diamond geezer

 Wednesday, November 26, 2014

It's well-known there aren't many Thames crossings to the east of London, but there aren't that many to the west of London either. In the ten or so miles between Kingston and Chertsey there are only two bridges, one at Hampton Court and the other at Walton-on-Thames. This lack of connectivity is bad news if you're a Surrey driver, but there are two additional options for those on foot or two wheels, both of which are ferries. And Woolwich it ain't. [5 photos]

There's been a ferry between Shepperton and Weybridge for nigh on 500 years, such has been the historic need for folk to cross the Thames hereabouts. Shepperton lies on the northern bank of the river, originally clustered around the medieval church, then slowly strung out to the north after the railway arrived. The Shepperton branch line opened 150 years ago this month, but the planned extension across the river to Chertsey never materialised hence the terminus today has a fairly unrushed feel about it. The famous film studios are to the north, on the banks of the Queen Mary Reservoir, while the M3 motorway curves through the edge of the built-up area between a series of flooded gravel pits.

Old Shepperton is cut off behind the cricket ground, a single winding road with cottages and larger homes off to each side, bending out towards the Thames. It's most pleasant, or would be without all the parked cars, not least the focal point of Church Square running down to the river. St Nicholas's is built on the site of a 7th century church, and is about the only building hereabouts not to serve beer and/or food. The Anchor used to be a coaching inn and is now a hotel, and a romantic haunt of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor while they were filming up the road. The Warren Lodge hotel is merely 18th century, but boasts Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton amongst its more famous courting couples. Which begs the question what are quite so many hostelries doing here on the edge of nowhere opposite nothing much at all?

The answer's the Shepperton Ferry, which once ran from the quay by the church but long ago shifted half a mile upstream. Ferry Lane is a bit of a trek out of the village, through waterside meadows to the edge of the Thames proper. This is a place dominated by Britons Who Like Boats, indeed if you own any of the large homes hereabouts it's probably because some nearby sleek motorised craft is at the heart of your recreational life. The only shop is therefore a marine suppliers, namely Nauticalia, also found in Covent Garden and Greenwich but which began here in 1974 as a floating antiques shop in a converted rubbish barge. It's less rope and anchors and more jackets and giftware, but ideal if you ever need a comedy brass plaque for the door of the captain's cabin.

Tied up at a short jetty is the latest incarnation of the ancient ferry, this a small skiff with bench seating down each side and two outboard motors at the back. Getting aboard's intriguing because the timetable's unusual. The ferry only runs every 15 minutes, specifically on the quarter hours, but to summon service you have to ring a bell. Arrive at any other time and you're urged to wait, presumably because the boatman has other activities to fit into his life and doesn't want to be called out willy nilly. I arrived at 11.46, which was awkward, but while pondering what to do the boatman emerged from deep within Nauticalia and introduced himself. Game on.

A crossing costs two pounds, or one quid extra with a bike or for a return, There's even a weekly season ticket for a mere £6, which is a bargain, but only if you have regular need to cross between two fairly quiet Thames-side outposts. The pilot gets to stand beneath a protective awning, but you're out in the open so get wet if it rains. You may also have to wait for river traffic to pass, in our case a pair of rowers and a narrowboat, which extended the minute-long crossing time by about 100%. From midriver there's a fine view of the Weybridge Mariners' boathouse on Shepperton Lock Island, and someone very wealthy's back lawn, plus a steeply arched footbridge to a private island a short distance downstream.

And then you're across, at the steps on the Weybridge side, not that the centre of Weybridge is especially close by. Impressively there's also a ramp, making this a step-free ferry crossing and therefore more accessible than several much younger southeastern transport projects. By this time the boatman will be off, steering back across the river and tying up on the northern side, then using his intermediate ten minutes to do the crossword, have a cup of tea, go to the toilet, whatever.

The Shepperton Ferry has a fictional claim to fame, which is that HG Wells set most of chapter 12 of The War of The Worlds right here.
We remained at Weybridge until midday, and at that hour we found ourselves at the place near Shepperton Lock where the Wey and Thames join. Part of the time we spent helping two old women to pack a little cart. The Wey has a treble mouth, and at this point boats are to be hired, and there was a ferry across the river. On the Shepperton side was an inn with a lawn, and beyond that the tower of Shepperton Church - it has been replaced by a spire - rose above the trees. Here we found an excited and noisy crowd of fugitives. As yet the flight had not grown to a panic, but there were already far more people than all the boats going to and fro could enable to cross.
This idyllic scene doesn't last for long, not once a Martian comes striding across the meadows from Chertsey burning up the valley with its heat ray.
A violent explosion shook the air, and a spout of water, steam, mud, and shattered metal shot far up into the sky. As the camera of the Heat-Ray hit the water, the latter had immediately flashed into steam. In another moment a huge wave, like a muddy tidal bore but almost scaldingly hot, came sweeping round the bend upstream. I saw people struggling shorewards, and heard their screaming and shouting faintly above the seething and roar of the Martian's collapse. For a moment I heeded nothing of the heat, forgot the patent need of self-preservation. I splashed through the tumultuous water, pushing aside a man in black to do so, until I could see round the bend. Half a dozen deserted boats pitched aimlessly upon the confusion of the waves. The fallen Martian came into sight downstream, lying across the river, and for the most part submerged.
Fear not, no Martian has collapsed here recently and the ferry continues to run daily from 8am (nine on Saturdays, ten on Sundays). And that's especially good news for anyone walking the Thames Path, which officially crosses the river here to avoid detouring round the mouth of the Wey. So you might well have good reason one day to come pay the ferryman... but time it right, else there's a three mile detour to get to the other side.

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan20  Feb20  Mar20  Apr20  May20
Jan19  Feb19  Mar19  Apr19  May19  Jun19  Jul19  Aug19  Sep19  Oct19  Nov19  Dec19
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18  Aug18  Sep18  Oct18  Nov18  Dec18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
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 me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream