Embankment underground station, London (river exit)
|Day||Walk Type||Start Time||End Time|
|Saturday||Weekly||10.10 am||1 pm||Winter Summer||Reserve Online|
|Sunday||Weekly||10.10 am||1 pm||Winter Summer||Reserve Online|
|Friday||Weekly||10.10 am||1 pm||Winter Summer||Reserve Online|
|Thursday||Weekly||10.10 am||1 pm||Winter Summer||Reserve Online|
This is more than just a sightseeing cruise, this is an exploration of London attractions along the river Thames, an adventure through time with Brunel supremo* Robert and his merry band of handpicked (and mentored by Robert) guides. You will have a London river cruise with live commentary and guided tour included, what better way to explore London.
*An internationally recognised authority on Brunel, Robert was the founding director of the Brunel Museum. (Robert is to the Brunel Museum what Brunel was to the Great Eastern.) The author of the standard books on the subject – Brunel’s Great Eastern and The Brunels’ Tunnel – he has lectured all over the world on the greatest civil engineer in history. For good measure, he’s wrestled naked in front of a wood fire.**
**When Robert came down from Oxford he was, in the first act of his career, an actor; his first film credit was playing DH Lawrence in DH Lawrence High Priest of Love – so, yes, like Alan Bates, Robert’s been on the big screen wrestling naked in front of a wood fire!
And here’s one where he talks rather more about himself – running away to the circus and being an international banker and taking your sword into your Oxford exams and castrating bulls, etc. etc.
Meeting time: 10.10 am every* Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday
*To be on the safe side always check the date on the calendar. Or heed the top-level announcements that read: Click for dates this walk does not take place.
Meeting point: Embankment Tube (riverside exit)
Price: £15 per person (full adult); £10 for Super Adults (over 65s), full-time students and people with the London Walks Loyalty Cards; £5 for kids 8-15 (tinies, under 8s, go free).
The price does not cover:
• Thames Clipper boat ticket (the London Walks Group Discount is very handsome)
• Zone 2 journey London Underground (Oyster recommended)
Once the group has assembled at Embankment Tube, we will make our way past the monument to WS Gilbert (light opera with Sullivan) and down to the Pier. Your Thames Clipper sightseeing voyage starts here. The best views in central London will glide past your window. The chimes of Big Ben. London’s attractions and famous landmarks all laid before you. And the story of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, voted second Greatest Briton (after Churchill) and our most famous engineer. Little man, big hat, big cigar, big chains, big ideas.
Under Hungerford, our first Brunel Bridge, past the monument to Bazalgette – the man who built the sewer and moved the river. On your right, Royal Horseguards, a five-star hotel that started out as a property scam. The building with green roofs and all the flags is the Ministry of Defence. Here is the first of the four white ensigns on your trip. The golden eagle is the memorial to the Royal Air Force ‘Per Ardua ad Astra’ and the bas relief in bronze is the memorial to the Battle of Britain. The woman on the chariot is Boadicea, mother of all rebels, next to the mother of all parliaments (Charles Barry and Pugin).
Westminster Bridge (1862) a seven-arch, cast-iron bridge designed by Thomas Page, Gothic details by Charles Barry. Cast iron good for arches (compression), but no tensile strength, so Brunel didn’t like it. At this end of Parliament, the seats are green, and the bridge is green. At the far end, House of Lords, the seats are red, and Lambeth Bridge (1932 Humphreys, Blomfield, Forrest) is red. Just colour coding for the intellectually challenged. Old Scotland Yard and through the gap a glimpse of Westminster Abbey and Westminster Cathedral. The first Waterloo Bridge (1817 Rennie) was broken up and bits given to Commonwealth countries. The present bridge built by women.
Wonderful views of the famous dome St Paul’s Cathedral (Christopher Wren). Royal Festival Hall is on the site of the Festival of Britain held 1951, exactly one hundred years after the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park (1851), first international trade fair, sponsored by Prince Albert. Blackfriars Road Bridge is red & white. Peeping through the arches, the orange piers of Cubitt’s railway bridge for the London, Chatham and Dover Railway (grand pediment in gold, green, red and blue crest). The grey bridge with canopies is Blackfriars Railway Bridge, our second Brunel bridge, built by Henry Marc Brunel and Sir John Wolfe Barry. Three generations of engineers in the Brunel family. Gold rosettes on the road bridge, and above the onyx columns, swans! Travelling under bridges, you see all the details. Blackfriars railway station is the first railway station in the world to span a river
This is the famous millennium bridge, the Wobbly Bridge. Do you know the command before a regiment crosses a bridge? A sign ‘Break Step!’ Is still on Albert Bridge. Otherwise ’sympathetic resonance’ shakes it apart – it happened in Manchester. But this isn’t a bridge, look at it, it’s a hammock! Low stanchions give wonderful views up and downstream.
We go past Tate Modern, previously Bankside power station, the most successful visitor attraction in London. In the background, you will see the Shard, the tallest building in the United Kingdom.
London’s biggest thatched roof. White half-timbered building, rebuilt by American actor, Sam Wanamaker. Brunel also built a theatre, an underground theatre, which was the entry hall to the Thames Tunnel. Here there were sword swallowers, fire eaters, Indian dancers, Ethiopian serenaders, Chinese singers. Brunel’s theatre is half the size of Shakespeare’s Globe, but built above the ground and then sunk under its own weight. A giant one thousand tonne pastry cutter, but for the engineer the world’s first caisson.
Downstream of the Tower pier, as we see the Tower of London, above a bricked-up arch is written in white letters “ENTRY TO TRAITOR’S GATE”. Difficult to see from the north bank, and from the south bank you look right across the river, but you get the best view from this boat. Actually, I suppose traitors got the best view, but you will enjoy it more…
Tower Bridge is one of the most famous bridges in the world, and our third Brunel Bridge (Henry Marc again), but the Victorians hated it. They thought it dishonest. The bridge is made of steel but clad with masonry to fit in aesthetically with the Tower of London. The conceit is that Tower Bridge is the drawbridge for London, but the Victorians thought if you build a steel bridge, it should look like a steel bridge. If you want it to look like a masonry bridge, build it out of masonry.
We pass six famous riverside pubs. Town of Ramsgate where condemned men had their last drink (before left at Execution Dock where the tide covered them three times); Captain Kidd named for a notorious pirate who was hanged here twice (the rope broke); The Angel where Captain Cook planned his first voyage (now haunted by hanging Judge Jeffries); the Mayflower from where the Pilgrims sailed; Prospect of Whitby (named for the coal ships); and The Grapes, Sir Ian Mckellen’s local (Gandalf’s staff is behind the bar). We pass the King’s Yard, where Samuel Pepys worked, and Drake’s Steps, where Queen Elizabeth knighted her explorer, privateer and the first Englishmen to circumnavigate the globe.
We disembark at Masthouse Terrace where Brunel built his last ship, SS Great Eastern, the first iron ship in the world and the first luxury cruise liner.
I’ve brought you here for the view. This is sometimes called the ‘English Versailles’. Not a hundredth the size of Versailles, but an English attempt at grand perspective and formal architecture. There’s a column for every ship that was at the Battle of Trafalgar.
Perched on the hill and looking down on everything, the Royal Observatory, established by King James to solve the longitude problem.
From Island Gardens we journey by elevated railway through the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf (Docklands Light Railway ‘the coolest of the top 10 train journeys in Britain’: Daily Mail). The new financial centre, dubbed ‘Manhattan on Thames’, is a temple of stainless steel and marble. Then a train journey through the doric columns and classical portico of Brunel’s Thames Tunnel, one-time shopping arcade, fairground and underwater banquet hall, now the oldest tunnel in the oldest subway system in the world.
Our journey ends at Mayflower pub where The Royal Society met on Brunel’s birthday and the jetty where the Pilgrims embarked.
Do I need to buy my ticket for the Thames River Cruise in advance?
No, you can buy the tickets on the day.
Do I need a Travel Card for this tour?
You need a ticket/card for Zone 2 journey Island Gardens to Rotherhithe
A sightseeing voyage by Thames Clipper. Relax with the best views of central London as Big Ben chimes and London’s attractions and famous landmarks unfold before you: historic Westminster and the famous Houses of Parliament, the London Eye and the palaces of Greenwich and the Tower of London.
See how Tate Modern, now a palace of art, was once a palace of industry. Past three famous cathedrals: Westminster, St Paul’s and Southwark, and under three famous Brunel bridges to three theatres at Shakespeare’s Globe. Here is HMS Belfast, the ship that fired the first shots at the Normandy Landings.
Hear the story of Brunel’s Shakespeare Room in his London home, opposite Buckingham Palace. Pass over and then through Brunel’s Tunnel, birthplace of the subway and oldest tunnel in the London Underground. On to Canary Wharf and the launch ramps of Brunel’s last great ship, the world’s first luxury cruise liner built ten years before the Cutty Sark.
A short river walk, the launch site of Brunel’s Great Eastern on one shore, Greenwich Pier on the other, there, in one view you span centuries of British maritime history, the Royal Observatory where East meets West at 0* the Meridian, then on to our train under the river for afternoon tea or lunch at the Mayflower.
“I have been on several London walks but this was simply the best, with a boat ride thrown in and an amazing surprise at the end! Our guide was knowledgeable and great fun. I would and have highly recommended this to anyone, whether or not they are particularly interested in Brunel” JoJ70