Featured Thames

Hello Sailor! – The Thames Festival

There’s a festival happening in London, celebrating all things Thames; from sailing, rowing, cruising and canoeing to food, art, historical walks, talks and river races. The annual Thames Festival usually takes place over a weekend and ends with a spectacular street procession and firework display. But this year, thanks to funding reductions that’s been scrapped and instead the festival is spread over a whole ten days with loads of different activities to enjoy, mostly free.
AdriftAdrift is an art instillation by Hew Locke, which celebrates sea travel and is housed in the mariner’s church, All Hallows of the Tower, situated near the Tower of London. Locke’s inspiration was ‘designed so you, the traveller, may experience an imaginary voyage’ in the form of a twelve foot boat decorated with flowers, trinkets and symbolic images and is dedicated to lives lost at sea. I didn’t quite get that experience myself and couldn’t help but think this concept could’ve been better achieved if it was a little more tactile and interactive, rather than being hoisted up high on a platform. However it’s a charming addition to its majestic and ethereal surroundings.
Video artist Nicolaj Bendix Skyum Larsen’s  Portrait of a River gives an insight into the people who know the river intimately and can share their knowledge of its history and character while British artist Layla Curtis has created The Thames (from London Bridge, Arizona, to Sheerness, Canada) an alternative map of the river. The making of the fictitious map involved cutting and pasting locations from current maps, then placing them within the familiar outline of the Thames. Curtis researched the historical influence of the Thames to create the piece and they can be viewed at various locations along the waterfront.
1The cherry on the cake of the festival comes in the shape of 1513: A Ship’s Opera by Richard Wilson, a Turner Prize nominated British sculptor whose ‘ship’s hooter piece’ was a festival highlight last year. A fleet of historical boats from the age of sail, steam and diesel chug their way along the Thames and perform an operatic extravaganza of bells, whistles, horns, hooters and sirens. This performance is bound to tug on the old heart strings in its moving tribute to vessels of yesteryear against a backdrop of St Pauls, the O2, HMS Belfast and Tower Bridge. Speaking of which, there’s a rare opportunity to enjoy a paddle on London beach, at Tower Bridge, a favourite Victorian pastime and there’s also London’s first ever floating art fair if you’ve found your sea legs and fancy extending you art collection.
Source to River Relay sees a ‘journey with a difference’ as walkers, swimmers, rowers and sailors cover the entire stretch of the Thames in a very long relay race. Then there’s the world’s ‘slowest and most colourful river race’ in the form of a barge-driving race!
There’s a Blackout Banquet at various riverside restaurants each evening that offer a sensory dining experience. Lights are turned off to create a dark river and dinner by candlelight; ah so romantic. If that doesn’t float your boat (sorry!) then there’s The Thames Festival Food and Craft Market offering up delicious goodies.
Other festival events include lively walks and talks that explore the stories and secrets of the Thames, from past, present and future covering topics such as climate change, art, literature, geography and architecture. Taking to the water itself there’s a chance to take part in canoeing tours under the bridges, speedboat trips or a more sedate pootle on a traditional Thames barge. Or if you like boats but prefer to stay dry then head to St Katherine Docks for a guided tour of some really beautiful, old, classic boats. Check out www.thamesfestival.org for times, dates and full listing of events.