Thames Barrier review (Oct 2013)
This is out-of-date! I have been here again since I wrote this review
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I had to visit the Thames Flood Barrier twice because I screwed it up the first time. I didn't realise that the only way of getting there was by bus. The boat from Westminster Pier that says "This boat goes to the Thames Barrier" doesn't actually stop there... all it does is float up the river and around one of the pylons, and then heads back the way it came. If you wanted to get off and visit the little exhibition then you'd have to dive overboard and swim to shore. And there is no way I'm doing that for you... I'm not that dedicated!
I quite enjoyed my little float on the boat though. You get on at Big Ben, and then it takes you all the way up the river past the London Eye, Tate Modern, Globe Theatre, St. Paul's, the Tower of London, Tower Bridge and Canary Wharf. Then it sails past Greenwich and half-an-hour later you are face to face with the giant pylons in the middle of the river. After sailing round one of them it turns 180 degrees and heads back to Greenwich again. It's definitely the best way of seeing the barrier... and you can trust me on that, because my return visit on the bus today was a complete wash-out.
The bus journey wasn't much better though. It's all busy main roads and car parks, industrial parks, and out-of-town B&Qs. Big huge carpet warehouses and bedroom furniture shops. Not very pretty. Cars streaming down the road with their headlights still on, and bazillions more sitting idly in the car parks, all waiting for something to happen but nothing does. You have to keep your eyes open for the bus stop because the route doesn't skirt along the river, so you won't actually see the barrier. You have to look out for Eastmoor Street and get off there. Then you've got another 10-minute walk down a little nature trail with skinny little trees and grass verges strewn with crisp packets and crumpled up coke cans. It was totally deserted when I went. The only guy I saw was some council guy emptying the dustbins into his beeping cart. It's the kind of place you'd go if you wanted to get mugged.
Then all of a sudden you are there -- the river! -- and the big barrier stretches out across the water. The view is not bad at all, in fact it's the best thing about going. You've got distant views of The O2, The Shard, and the skyscrapers at Canary Wharf. The opposite bank is bustling with building yards and big chimneys, it looks like a sugar cane processing plant with big ships pulling up to offload their stuff. The seagulls are flapping around like pigeons two feet off the sea, squawking and fighting over what they've dropped in the water. London City airport is somewhere over there too, so you get an occasional plane taking off (and blowing your eardrums).
The building didn't exactly fill me with optimism. Put it this way... it's not the kind of place you'd take your date on a day out. Not unless you wanted to dump her. For starters, it isn't even by the barrier. You have to walk a little further down the river, past some kiddie swings. I was hoping that you might be able to go over to the first pylon and have a look at the machinery, but no. The only way of doing that is by stealing a hard hat and a security pass (and I don't recommend doing that).
I don't want to say the museum was rubbish because that would be unfair. Because, let's face it, it's a museum about the Thames Barrier... there's a limit as to how exciting they can make it. But even so, it was worse than it needed to be. The whole impression of rubbishyness starts at the door, because you can only get to the museum via the cheapo cafe outside. You have to buy your ticket from the cook at the till, behind all the people queuing to get their polystyrene cups of tea.
As soon as you step inside you've effectively seen it all, because it's a one-room museum -- attached to a cafe. It should really be free. And I'm not just saying that because I'm a tight git -- all it's got is some picture boards on the wall and a few TV screens telling you why it was built etc, and a model of one of the pylons. That's it. I know it's only 3 quid to enter, but when you remember what a trek it was to get here you'd rather have spent it on a sandwich. I had to get the underground and a bus both ways, remember, through the heartlands of doom, painted in every shade of grey! For this? So after 15 minutes I left, pulling my hood up as I stepped out into the rain, and I got to the bus stop just in time to see it leave. Ho hum.
If you really want to see the barrier then do it by boat. Get the cruise from Westminster Pier which will do all the sights along the river too, and drop you off in Greenwich. Then you can spend the rest of the day in Greenwich. That is worth doing, but not the museum. If you pay heed to just one piece of advice on this blog, then trust me -- make it this one.
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