diamond geezer

 Monday, June 23, 2008

A quite nice day out: River Roamer
You might think that taking a cruise down the Thames is something that only tourists do, but that's not the case. Many Londoners now use a variety of riverboat services for commuting, or for a leisurely night out, or just for the sheer delight of skimming along brown water past hundreds of old buildings. Yesterday I joined them. I bought one of Thames Clippers' River Roamer tickets (normally £8, but only £5.20 with a travelcard) and spent the day zipping up and down the river. And, what do you know, it was almost pleasant.

Queen Elizabeth II PierQueen Elizabeth II Pier: That's the pier in North Greenwich, the one by the Dome with Antony Gormley's Quantum Cloud sculpture plonked beside it. The pier was mothballed between 2001 and 2007, finally reopening this time last year, and it was good to finally get to walk down it. Or rather hurry down it, because the next catamaran was just arriving. I needn't have rushed, though, because the boats aren't exactly speedy at tying up.
On board: Ooh, comfy seats, just not very many with a good view. Almost all of the seating on these low-roofed catamarans is indoors, and the windows weren't exactly clean, so my views of the speeding Thames were a little restricted. The on-board catering looked tasteful (because anything run by the S&M Cafe has to be good), but I fear they only serve bacon butties at breakfast time.
Greenwich Pier: More boarders, and off we went again. The Thames Clippers staff didn't seem to have the most efficient methods for issuing and checking tickets - it all looked a bit hit and miss - but I guessed they couldn't check everyone on boarding because it would slow the service down too much.
Masthouse Terrace Pier: Woefully underused embarkation point at the tip of the Isle of Dogs.
Greenland Pier: Not the real Greenland, obviously, just the dock in Rotherhithe where we used to (ssssh!) dismember whales.
Canary Wharf Pier: I hopped off here for a break. It had taken nearly 20 minutes to travel just over a mile - considerably slower than by Jubilee Line - but the tube runs direct while the Thames meanders three times as far round a giant bend.

Canary Wharf PierCanary Wharf Pier: Maybe getting off had been a mistake. There appeared to be a lengthy gap in traffic, rather longer than the scheduled 20 minutes, with three eastbound boats passing through before the first westbound arrived. And the catamaran which turned up wasn't quite as lovely as my previous carrier - no bar, no bacon butties... and no spare seats. Never mind, it was far more exhilarating to stand at the back and watch Wapping and Rotherhithe rush by.
Tower Pier: After zipping beneath that bridge, we got stuck in a queue for a berth. I blame the Windrush anniversary ship preparing to cast off for Tilbury.
London Bridge Pier: Good grief, just how many times was this boat going to stop so that not many people could get on or off?
Bankside Pier: I was one of not many people getting off. Aha, they check your ticket when you disembark, do they? It's still not a terribly speedy system.

Bankside Pier: After a quick look round the Tate Modern (you can still see where the crack used to be, you know), I thought I'd take the special Tate To Tate service all the way down to Millbank. Oh dear, this must have been one of the even older boats. Not unpleasant but not huge, and nobody was allowed to stand outside for a decent view.
Millbank Pier: Probably the nicest most bijou modern-est pier of all, but only really useful if you're planning to visit Tate Britain. Which I was. It's all too easy to forget that this collection of artistic gems exists, so I'm glad I went.

Waterloo Pier: After a wander around the Westminster area I was ready to return to the East. But oh dear, the sunny weather meant that there were very scary queues. A forty minute wait?! Stuff that, I'd be quicker taking the tube, or even the bus...
Embankment Pier: ... so I crossed the river and boarded at the previous pier in an attempt to get a seat. And it worked. I was less than impressed by the electronic "next boat" information, though. Thames Clippers entire embarkation operation seemed to rely on shouting rather than clearly displayed information on and about each service.
Waterloo Pier: Ha, I beat you on board. Even better, this was now the O2 Express non-stop to North Greenwich. Seven miles without another pier-side pause, including some super-speedy sections from Wapping onwards. Some of the passengers sitting to port got very wet round the bigger bends, ker-splash. Again, just a shame that the view wasn't up to much, but at least it was quick.
Queen Elizabeth II Pier: Hmmm, weren't there a lot of 50-somethings on this boat, plus a lot of long haired blokes in black t-shirts? Aha, I'd been travelling with a full complement of extremely well-behaved Santana fans, off to see their guitar-plucking idol playing at East London's biggest arena. I left them to it.
Royal Arsenal Woolwich Pier: Nah, maybe next time.

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