07.26.2017

An Imaginary Walk Along the Thames

If you could walk along the middle of the Thames, suspended above the water, looking from side to side at each bank you would be able to see many of the most important places in London's history

  • An Imaginary Walk Along the Thames
  • An Imaginary Walk Along the Thames
  • An Imaginary Walk Along the Thames
  • An Imaginary Walk Along the Thames
  • An Imaginary Walk Along the Thames
  • An Imaginary Walk Along the Thames

Long before it became a great city, London was a major port on the River Thames. The river, which appears almost unnoticed from its source in the Cotswold Hills in Gloucestershire, reaches widths of up to 240 metres in the capital, and then continues its journey to its estuary and the North Sea.
 
Since the year 50, when the Romans founded Londinium, all the country's most crucial historic events have taken place along the banks of the river; the Thames however is more than just a silent witness to the history of the city: it is itself the protagonist, it is "liquid history", as the British politician John Burns once said. A journey along its banks therefore brings to mind all the periods of history that the city has been through.
 
Beginning at the eastern outskirts of the city, the first thing you meet are the huge barriers, built between 1974 and 1984 to protect London from high tidal waves that still occasionally threaten the city. Continuing west through an industrial landscape, you reach the meander that encloses the Millennium Dome and The O2 arena's large entertainment complex, on its southern bank. Here, we are right in the middle of new millennium London, something that is also reflected on the other side of the river by the ExCeL (opened in 2000) and Canary Wharf, which is dominated by its famous pencil shaped skyscraper, One Canada Square.
 
The large London Docklands area also starts here: these are the former port areas where warehouses for goods transported by ship once stood. They were subject to a major restoration project in the 80s and 90s, turning them into sought after commercial and residential areas.
 
In Greenwich, where the prime meridian passes through London and where the famous Observatory has stood since 1675, there are many traces of history linked to the life of the river, such as the Old Royal Naval College and the Cutty Sark, the last of the tall ships that sailed to and from the East Indies, transporting tea and wool.
 
The nineteenth-century Tower Bridge acts as an ideal portal to the long stretch of the Thames that flows through the centre of the city, where you can journey through the most important periods and events of London's history. Today, this great drawbridge acts as a crossing between monarchical power, whose ancient emblem is the Tower of London, originally built as a royal residence, and the city's present day power, which sits in the futuristic, glass City Hall designed by architect Norman Foster. On the north bank you will then find The Monument, the column erected to commemorate 1666's Great Fire of London, and the majestic symbol of Anglicanism, St Paul's Cathedral, with the City behind it.
 
On the southern bank, however, is the Shakespearean London of Southwark, one of the city's oldest settlements, with its magnificent cathedral and the reproduction of the legendary Globe Theatre - and there is also Renzo Piano's The Shard (2012), the city's tallest skyscraper.
 
In the midst of this is London Bridge, the oldest bridge in London. Although the current structure dates back to 1973, London's first bridge was built right here in wood, by the Romans in the year 50. Until 1831, just a little way to the east, stood the historic London Bridge built in 1209.
 
After the shallow profile of the Millennium Bridge, the river leads you to massive former power station that houses the Tate Modern art gallery on one side and the benches overlooking the river's romantic Victoria Embankment on the other. Here we're in the centre of tourist London, unfolding over the curve of the river with the London Eye, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey, where English monarchs have been crowned for a thousand years.
 
Leaving these postcard views behind, we slip into the next curve, over the imposing building that houses the headquarters of the British secret service, and where the eye will lock on to a familiar sight: Battersea Power Station, the famous thermal power station that is immortalised on Pink Floyd's renowned Animals album cover.
 
On the opposite bank, the affluent residential area of Chelsea makes way for Fulham where the ancient Fulham Palace (704), with its magnificent landscaped garden, still stands on the banks of the river. Then there is Hammersmith, a former industrial neighbourhood that once housed the famous Osram lamp factory.
 
Just west, in Chiswick, former home of the famous Chiswick Records label (1975-1981), is British Grove Studios, the recording studio belonging to former Dire Straits' frontman, Marc Knopfler.
 
We have now reached the western edge of London. While the affluent, green Richmond, which has always been the retreat of the royals and England's rich and famous lies to the south, our walk continues and comes to a end on the north bank, at Twickenham. Here, in addition to the English National Rugby Stadium, is a small island in the river known as Eel Pie Island, which, curiously, has a prominent role in the history of English music. Until 1967, the island was home to a famous hotel, the Eel Pie Island Hotel, known since the 20s for hosting great jazz musicians and, later, concerts by stars such as David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, The Who and Pink Floyd. Even as I write the Eel Pie Island Museum, a museum dedicated to that golden age of music, is being opened in Twickenham. 
 

Author : The Slowear Journal

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London  | England  | Thames  | travels  | history  |

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