River Thames: In the Footsteps of the Famous (Bradt Travel Guides)

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9781841620442: River Thames: In the Footsteps of the Famous (Bradt Travel Guides)

Inspired by the authors and historical figures who have been influenced by the river, Paul Goldsack, who lives on the Thames, takes the reader on a series of circular and linear walks, cycle routes and rambles in the footsteps of such diverse characters as Oliver Twist, Inspector Morse and Ratty.

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Review:

Brings to life London's royal river, making it easy, through words, maps, advice and anecdotes, for everyone to explore. -- Britain Calling, April 2003

Couldn't put it down; was amazed by the numbers of famous characters associated with the river - intriguing and inspiring.' -- Blue Flag, the Journal of the DBA - the Barge Association, Spring 2003

Lively companion to take with you along the riverbank,
packed with riveting answers to obscure questions. -- The Lady, 18 to 24 March 200

The pace is brisk, the tone breathless... good to read... fun. [Discovering] the Thames is a tantalising prospect. -- The Sunday Times 'Book of the Week (Travel)', February 9, 2003

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

A taster, much summarised, of some of the opening contents of Chapter One: The Thames Barrier to London Bridge…
You will like Greenwich, a bustle of shops and people and good restaurants, of sumptuous buildings and, of course, the magnificent Cutty Sark clipper ship, the Royal Observatory (a whiz), the National Maritime Museum (a stunner). As for the village, the market stalls, the riverside walks, you really should go to find out for yourself. Someone said that ‘Greenwich and its palaces are the nearest equivalent to the Versailles of Paris that England has’. He, or she, was right.

The Thames Path from the Thames Barrier at Woolwich (which has a visitor centre and an exhibition, but a poor thing and a sore disappointment) passes alongside Greenwich’s 17th-century Yacht public house (homely, comfortable, unpretentious) and then, immediately next door, the more famous Trafalgar Inn which was a wow with the high-born, the done-good and the well-heeled the day its doors opened in 1837. Cabinet ministers came by barge to eat whitebait suppers and get merry on champagne. So did Charles Dickens who took Bella here for her wedding feast in his gloomy Our Mutual Friend: ‘What a dinner! Specimens of all the fishes that swim in the sea had swum their way to it. ‘
Great chunks of the novel are set on the Thames, although it is difficult, today, to relate with Dickens’s river of slime and ooze, mudlarked and scavenged by the ‘accumulated scum of humanity’.

Next door to the Trafalgar is Christopher Wren’s baroque Royal Naval College (originally a hospital for pensioners and sailors, now part of Greenwich University and the Trinity College of Music). The College was built on the site of Henry VIII’s Placentia Palace where his daughter, who became the first Queen Elizabeth, was born. Anne Boleyn was carried up-river to her coronation celebrations from here. A bystander recalled: ‘There were so many boats and barges, filled to cramming, it was a thing to be wondered at, and although the river was so wide nothing could be seen but boats and barges draped with awnings’.

Nowadays the Thames hereabouts is a sad and much abandoned highway, as dull as pewter and empty save for the rare cruiser or an occasional river bus. Poet-philosopher Peter Levi describes it, kindly, as ‘a glittering sheet of water, a huge, romantic dancing floor, almost empty of shipping.’ Yet only seventy-something years ago H.M. Tomlinson observed a river cram-packed with ‘coasters and Continental traders… timbermen and big transatlantic liners… Thousands of people stand on the bank here for hours’.

All gone, downstream to Tilbury, or somewhere else, perhaps to nowhere at all.

The Royal Naval College buildings were commissioned by Charles II and extended by Mary and William, mainly to the designs of Christopher Wren plus bits and pieces by his clerk Nicholas Hawksmoor, and fellow architect Jan Vanbrugh. Wren used to pop over to the other side of the river to admire his masterpiece from the Island Gardens which is what you should do (via the Greenwich Foot Tunnel – entrance not far from Greenwich pier where the river buses from Wesminster Pier, Charing Cross and the Tower stop). The Italian artist Giovanni Antonio Canal (Canaletto) painted Greenwich from Island Gardens in 1751; the painting, now in the National Maritime Museum, depicts the serenely elegant College buildings as a backdrop to a silk-placid evening Thames scurried by barges and wherries.

Some say the best of Greenwich is the College, others the Queen’s House – built as a ‘house of delights by Inigo Jones. Today the Queen’s House is the sublime central heart of the two-winged National Maritime Museum. In truth, one is as good as the other and only a fool compares them. The Museum is open daily May-Sep 1000-1700 and Oct-Apr 1030-1530; admission to the extra-ordinary and ever-changing delights of this superb museum is free.

Greenwich Park, behind the Museum, is the oldest of London’s royal parks. James I had the wall built round it in 1619, Charles II commissioned the formal tree-line walks in 1660s, together with the grass terrace ‘steps’ down which dandies used to ‘roll’ their ladies in order to ‘create disorder’ in their dresses, as an obscure poet called William Mountfort celebrated in 1691: ‘At Greenwich lies the scene where many a lass/ Has been green-gowned upon the tender grass’.

At the top of the escarpment is the old Royal Observatory, offering opportunities to learn about the first Astronomer Royal, John Flamstead, astronomy, the best of views of historic Greenwich and another of the Isle of Dogs and Canary Wharf Tower with its ever-blinking red eye on the far side of the river. Part of the Observatory is Meridian Line House where visitors are able to straddle eastern and western hemispheres. Greenwich Park and the Royal Observatory buildings are open daily 1000-1700; like the Maritime |Museum admission is free.

The last of the tea-clippers, Cutty Sark, slumbers fretfully in a vast dry-dock a minute’s walk from Greenwich Pier. On her swooping V-shaped clipper bow is the wooded figurehead of a woman flimsy-wrapped in a ‘cutty sark’, an old name for a short chemise. The ship, now a museum complete with models, photographs and the largest collection of figureheads in the world, is open Apr-Sep (Mon-Sat 1000-1800, Sun 1200-1800), Oct-Mar (Mon-Sat 1000-1700, Sun 1200-1700); there is an admission charge.

From close by the Cutty Sark the Thames Path runs along the south side of the river to Deptford, Rotherhithe, Bermondsey, and Tower Bridge, or, on the opposite bank (reached via the Foot Tunnel) to the Isle of Dogs, Limehouse, the Pool of London and Tower Bridge. To find out which way is the most intriguing you will have to read the book – as you will if you wish to learn more ab

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