Travelling across London, what's the maximum number of times a straight line can cross the Thames?
I make it twelve.
Travelling west to east along a line of latitude I can only get to eight.
But tilt the line a bit, to make the most of all the meanders, and a dozen is just about possible.
Crossing 1: Thistleworth Marine, Isleworth → Old Deer Park, Richmond
My line starts where Twickenham bleeds into Isleworth, near the mouth of the River Crane, specifically within the boatyard of Thistleworth Marine. If you've walked the Capital Ring you'll have passed by on your way from Richmond Lock to Syon Park. The marina's a useful place to overwinter barges and pleasureboats, a cluster of three pontoons midriver where a little light maintenance might take place. Access is via Railshead Road, which for centuries led to a ferry crossing but now peters out beyond some cottages. The Thames is only 100m wide at this point. It's a pleasant place to begin. [map showing my line]
We've leapt across Kew to the Thames's next big meander, the one below Chiswick. My line only just scrapes the bend, which means a long diagonal crossing, a brief flirtation with the northern bank and another diagonal crossing back. The launch point is close to the marker which shows where the Boat Race finishes, just behind the Stag Brewery in Mortlake. They brewed proper beer here until 1995, then Budweiser until 2015, and the complex remains an empty shell awaiting transformation into flats. Most of the rest of the southern shore is already built up, and highly desirable, especially around Barnes Bridge. Duke's Meadows, by contrast, is an undeveloped expanse of recreational space divided up into pitches, fairways, courts, boathouses, stadia and other sports grounds, because flood risk makes it so.
Crossing 4: Barn Elms Sports Centre → Craven Cottage, Fulham
This crossing, close to the London Wetland Centre, comes a couple of miles earlier in the Boat Race. The western side is again all sports grounds, of the kind which prep schools drive their pupils to in minibuses for an afternoon of jolly scrummage. If acreage is any judge, they play a heck of a lot more sport in west London than east. A stripe of riverside has been commandeered by Thames Water's Tideway tunnel crew to intercept the West Putney sewer overflow. Across the water is Craven Cottage, Fulham's football ground, currently dominated by a screen of cranes helping to build the club's new Riverside Stand. The width of the Thames now exceeds 200m.
Crossing 5: World's End, Chelsea → Chelsea Bridge, Battersea Crossing 6: Chelsea Bridge, Battersea → Grosvenor Road, Pimlico Crossing 7: Grosvenor Road, Pimlico → St George's Wharf, Vauxhall
If you're wondering how I managed to find a line crossing the Thames so many times, it's because I aligned it with this stretch of the river. The Thames from Chelsea to Vauxhall is almost straight, but these two miles include a slight bend which I've exploited to cross the river three times. Crossing 5 is a very long glide past Chelsea Embankment, then the whole of Battersea Park, eventually glancing the southern bank at Chelsea Bridge. Crossing 6 continues straight beneath Grosvenor Bridge to shave the northern bank in Pimlico where some pricey waterfront real estate juts out into the river. Finally Crossing 7 bears off through the Westminster Boating Base on a beeline for Vauxhall Cross, specifically St George's Wharf. Had my line been a few metres further north I'd have missed Battersea, and a few metres further south I'd have missed Pimlico.
Crossing 8: Greenland Dock, Rotherhithe → Sir John McDougall Gardens, Isle of Dogs
My line skips central London, and the useful-looking bend between Wapping and Rotherhithe, because if I'd hit those I'd have missed the proper meanders that follow. Instead here we are at the mouth of Greenland Dock, about to launch off across the water towards a grassy bit of Millwall on the Isle of Dogs. The Thames is now almost 350m wide and capable of supporting shipping.
Crossing 9: Folly Wall, Cubitt Town → Greenwich Peninsula Golf Range
Traversing the Isle of Dogs, just south of the main skyscraper cluster, delivers us to the far side amid a much less affluent quarter. If you know where the exuberant postmodern pumping station is, we're very close to there. Across the water is the North Greenwich peninsula, this being the side still awaiting its turn for development, hence the land being used for a 'temporary' driving range for cityboy golfers. Alongside is an even more temporary black shell called Magazine which hosts one-off events, especially noisy ones where it's helpful not to have any neighbours. Bleak, but evocative.
Crossing 10: Dangleway South → Peruvian Wharf, West Silvertown
This isn't deliberate, but my line scores a direct hit on the North Greenwich end of London's most pointless cablecar. As the empty pods hoick up into the sky, so the route I'm tracing heads across Bugsby's Reach towards the as yet undeveloped flank of Silvertown. Peruvian Wharf's flattened footprint has been pencilled in for housing for 20 years, but last year the Port of London Authority finally wrested back control and it'll be used for cargo handling instead... mainly to supply materials for the construction of tens of thousands of homes elsewhere.
Crossing 11: Armada Green, East Beckton → Cross Ness, Thamesmead Crossing 12: Cross Ness, Thamesmead → Dagenham Dock, Dagenham
To finish with, another very close shave. My line very nearly doesn't brush against Thamesmead, without which it wouldn't have crossed the Thames at all, but does just scrape the shore at Cross Ness Lighthouse, a squat red tower from the analogue age of navigation. It reached here from the easternmost edge of Beckton, the very point at which the Gallions Reach Bridge may one day rise, then followed the Thames for just over two miles before hitting land. The final crossing is back to the industrial north bank, the very haven from which Dagenham Dock got its name, immediately alongside what's left of the Ford car plant. The Thames is now over 600m wide. And although there are still estuarine bends to come on the way down to Erith and then Essex, my line is now heading in completely the wrong direction because you can't hit them all. Twelve'll do nicely. [map showing my line]