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River Thames trip on Pocahontas

We booked a 1 day coach trip with Kirby's Coaches which included a River Thames cruise from Gravesend to London on the river steamer Princess Pocahontas (wikipedia).   The weather on 15th of September was brilliant, except perhaps the light was not so good for photography due to heat haze on the south side of the river.   The sun was a little hot, but there was enough breeze from the movement of the ship to keep it under control.   We left Rayleigh only a few minutes late, but lost time in the pickups due to heavy traffic. We used Route B   You can see the coach journey here.

The coach dropped us at Tilbury riverside where we crossed by the ferry to Gravesend where the Pocahontas was waiting for us in the shade.   When we arrived on the ferry pontoon at Tilbury, we had to wait for a few minutes for the ferry to cross over.   Once on board I couldn't resist photographing the stonking ferry vessel; there is always a ship there, a different one each time and often of different lines, but always the same design, like the Borg from Startrek.   There was another coach party from Kent and there may have been some individual bookings too.   As we boarded we got a raffle ticket which was later used to call us in turn to collect our ploughman's lunch.   We were lucky in that when we boarded there was plenty of room at the front so we had a pole position for our photography.   Whilst waiting to leave, I got a snap of the ferry captain on the Duchess M of Portsmouth.   After the safety briefing it was explained that due to the spring tide we would have difficulties with the upper bridges and so we set off initially downstream, turning by Coalhouse point.   Each of the map segments can be clicked on for a large version, as with the thumbnail images.

The captain of the Princess Pocahontas gave a commentary over the ships tannoy throughout the journey, with many fascinating stories of the various sites along the way.   For example, I have lived in Essex nearly all my life, including several years at Stanford le Hope, so know the area really well but I didn't know that the black shed up on stilts at Coalhouse point contained a radar scanner to keep watch on the German aircraft coming up the Thames during World War II.   The Luftwaffe assumed it was a water tower and left it alone.   He had a dry sense of humour which made it entertaining as well as interesting.   He gave us the answer to the trivia question "What is the first structure that boats pass under on their way up the Thames?".   The answer is not the QE2 bridge but the power cables at Thurrock.

He had worked on the river as a waterman. lighterman and tug master so knew the history well and was full of stories.   Much of the industry and commerce that went on all along the Thames has decayed away to be replaced by housing estates.   We passed some shiny storage tanks that had been there twenty years and contained liquid oxygen.   Next to these was a block of flats that had been there four years and where the residents were complaining that the tanks were a danger and were campaigning to get them removed.   "Didn't the muppets think about that before they moved in?". He was scathing about planning refusal for Disney's theme park on Rainham marsh due to rare fauna and flora (actually this is correct but in the neighbouring RSPB reserve) when it had previously been a big hole that was filled with rubbish.   I am thankful that Disney went to Paris and we do not have even more congestion on the A13 than we do now.

The next part of the journey took us past Fords (memories for me), with a comment about the rubbish (cars) in the compound, appropriate having just passed Rainham marsh which is still being worked.   Tugs come down from London towing barges full of containers with the rubbish which is off loaded onto lorries in a smart boathouse.   We saw several of these on our trip.   He knew all the creeks and rivers that flowed into the Thames and many of these had towers containing flood gates that were lowered when the Thames Barrier was up, to prevent flooding of the low lying land.

We had now reached the more interesting part of the river, where the docks had been and what were the outskirts of London before it swallowed everything inside the M25.   All the dock entrances had been sealed off and much of the land reclaimed for building.   The most notable being The City Airport with the take-off path right over the old entrance to the Royal Albert dock.   There is much to see here with Woolwich ferry, the Woolwich Arsenal, the Thames Barrier, Silvertown, Canning Town, Beckton gasworks, the Emirates cable car.   The highlight here is Greenwich which has so many attractions that it deserves a day visit rather than a passing visit by steamer.

The final segment of the trip was round the Isle of Dogs and up into the pool of London.   From here on the modern architecture starts to dominate but there are still interesting waterfront properties such as The Prospect of Whitby.   You do get a good view of the buildings from the river as you have no foreground obstructions.   There are many opportunities for good photography here with a mixture of old and new; St Pauls, The wobbly bridge, the Belfast, the Globe, the Walkie-talkie, the Cheese Grater, the Gherkin, the Shard, Tower Bridge and the Tower of London.   As we couldn't risk any more bridges in case the funnel was knocked off, we didn't get as far as the Eye, although we did catch sight of part of it between the buildings.   So we turned round slowly and started our return journey.

We did not have a full commentary on the way back but he did fill in with extra bits which he had left out on the way up.   There were many sailing ships moored in the river and some under way.   This map shows the complete river trip which gives the overall route but does not show the detail that the smaller segments give.   A thoroughly enjoyable trip, though good weather helps, it might not be as enjoyable in the pouring rain.   The time spent on pickups and set downs was a bit of a dampener, but that comes with coach trips.

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