St. Katherine Docks review (May 2014)
This is an old review Read my most recent review here
St. Katherine Docks is an interesting little place to visit. But unless you already know it's there it's very easy to miss -- it's tucked away behind the Guoman Hotel at Tower Bridge. It's not the kind of place that I'd make a detour for, but if you happen to be visiting Tower Bridge or the Tower of London and fancy a quick cup of tea, then it's a nice enough place to stop.
It's a lot bigger than you at first realise, because it's a string of marinas all linked together by wooden walkways and towpaths. You can have a stroll around all three of them, past the rows of boats all floating in the dock. 100 years ago this area used to be a car-park of cargo ships (the Port of London), offloading their goods before Tower Bridge, but these days all the big warehouses have been turned into million pound flats (although I'm guessing even a million would be cheap -- it's probably at least three times that). But it's the boats that make the place worth visiting. If you took the yachts away then it wouldn't be half as pretty. Everywhere looks better with a boat out the front, doesn't it? It's like putting tinsel on a Christmas tree -- all of a sudden it looks rich, and ten times as smart. It turns into the kind of place that you'd want to stop and have a sandwich... sit and watch what people are doing with their day. It's a people-watching place -- that's what it is.
I like peering into all the posh offices from the wooden walkway around the water. You can see them sitting at their desks punching numbers into the computers, with their frappacinos and mocha chocolate lattes hovering around their mouths. One hand is typing away, doing what it's paid to do, whilst the other one is busy feeding their face. You can see rows and rows of desks stretching round the office, each with its own little worker in it, and some little cubicles too for the middle managers. A few paces further on and you come to another window, but this time it's a posh office for the boss, complete with a polished pine table and leafy green plant pot. You'd think that he'd be able to afford a pair of curtains for the window, but no — the nosey public can still stand outside and watch what they're doing. You can see them all sitting around the table discussing something important, holding out their 'power thumbs' and pointing to the whiteboard. I wonder what they are talking about? They are probably making million-pound decisions in there, whilst just one window along all of their poorly-paid staff are busy surfing their internet and drinking coffee and gossiping and pretending to be busy. I can see them skiving! Ha ha. Lazy workers... I was one of them once. I was getting paid peanuts for doing as little work as possible. Shall I bang on the manager's glass and grass them up? Nah.
My photos aren't going to do this place justice today because -- you've guessed it -- it's raining again. So try and imagine my photos with a bit of colour in them. Paint that grey sky blue. Visualise some bright white light bouncing off the boats and a string of bunting bubbling off the mast. Picture some pretty ripples in the water and some scantily-clad people lounging around on the decks -- that is what this place is like in the sun. Imagine you're in Monte Carlo, and then turn it down a few notches (about 1000 notches). That is St. Katherine Docks.
I'm trying to count up all the boats but there are far too many. There must be 100-or-so... maybe a little more. The top-of-the-range ones are big wooden ships with 20-foot masts and top-deck cabins, and at the bottom of the scale are breezy little weekend affairs that would get tossed over on a wave. The big ones are probably all corporate, hired out for staff parties and jollies, whilst the little ones are owned by white-haired retirees, sailing around the coast and fighting off the pirates. I would quite like to own a boat, I have just decided. I can picture myself sailing to the sun and back. The only problem is, I can't swim. Is that going to be a problem? How often do these things spring a leak? I'm always amazed how some of the bigger boats can float. How heavy are they? They must weigh more than a double-decker bus, and yet here they are, sitting on the water like a sponge.
There's one boat here today that really is something special. It's two-storeys tall, all pristine and shining white. Everything is rigged up perfect, with ropes wound up in pretty little coils, rain glistening off the cabin like dewdrops on ice. I would quite like to walk down the gangplank and peer inside the portholes to see how the other half lives, but the jetties are out of bounds to the public. You probably need to flash a gold credit card to step foot on those.
So what else is here? -- Well, there are lots of nice little cafes, restaurants and bars. And there's a cake shop and store selling nautical gifts and memorabilia. There's also a coin-operated launderette for some reason, which seems a little out of place. And a couple of art dealers selling oil paintings and pastels too. I tried to spy the prices inside but there weren't any tags on show (a sure sign that they are expensive!). The highlight, though, is definitely the Dickens Inn. Check out my photo of it -- it's a great looking building that wouldn't look out of place on the side of a Swiss mountain. It's all wooden balconies and hanging baskets, like one of those pretty little ski chalets. The front is festooned with little red and yellow flowers (at least, it would be if it was sunny. But I have been here plenty of times to know it's being a bit modest today). Inside is like an old country pub, all dark and dingy and done up in warm stone and wood. The only downside is that it gets incredibly busy and usually has a bouncer by the door. (I hate bouncers -- I'm always too ugly to get in.) It's definitely one of the best-looking pubs in London.
Guest – ... and the original monolith made for the movie 2001. Made of transparent perspex, rejected by Kubrick in favour of the black version, re-purposed into a Silver Jubilee sculpture. and stuck sideways onto the hotel wall.
Admin – (...for those not in the know... he's referring to the original design of the prop used in the Stanley Kubrick's 2001 movie, which they later switched for that big black block they all started praying to. You can see it on a wall in St. Katherine Docks, close to the Guoman Hotel. It looks a bit different now though, because they stuck a big crown in the middle of it to celebrate the Queen's Jubilee.)
Guest – Hello, Is the coin operated launderette still there?
Admin – I believe so, but it's not coin operated. It's a dry cleaners. You take your laundry in and they clean it themselves
I’ve been here before…
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