Most Londoners probably think that their nearest beach is in Southend, or maybe Brighton, but they'd be wrong. There are several beaches (or at least bits of foreshore masquerading as beaches) along the Thames, even through the middle of Central London. When the tide's high you can't see them at all, and many tourists probably never even realise that they exist. But as the river level falls, up to 6½m every twelve hours, so the river ebbs away to reveal long stretches of rock and mud. It may not be golden Mediterranean sand, but if you fancy a bit of beachcombing it's a darned sight more convenient to get to. watch the Thames rise and fall
This is the beach at Bankside [photo], just below the Tate Modern [photo]. It's one of the longer stretches and, if you time it right, also one of the widest. With a bit of luck somebody will have unlocked the gate in the railings along the river's edge [map] and you can make your way down the low stone steps onto the sand. Yes, that's definitely sand at the top of the beach, although it soon gives way to rock and muddy shingle further down. Eroded half-bricks and pebbles litter the exposed river bed, some dark and jagged, others bleached white and smooth. Decaying wooden stumps stick up from the ground, the remnants of some old wall or Tudor jetty. Dark brown rusty pipes snake half-covered beneath the shingle, thankfully no longer dribbling ooze into the river. There's not as much washed-up litter and glass as you might fear, nor as much green slime as you might expect.
Best of all, you've probably got the whole quarter mile of beach to yourself, all the way from Blackfriars Bridge [photo] to Bankside Pier [photo]. Well, just you and a ragbag collection of feral pigeons, swooping seagulls and big black crows. Try picking your way across the rocks directly underneath the non-wobbly Millennium Bridge and looking across the river towards St Paul's Cathedral on the opposite bank [photo]. You might even spot some fragments of pottery or an old sailor's clay pipe in the mud, although I suspect that most of these were spotted and nabbed long ago. Don't stand too near the water's edge, or the backwash from a passing speedboat or Thames cruiser might overflow your boots. And ignore the funny looks you're getting from tourists wandering along the South Bank above you. Perhaps they can't work out how you got down there, or maybe they simply can't imagine why anyone would want to slum it on a low rocky shelf. But they're the ones missing out. Just make sure you get back up the steps before the beach disappears from view beneath the rising tide.