diamond geezer

 Sunday, May 12, 2013

Remember Water Chariots? The greedy company who hoped to clean up on river-based transport during the Olympics? They blundered in with an over-optimistic business model, hiked up prices beyond the heights of reason and promptly sank into administration before the end of the Games. Good riddance. But there was one unfortunate consequence of their demise, and that's the absence of a legacy service. Water Chariots were awarded their initial contract on the basis that they had the best plans for a post-2012 waterbus service, but it's now 2013 and we don't have one. You can hop on a narrowboat from Camden to Little Venice or grab a cruiser down the Thames, but the Lea remains stubbornly passenger-free.

A dozen of Water Chariots' former fleet have ended up further upriver and now belong to the Lee and Stort Boat Co. They've transformed most of their firesale stock into "luxury holiday boat's that are built in the most modern contemporary design", but use other craft to run waterbuses and party boats between Hertford and Ware. A niche market perhaps, but yesterday they sent a boat down to Bromley-by-Bow to show what a post-Olympic waterbus service might have looked like. A couple of itineraries were available as part of the Fun on the Green festival, one south to Bow Locks, the other north to Old Ford Lock. And both free of charge, which has to be a better deal than Water Chariots mercenary £95 return.

So what's the River Lea waterbus experience like? Is there a potential leisure market for this sort of thing, or was Water Chariots' legacy plan pure bluster? I couldn't resist being taken for a ride.

That's the first time in two years I've ever seen a boat pulled up at the Three Mills water bus stop. This was built with money from British Waterways and the Olympic Delivery Authority, and boasts a lovely metal sign depicting the nearby mill buildings. But lo, there was the former Water Chariot low in the water, with most of its previous branding removed but still with "Fast Track Express Hospitality Service" painted on the side. This is no luxury vehicle, as I've long suspected. It's more a cavernous space with a metal floor - easy to mop should any partygoer ever throw up - upon which are laid out rows of very ordinary blue chairs of the kind you might find in a church hall. The best seats are the curve of wooden benches in the prow, so well done to you if you grabbed those. Meanwhile a counter near the entrance sells drinks and bar snacks, but only if people are interested, which it seems they're generally not.

There are two reasons you might ride a water bus. One is to travel to somewhere else, and the other is to enjoy the view. In this case we were on a round trip so it was the view that was all important. Unfortunately, due to potentially inclement weather, all the window spaces had been covered by protective plastic so the view was pretty poor. A little blurry, a little drippy, a little smeared - and absolutely nothing worth taking any photos through. There were a couple of breaks in the plastic surround, so a tiny number of people could congregate here and look out properly, but everyone else missed out. Perhaps the crew feared it might rain horizontally partway through the ride, or perhaps they thought we were all wusses who'd not survive outdoors except in a floating bubble. But as an observation boat in lockdown mode, sorry, this former Water Chariot sucked.

We headed off slowly, oh so slowly, towards the Olympic Park. We passed the back of Tesco's car park and a graffitied wall, the first of many along the way. A vista opened up towards Stratford, but only because acres of warehouses have been levelled and nobody's yet got round to building flats in their place. It was nice to be down at water level, close to passing swans and several moorhens nesting in the reeds. It was less thrilling to stare at the undulating iron barrier that lines most of the edge of the Lea Navigation, but this is potentially crucial flood protection for my part of London so I'm not complaining.

The bridge at the Bow Flyover is very low, beneath flat concrete slabs which would prevent anything much taller than a narrowboat from making its way upstream. Further demolition is taking place beyond as Crossrail destroys increasingly more of what used to be Cooks Road. They're making up for that by digging a new tunnel portal, which now extends into the river itself behind a protective cofferdam. Even at the weekend there were half a dozen workers here, standing on the scaffolding and removing barrowloads of spoil from somewhere down deep. "PIES" screamed a sprawl of graffiti round the next bend, beneath a flurry of inelegant rail bridges. The area remains more post-industrial than green, although thankfully it's not yet blandly residential throughout, and there is still wildlife aplenty afloat.

A commentary would have been nice, I thought, if the crew could have thought of anything to say apart from "oh look, there's the Olympic Stadium". That's best viewed from further away before it disappears behind yet another brick wall and metal security fence. On we ploughed towards the back of Fish Island, overtaken by several bikes and the occasional walking group. And at last we dipped beneath the Northern Outfall Sewer to our final destination at Old Ford Lock. This provides a natural barrier to any water bus service, because to proceed through the lock and then have to come back again would be a lengthy and pointless activity. Instead we turned round slowly in the basin, without ever stopping at the mothballed Water Bus Stop alongside, and started our return trip.

I tried to imagine that I was seeing the waterside for the very first time, rather than for the hundredth, to try to infer the route's likely tourist potential. It's not the worst stretch of river in London, not by any means, but it lacks anything I could readily describe as a highlight. The underside of the Bow Flyover and an imperfect view of a 2012 arena are never going to attract a substantial body of visitors to the water. There's surely no long-term business model here, no all-year waterbus option, not even on the longer run past Bow Locks down the Limehouse Cut. Even a fiver a ticket would be pushing it, I reckon, given the lack of stuff to see. But I'm still pleased I've finally been for a pleasureboat trip along my local river, however hard it was to look out through the plastic and properly enjoy the ride.

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan17  Feb17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
life viewed from london e3

email    twitter    G+

my flickr photostream

What's on this month?
28 Jan – 23 Apr (10am-4.30pm)
Sussex Modernism
The sixth annual exhibition at Two Temple Place focuses on radical art/writing in Sussex, and is damned excellent.

twenty blogs
ian visits
blue witch
city metric
the great wen
edith's streets
spitalfields life
in the aquarium
round the island
wanstead meteo
london museums
christopher fowler
ruth's coastal walk
london reconnections
dirty modern scoundrel

quick reference features
Things to do in Outer London
The DG Tour of Britain
Comment Value Hierarchy

read the archive
Feb17  Jan17
Dec16 Nov16  Oct16  Sep16
Aug16  Jul16  Jun16  May16
Apr16  Mar16  Feb16  Jan16
Dec15  Nov15  Oct15  Sep15
Aug15  Jul15  Jun15  May15
Apr15  Mar15  Feb15  Jan15
Dec14  Nov14  Oct14  Sep14
Aug14  Jul14  Jun14  May14
Apr14  Mar14  Feb14  Jan14
Dec13  Nov13  Oct13  Sep13
Aug13  Jul13  Jun13  May13
Apr13  Mar13  Feb13  Jan13
Dec12  Nov12  Oct12  Sep12
Aug12  Jul12  Jun12  May12
Apr12  Mar12  Feb12  Jan12
Dec11  Nov11  Oct11  Sep11
Aug11  Jul11  Jun11  May11
Apr11  Mar11  Feb11  Jan11
Dec10  Nov10  Oct10  Sep10
Aug10  Jul10  Jun10  May10
Apr10  Mar10  Feb10  Jan10
Dec09  Nov09  Oct09  Sep09
Aug09  Jul09  Jun09  May09
Apr09  Mar09  Feb09  Jan09
Dec08  Nov08  Oct08  Sep08
Aug08  Jul08  Jun08  May08
Apr08  Mar08  Feb08  Jan08
Dec07  Nov07  Oct07  Sep07
Aug07  Jul07  Jun07  May07
Apr07  Mar07  Feb07  Jan07
Dec06  Nov06  Oct06  Sep06
Aug06  Jul06  Jun06  May06
Apr06  Mar06  Feb06  Jan06
Dec05  Nov05  Oct05  Sep05
Aug05  Jul05  Jun05  May05
Apr05  Mar05  Feb05  Jan05
Dec04  Nov04  Oct04  Sep04
Aug04  Jul04  Jun04  May04
Apr04  Mar04  Feb04  Jan04
Dec03  Nov03  Oct03  Sep03
Aug03  Jul03  Jun03  May03
Apr03  Mar03  Feb03  Jan03
Dec02  Nov02  Oct02  Sep02
back to main page

the diamond geezer index
2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002

my special London features
a-z of london museums
E3 - local history month
greenwich meridian (N)
greenwich meridian (S)
the real eastenders
london's lost rivers
olympic park 2007
great british roads
oranges & lemons
random boroughs
bow road station
high street 2012
river westbourne
trafalgar square
capital numbers
east london line
lea valley walk
olympics 2005
regent's canal
square routes
silver jubilee
unlost rivers
cube routes
capital ring
river fleet

ten of my favourite posts
the seven ages of blog
my new Z470xi mobile
five equations of blog
the dome of doom
chemical attraction
quality & risk
london 2102
single life
april fool

ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
london 2012 olympic zone
harris and the hebrides
betjeman's metro-land
marking the meridian
tracing the river fleet
london's lost rivers
inside the gherkin
seven sisters

just surfed in?
here's where to find...
diamond geezers
flash mob #1  #2  #3  #4
ben schott's miscellany
london underground
watch with mother
cigarette warnings
digital time delay
wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
digital watches
outer hebrides
olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
doctor who
blue peter
peter pan
feng shui
leap year
bbc three
vision on
ID cards