Saturday, August 12, 2017

Historic working ships at Gravesend

When the ferry arrived from Tilbury we were met by three historic working ships and three groups singing simultaneously.

The Swingtime Sweathearts (below, in the rain) were singing 40s songs while a group of salts were chorusing sea shanties and three pirate types were tackling Waltzing Matilda - all at the same time!

This is not normal for anywhere, let alone Gravesend, so it was clear that something was up. It was one of those British maritime history dos that seem to pop up most summers, this one called "Something for the Weekend... don't mind if we do!".

I suspect an end-of-the-pier double-entendre is in there somewhere.

Anyhow in terms of boats what there were two tugs and a naval victualling ship, two of which can be seen here:
Ok, maybe one and a half can be seen here.

The half is the tug Kent of Rochester (which I'm pretty sure I've been on before, probably at a boat show) and the other VIC56. The latter was built just after WW2 so never saw active service but was used by the naval off Scotland.

I spent longest on the steam tug Portwey which was lovely (check out the colourful funnel at the top and wider picture below) and had a very informative tour. According to the web site it is "the only twin screw, coal fired steam tug now active in the United Kingdom".

Big kudos to all of those that keep these three boats in such good conditions. On my tour was the chair of the society restoring the Medway Queen so there was lots of informed debate between him and the crew about the challenges they face.

It sometimes feels like a uphill (or should that be against tide) battle to save these historic boats from just rotting away. I've seen other tugs in Ramsgate harbour held up by sunken concrete and there was talk of boats along the Medway similarly suffering.

In a way its a problem of excess: there is so much British maritime history, a surfeit of boats to save, that inevitable that some will be lost.

Respect and thanks to those that gave up their spare time to look after three.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

The Ferries of London: Gravesend to Tilbury

The last ferry across the Thames before the North Sea is the Gravesend to Tilbury ferry.

That's according to Wikipedia: however Thurrock (home of Tilbury) calls it the Tilbury to Gravesend ferry. Meanwhile Kent (home of Gravesend) calls it the Gravesend to Tilbury ferry. Well, whatever you call it, this one was out of action for a short while due to damage to the town pier.

I'd been before when visiting Tilbury Fort: my trip across back then was on the Princess Pocahontas, now doing sightseeing trips on the Thames. Indeed not only the ferry used has changed and also the ferry company so I felt I ought to return to do this one again with its new boat (above).


According to this the "Tilbury to Gravesend ferry operates from Monday to Saturday" every hour or half an hour


I went one way, for which the adult price is £4 but the full range of prices can be found here.

The first time I took the train to Gravesend and then walked to the ferry and the second time the other way round, i.e. starting at Tilbury Town. On the north side of the river there is a free bus that goes from the station to the ferry but its only a short walk so I tend to do that:

There is talk that in the future the Thames Clipper will make its way all the way down to Gravesend - in September there'll be a two week trial -  and that would be great.

On the north side the ferry arrives at the Tilbury Passenger Terminal, which is a Grade II listed building and I visited for the Thames Estuary Festival.

The estuary felt a long way from the gentle green pathways of the first ferry at Weybridge and the Arcadian Thames. The wide river was capped by a large sky from which grey rain fell:

It was also very different socially and politically: from wealthy suburbs that voted Remain to struggling coastal communities that voted Leave.

The last ferry was done, but it wasn't the end of this little project. For not only was there more to see at Gravesend but also the Ferries of London project was bounded by the London Stones, and I'd yet to visit all of them.

Onward to the stones!

Sunday, August 06, 2017

The Ferries of London: Woolwich Ferry

The Woolwich ferry is a different beast from all the others. Not just a skiff with the word "Ferry" on the side it is a proper ship which can take cars and lorries across the Thames. There has been a ferry at this spot for around 700 years, though the current service is more recent.

From the TFL web site:


The Woolwich Ferry links Woolwich and North Woolwich. It runs every 5-10 minutes throughout the day, from Monday to Friday and every 15 minutes on Saturdays and Sundays. It carries pedestrians, cyclists, cars, vans and lorries.


Free to pedestrians thanks an Act of Parliament from 1889

Inside there's a faded sixties feel, now almost empty apart from a handful like me:

There was even a smoking room, now labelled as non-smoking:

It was threatened with closure due to the planned new river crossings but there was a successful petition to keep it and now two new boats are being built as the current ones are at the end of their life.
To get there I took the tube / DLR to Woolwich and then walked, slightly indirect route to go through the Woolwich Arsenal, about 1.4 km:
For the return journey I could have taken the short walk to King George V DLR station but instead decided to go back using wonderfully atmospheric Woolwich Foot Tunnel (below) with return journey 1.9 km:

The DLR extension to Woolwich is probably why both the tunnel and ferry were pretty empty of pedestrians.

Fun fact of the day: for a long time the north end of the ferry, North Woolwich, was actually part of Kent! This was visible in the map at the Abbey Mills Pumping Station as in this blog post, with extract below (check the broad green line):

There is also a Bazalgette link to the Woolwich Ferry, as he led the design and construction of the first ferries.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

The Ferries of London: Canary Wharf to Rotherhithe

This ferry is part of the Thames Clipper routes (see below) which calls it the Doubletree Docklands Ferry. The name comes from the hotel on the south side of the river and previously it was called the Hilton Ferry.

But Wikipedia calls it the Canary Wharf to Rotherhithe ferry and that won't change even if the hotel in question does another re-branding exercise so that's what I'll call it.


The full time table can be found online at their website here, but can be summarized as "Services run every 10 minutes during peak commuter hours and resumes a 20 minute frequency during the day, evening and weekends."


The ferry is in the Thames Clipper east zone (see below) and hence at time of writing a single would be £ 4.30 though with an Oyster or pay as you go card it would be £3.90.

For once no walking was required at the start as arrived by boat (using the Thames Clipper) but the return journey involved a walk of about 1.7 km to Rotherhithe tube:

This area is obviously a lot more built up than the rural feel of the first three ferries (near Weybridge, Hampton Court and Richmond) but there were rather nice parks to walk through, but these were actually filled in docks, from the great Surrey Commercial Docks.