National Trust plans Runnymede-Ankerwycke ferry

Ankerwycke Priory

A ferry is to be established at Runnymede to link the famous Magna Carta meadow with less well-known Ankerwycke Priory ruins on the left bank of the River Thames.

A £1.6 million award from the National Lottery for the National Trust will also fund an improved Thames towpath alongside  Runnymede.

The priory grounds include the 2,500 year old Ankerwycke Yew under which is it claimed by some historians that Magna Carta was agreed in 1215.

The Magna Carta agreement between King John and the barons was achieved on 15 June 1215.

Did they meet under the tree before crossing the water together for the sealing of the document with wax and a formal embrace between the monarch and Archbishop of Canterbury Stephen Langton on Runnymede?

The King had travelled by river from Windsor. The barons, having  camped on the west side of Staines, are thought to have arrived at Ankerwycke Priory early in the morning to be welcomed by the prioress and other Benedictine nuns.

Ankerwycke Yew

Super Sewer stops Parliamentary Regatta

Lords and Commons competing in 2013 (Photo:

Parliament is about to rise for the summer recess without having held its regatta.

The All-Party Parliamentary Rowing Group says that the Parliamentary Charity Regatta is postponed until further notice due to the Super Sewer.

Lack’s Drawdock on Albert Embankment near the Palace of Westminster is closed for Thames Tideway Tunnel, or Super Sewer, works and will not be available until at least 2024.

Matthew Offord MP said “It is a shame that the Group has to postpone the Parliamentary Charity Regatta, but the Group has investigated every possible alternative and concluded that the regatta will be postponed until further notice.”

The main race is the competition between eight MPs and eight peers rowing downstream from Lambeth Bridge to Vauxhall Bridge.

The finishing line is between the Lords and Commons marquees on the terrace where a FINISH banner is placed.

Visiting crews from London Youth Rowing and a men and women’s senior race give show performances over a slightly longer course and are in return entertained to tea on the terrace afterwards.

The annual tradition dates from 1986.

The English River by Virginia Astley

The English River by Virginia Astley

Musician Virginia Astley has revealed her other passion in a new book The English River: A journey down the Thames in poems & photographs.

The poetry and the pictures are Virginia’s.

Her home reach with family memories is Cleeve but for the book she has walked the river.

The photographs are a delight as she visits the Thames out of season. How many of us have seen Inglesham Church in the snow or crossed the Cricklade meadows when the fritillaries are out?

She goes from Docklands to Source on days which are wet, sunny or even dull.

It is good to see a neglected Conservancy gate highlighted as few survive.

Virginia likes places alongside the path such as Kelmscott Manor: I shed my shoes, feel the chill of flagstones.

The Foreword is by her relative Pete Townshend of The Who.

The English River: A journey down the Thames in poems & photographs by Virginia Astley (Bloodaxe £12).


Inside Ferry Cottage

Ferry Cottage featured in The Observer’s On the Water magazine

Ever wondered what it is like to live in Ferry Cottage at Cliveden?

You may have looked across the water at the cottage when walking between Boulter’s Lock and Cookham.

For towing horses this was the first of three ferries before reaching Cookham.

This was also the last ferry to be operated by Thames Conservancy.

Now there is no crossing but the house is let by the National Trust.

The Observer today shows the rarely enjoyed view back to the towpath.

Mortlake 475

Mortlake’s church tower

St Mary’s Church in Mortlake is keeping its 475th anniversary.

The church was placed on its present site during a brief period when Henry VIII had control of the manor.

The tower is Tudor. Was it built so bells could be rung as the king was rowed past to and from Hampton Court?

The  village has long looked to the river with workshops and brewery by the water.

The great tapestries in  Hampton Court and other places across Europe were made opposite the church between 1619 and  1708.

Earlier this month the opening hymn at the church’s anniversary service was: O Praise the Lord by the riverside, Where England’s Thames meets London’s tide. 

The Bishop of Southwark, The Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, who was presiding Tweeted the words.

The great figures associated with the church include Dr John Dee who was visited by Elizabeth I coming  downstream from Richmond Palace.

George III’s prime minister Henry Addington, Lord Sidmouth, is buried in the lovely churchyard where the entrance to the earlier church has been placed.

A small history exhibition is open daily in the church this month.

On Saturday 23 June at 3pm there is  talk in church on the history of St Mary’s by Helen Deaton from the Barnes & Mortlake History Society.

On Sunday 24 June teas will be available at a garden party in the churchyard from 3pm.

TO FIND THE CHURCH: From the Thames Path look out for steps going up to Tapestry Court. The church is opposite across the road behind trees.

Looking to Barnes from the towpath
Tapestry Court steps from towpath
Mortlake’s old church entrance in churchyard

Woolwich link opening date

The new ramp at King Henry’s Wharf

The long awaited Thames Path missing link between the Thames Barrier and Woolwich will open next week.

The new route is being opened by Cllr Denise Scott-McDonald of the Royal Borough of Greenwich and the Mayor of London’s  walking and cycling commissioner Dr Will Norman on Wednesday afternoon 20 June.

The ceremony will begin at 3.30pm just behind the Thames Barrier. Guests will be invited to walk east along the line of path down Bowater Road for an opening ceremony at the bottom of the raised walkway in Warspite Road.

The route should be available for public use from about 4.30pm.

The link joins the Barrier to downstream King Henry’s Wharf.

It also means that the Thames Path national trail to the source in Gloucestershire from the Barrier now joins seamlessly with the unofficial extension which runs continuously from the River Darent confluence near Erith.

From Wednesday we can say that the Thames Path starts not at Charlton but at Slade Green Station.

Will Secretary of State for Environment Michael Gove extend the National Trail designation?

Reading Abbey reopens

Reading Abbey gate

Reading’s importance owes much to its riverside abbey visited by royalty, archbishops and statesmen.

From this Saturday 16 June Reading’s abbey ruins will again be open to the public free of charge following a restoration programme.

Grass has been placed along the top of exposed walls to slow crumbling.

The monastery opened in 1121 so thoughts are now turning to its 900th anniversary in three years time.

It is hoped that Henry I who was buried in the Lady Chapel might be located by archaeologists in time for the celebrations.

It took some years to complete the abbey church which was eventually consecrated by St Thomas Becket in 1164. This was possibly the last time that Henry II and the archbishop met as friends.

The main focus of pilgrimage was not the royal tomb but the hand of St James the Great given by Henry I’s daughter Matilda.

An early Victorian church by architect Augustus Pugin lies across the abbey church’s north transept and is dedicated to St James.

Today a relic said by some to be Reading’s hand of St James, but not displayed,  is in the care of St Peter’s Church in downstream Marlow.

Parliament came to Reading in 1453 to meet around the abbey cloister. The Commons sat in the chapter house whilst the Lords assembled in the refectory.

Passage between refectory (left) and dormitory (right)
Reading Prison seen through abbey church’s south chapel window
Chapter House entrance from cloister

Butler’s Wharf’s only tree under threat

Tree in Shad Thames

A move is being made to fell the only tree in the Butler’s Wharf area.

It is the Lombardy Poplar on Portland Wharf which is flanked by Tower Bridge and Horsley Down Old Stairs.

The application to Southwark Council is being made by the Horace Jones Vault cafe located in the nearby Tower Bridge undercroft.

Portland Wharf belongs to the City of London and the tree was planted in 2000 as part of  a millennium greening project.

The deadline for objections is Thursday 21 June.

View upstream towards Tower Bridge

From the Sea to the Source