Thames Clippers review
A boat trip to Greenwich is #17 in my London Bucket List
Some days you just want to sit in a boat until the river runs dry... have it keep floating until there's nothing left to float on. That's why God invented these Thames Clippers. These boats have got the longest routes in London: from Putney all the way up to North Greenwich and O2 Arena. But here's a word of warning: they're not sightseeing boats. They don't have a top deck full of open-air seats, and there's no live commentary onboard either. They are basically aimed at commuters rather than tourists, and you're supposed to use like them like a bus -- you can even use your Oyster card on them.
I have decided to ride the cable car today (by The O2), but I am terrified of heights so I need to treat myself first. That's why I'm sitting on a boat at Putney Pier -- because that is my idea of a treat. It's 7 AM at the moment and we don't get going for another ten minutes, so the boat is gently rolling on the water as the motor ticks over. No one is quite awake yet. The cafe guy is sleepwalking around in his Costa coffee apron asking everybody if they want to buy a drink, and a couple of mums are yawning at each other like they're having a silent conversation. Then all of a sudden the alarm goes off: the captain switches on the engine and we all jump up. The boat has woken up. Imagine a farm tractor coughing up blood. It is spluttering and chuntering and spewing out fumes and when he kicks open the motor it's like being thrust into the face of a force ten gale.
There's nothing much to see between Putney and Chelsea so you can let your camera have an extra ten minutes in bed. It's all parkland and riverside flats around here -- the kind of boring flats that are made out of plastic, glass and steel. But we are under way now so I'm happy. There's something very relaxing about sitting on a boat with the cold wind and the seagulls. They are all wheeling around the riverside flats.
We're sitting at Chelsea Harbour now, and I can see an office lady running manically down the jetty with her arms waving around like the broken blades of a windmill, trying desperately to stop the boat from pulling away. Don't worry, lady... this boat is too lazy to pull away before you get here. Two minutes later and we're still sitting here, and she's still huffing and puffing and looking flustered in her seat, trying to get her breath back.
The first real landmarks come after Chelsea. Once you've passed the delicate Albert Bridge get your camera out and get clicking. You can see Christopher Wren's Royal Hospital on the left, and the giant golden Buddha of Battersea Park on the right. Then you'll pass the brutal bulk of Battersea Power Station (still without its chimneys at the time of writing -- have they taken them away to be cleaned?). Battersea looks like a massive building site at the moment, half-hidden in cranes and steelwork scaffolding. After that comes the top secret MI6 building (which everyone knows about) and finally Big Ben and Parliament. That is your cue to gather up your belongings and leave, because you need to disembark at Embankment if you want to continue on to Greenwich.
If you want to take a break then I recommend having a walk through Embankment station and down Villiers Street to Trafalgar Square, where you can have a nose around and a sit down under Nelson's Column. If you want to copy me then try to grab the window in Caffe Nero, opposite the Column -- that is my seat. I'll let you share my seat today -- but don't mess it up, though, because it's my favourite seat.
I'm back at the Embankment Pier now, waiting for the boat to North Greenwich (that's where The O2 is). The landmarks come thick and fast from this point on, and you might have to swivel your eyes in different directions to see them all. First up is Cleopatras Needle on the left, then the Royal Festival Hall on the right, then Temple (left), Tate (right), St. Paul's (left), Globe Theatre (right), The Shard (right), The Monument (left)... are you keeping up? Can you remember when our cameras could only take 32 photos, and then we'd have to hand the film reel in to the chemist every fortnight? (I'm showing my age now.) Thank Christ it's not like that anymore, because we'd rapidly run out of photos.
The final landmarks on this city stretch are the big guns of HMS Belfast, the crenellated walls around the Tower of London, and Tower Bridge. Once you're past the bridge the skipper kicks open the motor and speeds up to the skyscrapers at Canary Wharf.
I have abandoned my indoors seat and gone outside now -- it's not the same looking out of a plate glass window. I much prefer sitting outside. You need to taste the sea spray flying over the side. You need to hear the diesel roar and the churning of the water. You miss the sharp white reflections bouncing off the breaks, and the mad chatter of the seagulls as they fly alongside. If your hair doesn't get messed up in the wind then you haven't had your money's worth.
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