“ Since the City evolved around the Tower of London in Norman times the River Thames has always been a major highway running right through the centre of London. Today Londoners and visitors to London alike are rediscovering the benefits of river travel on Thames Clippers' Riverline services. The Riverline offers hassle-free travel, on-time and in comfort, that suffers none of the congestion or interruption problems that can affect other surface or underground travel. Best of all the views along the waterfront are simply fantastic. „
The day of the marathon dawned bright and sunny. Best Friend (the only one of us running) had left early to make sure she was at the start in good time, while The Boyfriend and her boyfriend, American Boy, were on the sofa in pyjamas eating bacon and egg rolls and watching proceedings on the telly. We had planned our route over dinner the night before, and as I stood on the balcony in the sunshine with my cup of tea I could see the first spot - mile 8 - across the Thames at Deptford.
Ordinarily, getting across the river in London is a bit of a pain if you're any distance from a bridge, but American Boy had come up with an excellent idea. The Thames Clipper runs from the Isle of Dogs to Greenland Pier at Deptford and would take as across in style and comfort. We got dressed and headed down to the pier, passing a handful of observers and a few wheelchair racers. The 'pier', which the clipper runs from, is a long thin corridor of concrete with an arrangement of white steel posts stretching out into the Thames. If you weren't sure what you were looking for, the only identifying sign is the Thames Clippers timetable at the junction with the footpath. Looking at this, they came every twenty minutes or so and as we walked down the ramp, a boat pulled in. There are no steps along the pier to the boat, just one smooth ramp; in order to cross between the pier and the boat a flat metal bridge folds out. The whole set up is perfectly accessible for pushchairs, though I'm not entirely sure that the boat gangway would be wide enough for some wheelchairs.
We boarded the boat, walking past the outside seating and into the main area. This was far better than I expected, with rows of comfortable seats and fold down tables, padded benches under the glass windows at the front and a bar area selling hot drinks and snacks. Best Friend's beloved Sausage & Mash Café had an onboard menu under the name S&M ahoy and if I hadn't already had my breakfast, I'd have been tempted by the pastries and croissants. Shamefully, they weren't providing veggie alternatives to the hot bacon and sausage sandwiches and I didn't see a member of staff behind the bar to serve anyone so presumably you'd have to hunt one down if you wanted any food. The prices for the food were fair; slightly less than a train station and a little more than most cafés.
We crossed the river in under three minutes and I started to get impatient as we neared our stop. The ticket thing is a bit haphazard - you can't buy tickets before you board and they sell them on the boat in a kind of conductor arrangement. We needed to buy tickets, but we also needed to get off before the boat pulled away from our stop. Luckily, the lady selling the tickets was quick and we purchased three River Roamers before disembarking. These cost £12 each and allow you to make as many journeys on that day as you like, providing good value against the alternative of single journey tickets at £5 each. (You can pay by debit or credit card over £10) I think the staff are supposed to check the tickets when you disembark, but this didn't happen to us and we commented that we could have had a free journey. In any case, a single river crossing is only £3.
There are concessions to the fares: a Travelcard (which sadly we didn't buy until later in the day) gets you a third off the standard ticket price as does a valid London Student Card. A freedom pass gets you a half price fare and being a member of the Tate gets you a small discount but only on services between the galleries. Children are half price and if you're travelling in a family group, you can buy a £25 Roamer which will cover two adults and up to three children. In my opinion, the standard price tickets are not the best value in terms of getting around - a travel card for zones one and two costs less than £7.00 if you are on a budget. However, for the service, the pleasure of the journey and the opportunity to use the toilets and sit down in a comfortable seat with a coffee, they are fantastic value. The pushchair access mentioned above is the icing on the cake in terms of child friendly travel and if I were travelling around London with kids in tow, this would be the answer.
Walking up the pier, the sun was beating down and we arrived on the sidelines of the Marathon to set up camp. I hung my banners up from a tree and we were so busy listening to the music and spotting red faced superheroes, we almost missed Best Friend. The Boyfriend managed a photo of the back of her head and American Boy led us back to the pier to catch the clipper to the next viewing spot. Another boat trip, another spotting and this time a half decent photo.
The next journey, from the Isle of Dogs to embankment was longer. This time, I appreciated not only the facilities but also the view. The clipper's route takes you all along the river, incorporating a much quicker and less overpriced version of the conventional river sightseeing tour. We passed the original semi submerged archway to Traitor's Gate and enjoyed the impressive sight of the Tower of London from the Thames. Gliding under Tower Bridge, we looked up at the underside of the bridge itself before passing the Millennium bridge with a glorious vista of St Paul's Cathedral. Disappointingly, the windows were far too filthy to take photos through the glass, but if you really wanted to do so, you could take these from the back of the boat. (There is no standing at the front, probably for safety reasons)
After watching Best Friend's incredible sprint finish, the huge crowd and balloons against a blue sky, we caught the Clipper again from Waterloo. This boat was a lot busier, not only with the marathon crowd, but passengers from Waterloo heading to the O2 for an evening of Tina Turner or similar. This is by far the easiest and quickest route for anyone wanting to get to the former millennium dome. On this occasion (unlike the others), our tickets were actually checked as we got off and Best Friend paid for the trip using her Oyster Card.
We used the Clipper once more that day, returning to Westminster to catch the train to Paddington. This time it was chilly and I think waiting at the piers would be harder in winter with only the bus stop shelter arrangement at the end of the concrete slope. It was way off schedule, although this may have been due in part to the Marathon. I would use it again to get to Best Friend's house without hesitation, it's far far quicker than the chopping and changing with tubes and DLR, especially as you get rid of the walk from Crossharbour or Mudchute by arriving riverside. Chances are that she's not your Best Friend though (hands off!) and you want to know where else you can travel.... From Millbank or Waterloo, all the way through to Woolwich and the O2 Arena, incorporating Blackfriars and Canary Wharf. In other words, if you want to sightsee along the river, this is perfect.
The Clipper is also intended, like the buses and tubes, for commuter travel. And this is THE way to travel. If I worked near those stops, I would gladly choose to use this in the morning. Imagine your choice; a crowded sweaty tube with the doors banging shut on people's heads and the paranoid smell of terrorism fear. The three hundred steps only to find yet another broken escalator. Or the clipper, a comfy seat, a smooth journey and a cup of fresh coffee as you go past some of London's most impressive sights.
Not only that, but if the ramp is wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair, you have a great alternative to a taxi for the less able. The only worry with commuting would be that the clipper reached capacity before it reached your stop and you had to wait 20 minutes for the next one. I noted however, that they hold around 100 people, so this is probably not something to be too concerned about.
For more information, the Thames Clipper has a great website at http://www.thamesclippers.com/ and you can contact them at:
Thames Clippers head office
Unit 12, The Riverside Building, Trinity Buoy Wharf
64 Orchard Place, London, E14 0JY
Fax: +44 (0) 207 001 2222
If you do, please tell them that the service needs to be extended to Reading as soon as possible!
Thames Clippers operate a fleet of fast commuter boats along the river Thames between Woolwich Arsenal and central London via Canary wharf.
I'd been intending to try their service for some time, but as I don't travel to London too often my first opportunity didn't arrive until a recent bank holiday Monday.
For my first trip I decided to travel from Canary wharf to London, Canary wharf pier is easy to find, I just had a few minutes to walk from the DLR station, and the route was clearly signposted.
There are several ticket booths at Canary Wharf pier, and the pier is used by boats from a number of different companies so it is important to check you are getting on the right boat. At the time I was there although the office at the pier was staffed, the tickets were sold on board the boat, I don't know whether or not this is standard practice.
Even though it was a bank holiday 'Thames Clippers' were still operating a frequent timetable of services, and right on schedule the boat pulled in and we were able to board. The boat was neatly laid out with a large covered cabin which consisted of rows of seats with two wide aisles. Around the front and sides of the cabin were windows which provided an excellent view of everything happening on the river, at the back of the cabin there was a small counter which was set up to sell drinks and snacks, although this did not seem to be in use on any of the boats I travelled on that day.
At the rear of the main cabin was roofed open air area which held additional seating if required. This proved popular with some of my fellow passengers but would probably be too cold to endure a long journey there except in the height of summer.
One of the advantages in using the Thames Clipper service instead of the train was the timekeeping, I did not observe any congestion on any of the river routes I used that day, and every boat I took that day arrived and departed almost exactly on time. In order to travel from Canary Wharf to Waterloo Pier I needed to change boats at Bankside pier. The changeover was effected very efficiently, we disembarked from our first boat, (named Sun Clipper) and were immediately able to board the Hurricane Clipper to continue our journey. Arriving at Waterloo pier we were relaxed and 'frazzle free' as their brochure describes it.
Our return journey was equally easy and stress free, the only difference being that we travelled back to Greenwich instead of Canary Wharf. I would have preferred to travel all the way back to Woolwich Arsenal but there are no Woolwich services available on the timetable apart from the morning or evening rush hour times. This is a shame, but it must be admitted that at present there does not seem to be a significant demand for such a service. I would like to see this service extended to Erith, or even Gravesend, but maybe this will have to wait until the service is more established.