Thames flooding

The Thames Barrier was closed on Thursday afternoon at 2pm due to spring tides and high river levels.

High tide at 3.15pm in central London saw ferry passengers walk up rather than down Bankside Pier. Only five of the steps outside nearby Tate Modern remained dry.

These scenes are interesting considering that in the last few days the river has been high upstream with the towpath flooded in several places in Oxfordshire following the heavy West Country rain. Earlier this week a cyclist was stranded on the towpath west of Reading.

Walkers should certainly expect closures and diversions. The unusually warm weather is bringing out people who might not normally experience the winter flooding.

Nineteen flood watches are in force across London.

The Barrier was due to be reopened within three hours. Thames tidal flood risk manager Andrew Batchelor says: “This is a standard procedure for us when we have high spring tides combined with high flows in the river from heavy rain.

Objection to Henley towpath closure

The Henley-based Open Spaces Society has called on Wokingham Borough Council to reject an application from Henley Festival to close the Thames Path for an unprecedented 145 hours during this year’s festival.

Says Kate Ashbrook, the Open Spaces Society’s general secretary: “The Thames Path National Trail is of international importance and, to many, the Henley stretch is the jewel in its crown.”

The request to refuse the closure follows a meeting held by Wokingham Borough Council on 10 January between the objectors (the Open Spaces Society and Remenham Parish Council) and the Festival. It was held following objections from the Open Spaces Society that there had never been consultation about the festival’s annual bid to close the path but the issues remained unresolved and now the council’s executive will consider the application for closure at its meeting on Thursday 31 January.

Kate Ashbrook continues: “The Festival claimed that it was impossible to hold the Festival without closing the path, but of course the path was there long before the Festival. If it had to proceed without moving the path, it would find a way. 

“Even if the council feels it is too late to avoid closing the path this year, it should give a clear message that it requires the Festival to make its application much earlier for next year’s event; and the council must carry out a full, independent examination of how the path could remain open, by realigning the Festival activities or altering the scale of the event.

‘It should not just accept the Festival’s word that this vital route should be closed for many days” says Kate.

The proposed closure is for nine days although the festival only lasts for five and because the closure sought is for more than three days, the Secretary of State for Transport’s consent is also required.  Last year, the closure was sought for only 37½ hours.

The Festival takes place from Wednesday 9 to Sunday 13 July and follows the annual Henley Royal Regatta week.

In the Footsteps of Henry Taunt

Many will be familiar with Henry Taunt’s photographs of the River Thames which are often reproduced in books about the river in the 19th century.

Now Graham Diprose and Jeff Robins, two photographers on the staff of the London College of Communications, have selected seventy of the Victorian pictures from the thousands taken by Gaunt and recorded the same view today.

The project had the support of English Heritage, Oxfordshire Studies, University of the Arts, the River and Rowing Museum and the Environment Agency.

The result can be seen in a fascinating book The River Thames Revisited and until 20 January there is an exhibition of the project at the River & Rowing Museum in Henley. Afterwards it will move to be at Reading Museum from 26 January to 26 April.

Henry Taunt (1852-1922) worked mainly in Oxfordshire and had a shop in Oxford. Graham Diprose and Jeff Robins were inspired by Taunt’s illustrated map of the river first published in the 1870s and reproduced in full in the book.

The ‘then and now’ pages show how London looked before tall buildings. It is a surprise to find that in many places the towpath and riverside gardens now has many more trees.

Graham Diprose is author of London’s Riverscape – Lost and Found.

The River Thames Revisited: In the Footsteps of Henry Taunt is published by Frances Lincoln Limited; £25.

Samuel Adamson’s Thames Path play

Those who know the Thames Path between Deptford and London Bridge will enjoy Some Kind of Bliss at the Trafalgar Studios in Whitehall.

The seventy minute play is a solo performance by Lucy Briers and was written for her by playwright Samuel Adamson who knows the Thames Path well. His last play Southwark Fair was set on the riverside outside City Hall.

Lucy plays Rachel who is walking the Path downstream. There are plenty of references to familiar landmarks such as the Dr Salter statue near The Angel pub. Adamson’s words convey an interesting feel for Bermondsey Wall.

Lucy Osborne’s set is a river wall with a flexible foreshore.

Some Kind of Bliss is at Trafalgar Studios, Whitehall, until Saturday 15 December.

Spice Island becomes Old Salt Quay

The Spice Island pub in London’s Rotherhithe has been renamed Old Salt Quay.

The pub, built in 1995 to resemble a boathouse, stands on the site of the former Dinorwic Wharf alongside the old Surrey Basin Entrance. The interior is little changed but it is now describing itself as a ‘Steak and Seafood Restaurant’.

Fish and chips for two people appears to cost £12 in addition to a drink. On Sundays there is a proper roast lunch on offer.

See page 24.

Cricklade closure

A short stretch of the Thames Path just upstream of Cricklade is to be closed from Monday 24 September for about four weeks. This is to allow for the laying of electricity cables.

The diversion is on the Wiltshire-Gloucestershire boundary at the far west end of North Meadow where the Latten-Swindon canal used to cross the river,

The temporary route from here is right (north) up the line of the old canal and then left (west) into Cerney Wick. At the tiny village go left and left, passing the Crown pub, along the lane on the signposted route taking you south-west to a bridge over the former railway line in the Cotswold Water Park. Here go left on the old line and rejoin the Thames Path ahead as it turns off (your right) from the wide way.

See pages 206-207.

Foot and Mouth closes path

There is some confusion about path closures in the Egham area following the discovery of Foot and Mouth disease earlier this week.

Surprisingly, the towpath along Runnymede remains open.

However, a short section downstream to the south at Chertsey is closed. This is Dumsey Mede (also known as Dumsey Meadow) alongside Chertsey Bridge. The alternative route which is being signposted follows a short footpath north to the road and turns left for a quarter of a mile of road to Chertsey Bridge.

Any further waymarked change on the ground should, of course, be followed.

See pages 73 and 83.

Walking after the flood

I have been walking the Thames upper reaches following the recent floods. In some places the gound is still not firm and it is fascinating to see the flood plain often clearly marked by debris.

Residents have lots a stories about paddling to work or being thankful that they live in a raised home.

Walking from Lechlade to Cricklade on the very first day of September I spotted a remote old wooden holiday cottage which had been built a few feet above ground.

I also found the bushes heavy with blackberries which is unusual. On the footbridge at the west end of the new lonely riverside section upstream of Castle Eaton not only did I have to squeeze past blackberries but I spotted plenty apples above on a tree.

On the final Thames crossing before Cricklade I was sorry to see that the lifting bars on the bridge’s stiles remain broken. It’s a reminder that cattle are no longer by the river here.

But biggest disappointment was being unable to have a cup of tea at Cricklade. I had forgotten that the Cricklade Cafe closes at 4pm. At least the Black Cat Tearooms at Lechlade stay open until 4.30pm.

But it was good to be able to have lunch in Castle Eaton at the The Red Lion which is now open every lunchtime, offers bed and breakfast as well as a welcome to serious walkers.

See Chapter 19.

New Castle Eaton-Water Eaton route

This is the first year that it has been possible to walk by the river all the way from Castle Eaton to Cricklade.

Until now there had been a long road walk to Water Eaton before the Thames could be seen. The new directions from Castle Eaton are:

“At the west end of The Street keep ahead along Mill Lane. After the last house continue down the slope and over the gated bridge.

There is a pond on the right. After a few yards bear right towards the river, passing a clump of trees hiding a pond on the left. At the river turn left upstream. After a footbridge, the river takes a long S-bend to give a view of an old Thames-side chalet at a campsite on the far bank.

There is another footbridge and a more gentle bend. before reaching a band of trees. Do not be tempted south away from the river but take a narrow path through the young trees to find a footbridge. Thios is where the route used to join from the road.

There is then open country, apart from a high long bridge over an inlet, as the path runs near the Water Eaton farm buildings.”

Sadly, the long road walk at Inglesham remains.

See Chapter 19.

Diversions at Gatehampton and Goring

There are two temporary diversions between Gatehampton and Goring.

The first is at Gatehampton railway bridge just after the path returns to the river following its gentle downhill run through Hartslock Wood. Thames Water is laying a pipe from its Gatehampton Farm boreholes to Oxford. The signposted alternative route is expected to be in place until December.

There is also a diversion a short distance upstream near Goring. This has been caused by a bank collapse and the alternative route is also likely to be in place until the end of the year.

See pages 136 and 137.

From the Sea to the Source