London’s summer of sporting and regal frolics draws gracefully to an end, and all the post-Olympiad talk is of legacy. Londoners can ponder these issues at leisure over the coming weeks while enjoying a fine piece of Britain’s maritime legacy.
The world’s last sea-going paddle steamer
The Waverley is coming to town.
Cast back to early in the last century, and Britain still had a fine network of coastal shipping routes, with steamers plying inshore waters to link communities ill-served by rail and road. The paddle steamer Waverley is a survivor from that earlier age of slow travel. She is one of Britain’s most distinguished museum ships, and credit for that must go to the members of the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society who have meticulously restored this splendid example of Britain’s engineering heritage.
Excursions down the Thames
A journey on the Waverley is a chance to recall the golden age of inshore shipping, and the ship’s upcoming Thames program will recreate the downriver excursions of yesteryear, when Londoners would escape the city for a cruise down the Thames to one of the Essex or Kent seaside towns.
The Waverley’s fall program on the Thames kicks off in style on Friday September 28, 2012 with a full-day cruise from Margate to London, culminating around seven in the evening with the illustrious paddler steaming under Tower Bridge.
Fall program 2012: Departures from Tower Pier
Downriver excursions from London’s Tower Pier will operate on the following days:
Saturday September 29 at 9:00 a.m. to Gravesend, Southend and Clacton-on-Sea
Sunday September 30 at 10:00 a.m. to Gravesend and Southend (with an afternoon cruise from Southend up the River Medway)
Saturday October 6 at 10:00 a.m. to Southend and Whitstable
Sunday October 7 at 10:00 a.m. to Gravesend and Southend (with an afternoon cruise from Southend to the Maunsell Sea Forts in the Thames Estuary)
Thursday October 11 at 10:00 a.m. to Gravesend and Southend (with an afternoon cruise from Southend up the River Medway)
Saturday October 13 at 9:30 a.m. to Southend and Gravesend
In addition, on Friday October 12, the Waverley offers a three-hour evening cruise on the Thames, departing Tower Pier at 7:30 p.m.
All the day cruises from London, bar the last one on Saturday October 13, return up the Thames to London in the evening, dropping passengers off again at Tower Pier (usually around 9:00 p.m.).
Prices and bookings
Prices for excursions on the Waverley run from £19 to £49, that highest price tag being reserved for the longest full-day excursions. Here are a couple of specific examples: the September 29 cruise to Clacton and back costs £39, while a one-way trip from London to Gravesend (eg. on October 7 or 11) is just £19. Bookings can be made online, but if space is available you can of course just turn up and pay on the morning of departure.
Bookings can also be made by phone by calling +44 (0) 845 130 4647, where the very efficient staff (all, we think, with lovely Scottish accents) will be happy to take your booking. Tickets can be mailed out to your home address or left for collection on the boat on the day of travel.
Top choice: A day trip to Whitstable
If the weather is set fair, we would particularly recommend the run down the river on Saturday October 6. It is a five-hour journey one-way from Tower Pier in London to the Kent port of Whitstable (with an en-route stop along the way at Southend-on-Sea). So the Waverley will paddle into Whitstable at three in the afternoon. This little port is a gem, and source of the finest English oysters.
It is of course not compulsory to rejoin the Waverley when she leaves Whitstable at four for the return journey up the Thames to London. Our inclination might be to linger, wander the streets of Whitstable and watch the boats, then make for the Crab and Winkle Restaurant or Wheelers Oyster Bar for supper before catching a late train back to London.
Direct trains from Whitstable to London Victoria leave at 09 and 39 minutes past each hour until 7:39 p.m., with three later services at 8:39 p.m., 9:39 p.m. and 10:39 p.m.. This route is operated by Southeastern. The Whitstable to London train journey takes about 80 minutes.
But if you are tempted to take the round trip, and return to London on the paddle steamer, the Waverley has an attractive art deco style restaurant and lots of space to relax. The restaurant apart, there is a tea room in traditional Scottish style, two bars and an observation lounge. And, if the evening is clear and warm, just stroll the Promenade Deck and catch sunset over the Thames.
London is a city shaped by its river and by Britain’s maritime legacy. What better way to experience that legacy than by cruising the Thames on the Waverley?