Monday, June 4, 2012

The Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant: a narrowboat's eye view of London

It's around 15 miles from West India Dock, where the narrowboats taking part in the river pageant had been moored for their preliminary muster, to Hammersmith, where we had to muster again and get ourselves into order for the pageant.
Narrowboats normally travel at around five miles an hour, so it was going to be a long trip. Everyone was so keen to get to their starting positions, however, that the boats almost scampered up the Thames.
Our first sight of the preparations for the pageant were as we approached Tower Bridge, where the Avenue of Sail - the historic ships that were too tall to negotiate the Thames bridges - had been moored.  There were all sorts of vessels - here is the Matthew, a replica of the ship John Cabot sailed in when he discovered Newfoundland in 1497.

The tall ship behind Matthew, with the white stripe along the side, is Royalist, used as a training vessel by the Marine Society and Sea Cadets.

Onwards, in the grey drizzly morning, to Tower Bridge, surely one of the most famous bridges in the world, and an instantly recognisable symbol of London and Great Britain.

Here's the tall ship Tenacious, another training ship. She was launched in 2000, but she's a wooden ship, one of the largest still afloat.

As we passed through Tower Bridge, the grey bulk of HMS Belfast loomed up out of the mist.

Another tall ship, below. This is Artemis, originally a Norwegian whaler built in 1926 and now restored as a luxury cruise ship.

It was difficult to keep our minds on our own journey - there was so much to see.

Here's a shot of my mum, left, my brother-in-law Mike and my twin sister Sasha, with Tower Bridge receding into the drizzle.

Hang on a minute, look closely at this picture below. No, not at the boats, nor the rain, which by now was heavy and steady. Look at all those people, with their umbrellas, lining the embankment. And this was only about 10.30am - they still had four hours to stand until the pageant actually began.

And on we go ...

The Globe Theatre, Sam Wanamaker's astonishing vision, on the banks of the Thames at Southwark.

The Millennium footbridge, which opened in June 2000, and shut after two days because pedestrians complained they could feel it swaying. It stayed closed for two years, while modifications were made to it. I crossed it recently in the middle of a thunderstorm and it felt absolutely fine - rock solid. But Londoners still refer to it as the Wobbly Bridge.

Sea Containers House at Blackfriars Bridge, adorned for the pageant with a vast picture of the Royal family celebrating the Queen's Silver Jubilee in 1977.

Here come the Houses of Parliament, and Big Ben. The golden eagle on the right is the RAF Memorial.

Goodness, who's this? It's my daughter.

The narrowboats slow their pace a little to get a good look at the Houses of Parliament.

The London Eye ...

The Houses of Parliament with the end of our boat, suitably dressed in union jacks.

Looking back, you can see the Houses of Parliament AND the London Eye. How's that for photoreportage?

And all these people! Hundreds of them with their umbrellas, lining both banks of the river where they can get a vantage point. Despite the rain and a long wait to see the Queen, they summon up the energy to give us a huge cheer as we go past. 

Battersea Power Station, a target for German bombers during the war. It's often attributed to Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, but he designed only the exterior. Still, it's the exterior everybody recognises, so fair enough. The Luftwaffe didn't manage to destroy it, but thanks to the vagaries of a stream of developers it is now derelict.

Here's the Royal Jubilee Bells, a floating belfry carrying eight bells, each named after a member of the Royal family. These rang out as it preceded the Queen downriver to Tower Bridge.

You can see the bells quite clearly here.

More crowds, lining the Chelsea Embankment. It's still only about 11.45am, remember, and the pageant doesn't start until 2.30pm.

Uh-oh, here's a police boat, and yet more crowds lining Battersea Park. What's happening here?

Approaching Albert Bridge, something gleaming catches the eye on the righthand side.

Of course! This is the Spirit of Chartwell, specially decorated to carry Her Majesty down to Tower Bridge, where she will watch the pageant from the canopied area on top of the boat (on the left in the picture). The original idea was that she would travel in Gloriana, the Royal barge, but luckily someone realised this was a bit impractical. Historical recreations are all very well but there was nowhere to go to the loo and nowhere to have a cup of tea. What were they thinking?

The pale pink span of Albert Bridge, and below, the little armada of narrowboats still making its way gamely up the Thames. Albert Bridge is probably the prettiest bridge in London, and the most fragile. Its nickname is the Trembling Lady, and it famously carries a notice requiring troops to "break step" when they march across. It's just been reopened after a year-long closure for repairs.

Battersea Bridge approaches, but there's still a way to go before we get to the muster point.

Keep going, guys! I'm off for a quick snooze.

I know, I know - we haven't even got to the pageant. I'll post it next, I promise.