It has been a long time since I have travelled on a ferry. Far too long. But such is the lushness of the River Thames and the bizarreness of London’s waterfront history, that ferries are in fact a very good way of crossing the River in this part of the city. And so, I as I follow the Thames, downstream through the centre of the city, I come to crossing point number 30, the Canary Wharf-Rotherhithe Ferry.
There is not a lot of history to be found online about this ferry, but as ever in London, the crossing itself is a very interesting way to cross the river. As befits a ferry service, this is a remanent of the once many ferries that would have crossed the River Thames in days of old. And so, while the surroundings itself are quite modern (in addition to the ferry service itself probably being a modern incarnation) it carries on the tradition of waterman that have plied their trade on the River. This is still a well used waterway, and one that carries a great many goods and in recent years, increasing numbers of commuters through London itself.
But the Canary Wharf-Rotherhithe Ferry is a ferry in the traditional sense of the word. A boat service linking two opposite sides of the River, and in the case of London, this is the most expensive way for a pedestrian to cross the Thames. At £3.20 for a standard single ticket (cheaper if you have an oyster), this makes the other nearby options of using the Jubilee Line an absolute bargain. But as always with Ferries, it is an extremely fun way to cross the river, and surprisingly nippy, despite the coarse winds that frequent this part of London.
I started in Canary Wharf, symbol of London’s financial prowess and depending on how tits up our economy goes, could become a symbol of Britain’s fiscal failure. For now however, money still pours out of here to the privileged few that shunt off their ill gotten gains to tax havens worldwide. Taking a punt on African debt, or wanting to see how some child slum dweller’s nimble fingers are going to increase your portfolio? This is the place where it matter. If you want to actually feel how powerless and worthless you life is, then take a walk in the shadow of Britain’s tallest building, a HQ of sorts for the current world order…
From here it is only a few steps to the wharf on the Thames. Off to the booth and buy your ticket. Then wait for the ferry. It runs fairly frequently towards the other side of the river, and so the wait is a pleasant one. If you’re lucky you can take a brief stroll around the pier to see the panorama of the rest of the city, and even take a photo…
But onto the ferry itself. It may not look much from the outside, but this is a mighty beast of the River. The Thames is a tricky waterway to navigate. It is busy enough that other boats are regularly plying the waters. Plus it is tidal, and the fact that you are in the middle of an urban area (with Health and Safety breathing own your neck) means that the men and women who work the river are skilled in the positions of responsibility.
As I have mentioned on many of these riverine posts, this is an odd crossing. And this one is no different. Although its primary purpose is to transport the guests of the hotel in Rotherhithe to the business quarter in Canary Wharf, it is a service that is open to the general public. This means that to actually access the piers, on either side of the river, you have to pass on privately owned land. This is the only case in London where a landowner, in theory, could restrict your ability to freely cross the Thames. Now of course, such a restriction could be challenged in the courts, but for now, revel in the fact that the big boys allow us humble plebs to cross the Thames with impunity!
The ferry crossing itself is over very quickly. In a couple of minutes, you are whisked across the Thames, in relative style and cushioned from the elements. Or if you feel adventurous, you can feel the slight salty tang on your lips and brave the outdoor world of the ferry!
On the south bank, it is a quick walk through the hotel lobby and car park to the street outside in Rotherhithe. A very pretty part of the city, one where the mix of modernity has blended in smoothly with the history of the area. Rotherhithe is a fascinating part of the world to visit and will surely feature on one of my Londonesque travels to be conjured up this summer.
But for reference sakes, if you are on the South Bank looking to head north of the river, it can be tricky to find the pier, so this is what to look out for when on the street:
Yep, just head through into the car park and you will find your way into the hotel lobby where you can take the ferry back towards the East End. As for me, my journey to visit all of London’s river crossings continues downstream to my eventual target. Three more crossings are left to visit in London, unbelievable that the end is in sight for this grand project. Join me next month as I bring you some subterranean tales as I cross the River Thames…
Getting there and Away:
On the northbank, the nearest tube is actually Westferry station on the Docklands Light Railway (not Canary Wharf) which is a five minute walk from the pier. Bus routes 135, 277 (24 hours), D3, D7, D8 and N550 (night time only) pass by Canary Wharf pier itself.
On the southbank, the sole form of transport is bus route C10 which stops outside the Hilton Docklands.