Last month my mum and me enjoyed a quintessential part of London’s history, and went on the Woolwich ferry. I meant to write about it sooner, but I forgot about it (oops) until I spotted a lovely Betty Swanwick poster on Quad Royal yesterday, and read this post on Londonist about the proposed Silvertown tunnel today, and then I remembered again.
We actually went to Greenwich for the Tall Ships Festival, but the riverfront was really crowded and we couldn’t really see much of the boats (and there weren’t that many to see right there). Instead of fighting through the exhausting crowds, we decided to visit the Queen’s House, have lunch in Greenwich Park and then go on to Woolwich to see the boats there.
The Queen’s House is actually one of my favourite free museums in London, never very crowded and always full of amazing art. The current exhibitions, The Art & Science of Exploration and War Artists At Sea are both recommended (and on until next year), but the permanent collection is wonderful, anyway. It’s a beautiful building, too, not just because of its famous Tulip staircase, but because it’s all so well-proportioned (we were impressed to notice how the edge of the upper balcony overlooking the Great Hall is perfectly aligned with the edges of the doorways).
In Woolwich, there were lots more boats, but it was less crowded and there were less tourists, more locals. We had as much fun people-watching as we did boat-watching, and decided that as we were there we’d go home via the Woolwich ferry.
Woolwich isn’t a part of London I have much reason to visit (although it has a very interesting history) and I’m not a driver so I don’t have much of an opinion on the new tunnel, but I’ve always loved the ferry. Or rather, I’ve always loved the idea of it, because — never really having had a reason to travel from one side of Woolwich to the other — I’ve only ever been on the ferry once before, but it’s kind of fun to do. I think it would be a sad thing if the ferry disappeared completely — I’ve always felt there ought to be more boats going across the Thames, not just up and down (the only other one I know about is Hammerton’s ferry near Richmond, which has also been on my list of things to do for ages).
The ride itself doesn’t take very long — less than 10 minutes, but as I said, it’s kind of fun to do.
Waiting for the Woolwich Ferry, watching a tall ship go through the Thames Barrier — you can just see it in the middle, near the Canary Wharf skyline. The cranes and chimneys on the right belong to the Tate & Lyle sugar refinery in Silvertown, which used to be the largest sugar refinery in the world. It has an interesting history that you can read about here.
Below decks there’s not much view of the river but then you find nice old stuff like this. Well, I like it!
There’s a tiny outside platform above these steps that everybody crams onto so that they can see the river.
I think they added the bunting for the Tall Ships Festival but they should keep it always! Bunting on boats is so jolly.
Looking back towards south Woolwich
Entrance to Woolwich foot tunnel, which goes under the river where the ferry goes over it. That bus to Stratford takes the same amount of time as the DLR, but it’s less faff (I love the DLR though).
In a city that was built around a river, it’s always puzzled me how little access people really have to being on that river, without spending lots of money. The Woolwich free ferry remains one of the last few ways to do so that isn’t privatised and doesn’t cost lots of money. I hope it manages to stay that way.