The Thames - Musings
Posted on : 21/06/2012
The Thames has an approximate recorded length of 215 miles and is the longest river wholly in England.
The official starting point for its source is in the Cotswolds at ‘Thames Head’ . The origins of the River Thames go back over 30 million years when the river was a tributary of the Rhine. The path of the Thames was altered significantly by the last ice age when it drilled a gap in the Chiltern Hills and headed out towards the eastern path we see as being familiar in present times. A major feature across the South Of England and famous across the world, the Thames has played an important role in history. Invaders in ancient times such as the Saxons, Vikings and Normans recognised the importance of this natural obstacle as control was vital. Even the Romans picked up on this vital river and soon developed a settlement known as Londinium which was the start of our Capital City. Many of the bridges we see today are in fact located on the site of older crossings and Fords with some of the most famous being at London Bridge and Staines. The River Thames of today has 45 locks, 214 bridges, over 20 tunnels and flows past numerous towns and cities including Oxford, Reading, Henley-on-Thames, Windsor, Kingston upon Thames, Richmond and London. It runs through 7 counties being Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Surrey, and Greater London. Its final destination is the Thames Estuary and Kent/Essex. It has over 38 tributaries and approximately 80 islands. The Thames is generally navigable right upto Lechlade for most craft although canoes might attempt to venture further. The fall in height between the source and Teddington is 104 metres. It is estimated that the Thames carries 300,000 tonnes of sediment each year (approx). Average water flow rates vary with a rate of 799 litres/day at Buscot and 5696 litres/day at Kingston. The catchment area is approximately 10% of the land area of England & Wales. The River widens dramatically from 18 metres at Lechlade, Teddington is 100 metres, Woolwich 448 metres and the Wider Estuary at 6 miles(+). Many hundreds of thousands of households lie on its flood plains and are increasingly at risk from rising water levels. The Thames is a natural feature that offers so much enjoyment in so many different ways. Many of our readers will be venturing along its river banks in boats of all shapes and sizes but there are also numerous walks and cycleways that offer an alternative angle on this impressive landmark. The environment agency controls the non-tidal Thames with the Port Of London covering the tidal part. Both these organisations have information on their websites and are mentioned in other parts of this guide.
Weirs and locks have been used to make the Thames a much more navigable river. Weirs and ‘flash locks’ were the first endeavours to make the river more user friendly. The locks that we see today were originally called ‘pound locks’ and are based upon the principle that the water will always find its own level. So depending on whether a boat is making its way up or down the river, the opening and closing of gates is inorder to allow the main chamber of water to fill or drain to the required level. There are a mixture of both mechanical and manual locks.
The lock keepers on the Thames take a lot of pride over their locks with many having neatly cut grass, flowers and tidy buildings. Romney Lock (berks) is an example where as you can see, the office was in full bloom when we visited. Historic records indicate that there was a weir on this site in the 1400’s. In 1795, work started on a more traditional ‘pound lock’ and over the years since upgrades, repairs and improvements have been undertaken.
Boating can be a most entertaining past time and passing along a river using locks should be straight forward so long as you have regard to some basic rules and principles. Here are a few pointers for consideration:
1) If required to wait, use the layby moorings and form an orderly queue.
2) Obey the lock keeper’s instructions at all times.
3) Use reverse gear to stop your boat and never use hands, feet or boat hooks.
4) Never wrap a rope around your body and keep loose ropes neat and tidy.
5) Use the mooring bollards to secure your boat but remember to adjust them as the water level changes.
6) Once you have entered and secured your boat in the lock, turn off your engine and radio.
7) You are advised to not open fuel tanks or strike matches.
8) Do not moor upstream of the vertical white line on the lock wall.
9) Maintain your standards of safety and do not remove your life jacket.
10) Take care on your boat and do not run on the lock side.
11) Children will need to be supervised closely and pets should be secured on a lead.
12) Be considerate to others and remember that larger boats may be restricted in their movements by their length, width and draft. Some users may not be as experienced as others.
More information on boating the thames can be picked up at www.visitthames.co.uk
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