The River Thames, like all large bodies of water, is fascinating. Walking along it is like walking through history. Romans sailed on this river. What did it look like then? What did the marshes and northern fog look like to ancient Mediterranean eyes? Since then it has been a witness to history: fire, festivity, war, plague, commerce. And riverside pubs, of course!
The river is subject to considerable tides from the North Sea, and the difference between high and low tides is something to behold. Consider this photo, taken from Southwark Bridge:
Near the centre of the photo you can see a stairway, and below them a ladder leading down to the beach. If you look closer at the stairs (and the wall to the left of them), you can see the high tide waterline – that’s a solid 20 feet (at least). At high tide, those archways at the right of the photo are just about entirely underwater. Amazing.
A bit further west of here, next to Blackfriars Bridge and running alongside Blackfriars Railway Bridge, is another curious site.
What are these forgotten-looking red columns? They are the remains of an older Blackfriars Railway Bridge, first built in 1864. Modernity caught up with the older bridge, and a new one was built to accommodate passenger trains. But the older columns remain, a reminder of times gone by. If you walk to the southern bank here, you can see the insignia on the remains of the original bridge’s abutment.
We did mention riverside pubs, natch. While they may be few and far between in central London (and/or mediocre), one of our favourites is the Prospect of Whitby in Wapping, about a 30m walk east of Tower Bridge. This is another pub with a sometimes dark history: note the noose hanging over the river outside. Apparently the flooring of the pub is original, dating from 1520.
This pub gets far less touristy than many riverside pubs, as it takes some effort to get to and find in its quiet corner of east London. There are a few others pubs worth checking out nearby though, such as the Town of Ramsgate and the Captain Kidd. And it makes a good place to stop after spending a few hours at one of the river’s other major attractions, the Tower of London.
The Tower is, of course, a well known attraction, so we won’t get too into it here. But, that said, we’ve been there a few times over the years, and it is a seriously cool – and creepy – place to visit. It is even better on a dreary and cold day, to give you a feel for what life on the water in a stone and wood fortress – or prison – must have been like.
Another interesting area is the village of Rotherhithe, which is south of the river and a good walk east of Tower Bridge (not far from the Shad Thames area). Among other curiosities, this is the area from which the Mayflower – the ship that took English pilgrims to the New World in 1620 – originally departed en route to Southampton, before making the trek across the Atlantic.
There’s a pub near the point where the ship disembarked, then called the Shippe, but now restored as the Mayflower. This is the kind of pub we love – good food, good ales, nautical bric-a-brac, a fireplace, and further enough out of the way that it won’t be too thronged with tourists.
Not far to the west of the Mayflower, following the Thames River Path, you’ll pass the incredible remains of King Edward III’s manor house (built c1353). They are at the base of a small hill amidst a few houses (and across the street from another pub, the Angel), and the hill is publically accessible.