being anchored off Southend Pier.
Our trip comes to an end as we pass All Hallows, Yantlet Flats, Southend, Nore Sand, Shoeburyness across the entrance to the Medway, with its fort at Sheerness to Sea Reach No. 1 Buoy and into the wider Estuary. With the dredged channels of Maplin Sands taking ships in all directions, World War II forts, wind-farms we are at the PLA’s outer limit, a line between Gunfleet Old Light House and west of Margate Sands.
Ship movements can be tracked on the Port of London Authority website.