Looking back at 2021

Some of my favourite pictures…

… mostly taken on Thames-side walks in Victoria Tower Gardens.

JANUARY: One of the Cory fleet of large tugs that kept working, throughout the pandemic

Cory tugs are a familiar sight along the tidal Thames. As well as performing a vital daily waste-removing service for London by barge, their tugs brighten up the river. As this one sailed upstream under Lambeth Bridge, with leap of the imagination, it could have been seen as a sign of hope that, with the roll out of the first doses of Covid-19 vaccinations at the end of 2020, 2021 would be a better year. It wasn’t really but without the vaccine and advances in treatment of Covid, it might have been so much worse.

JANUARY: Livett’s small tug ALFIE is a versatile “beaver style” tug

Lockdowns and restrictions of various kinds caused many of the central London Thames boat companies to suffer serious financial losses. However, though at times there was little leisure traffic, workboats were often out and about. ALFIE, owned by marine specialists Livett’s was always good to watch at work.

FEBRUARY: Thames Police launch Gabriel Franks II

The boats of the MPS (Metropolitan Police Service) Marine Policing Unit were a familiar sight, sometimes working at speed, sometimes inspecting boats and moorings more closely. The first of five new Targa Fast Patrol Boats to replace the existing fleet, Sir Robert Peel III, was ‘christened’ by The Commissioner on January 5, 2022.

FEBRUARY: Reflections disturbed by wash waves from a passing clipper

Watching infinite patterns on the water’s surface made by boats, birds, winds, or tidal flow, was a soothing way to escape from the world’s problems.

MARCH: St. Thomas’ Hospital, London

As well as being one of London’s most important teaching hospitals, St. Thomas’ Hospital has been at the forefront of the fight against Covid. Many Londoners have been there for their vaccinations.

MARCH: Parakeet close to the Palace of Westminster in Victoria Tower Gardens

Just one of the brightly-coloured ring-necked parakeets that have made London’s parks and gardens their home. Their loud squawks and at times, softer budgerigar sounding trills, are very distinctive. And in winter, without the camouflage protection of green-leaved trees, they’re easy to see and to photograph.

APRIL: Port of London survey vessel THAME

The Port of London Authority survey vessels, when they appeared on Lambeth Reach, were interesting to watch. See details of their fleet here. Sometimes they pass by and at other times criss-cross the river surveying the river bed in great detail.

APRIL: London Fire Brigade Fire Rescue vessel FIRE DART

London Fire Brigade vessel FIRE DART is one of two fire boats moored at Lambeth. As well as attending to emergencies, they often pass by on training or official duties where, using their fire hoses in salute, they take part in a number of ceremonies.

MAY: Port Health Authority vessel LONDINIUM III

LONDINIUM III is a London Port Health Authority vessel that has passed by a number of times.

MAY: The plane trees in Victoria Tower Gardens

Having taken many photographs over the years, the soft green of the Victoria Tower Gardens’ plane tree leaves unfurling in the early summer has always been a favourite time to record.

JUNE: Tower RNLI lifeboat

A crew from Tower RNLI Station heading downstream at speed. Tower is one of the four RNLI Stations set up along the tidal Thames in 2002 after the Inquiry into the MARCHIONESS disaster of 1989. See their *Birthday* film here.

JUNE: SWS tug ESSEX heading downstream

Sturdy ESSEX is a pusher tug belonging to Walsh.

JULY: Black-backed gull on the Victoria Tower Gardens’ foreshore

The Victoria Tower Gardens’ foreshore is always busy at low tide with black-headed gulls in the winter, crows, pigeons, and various types of gull finding plenty to eat on the tideline. A black-backed was a rarer visitor. For different types of gull on the lower reaches of the Thames see here.

JULY: Buses on Westminster Bridge

There’s nearly always a bus or two crossing Westminster Bridge but from time to time a scene just asks to be *captured*…

AUGUST: Old St. Thomas’ Hospital

Pictures can be quite dramatic against a dark sky. It’s a question of luck to catch an image at the right moment.

AUGUST: EMILIA D on a mission upstream

Thames Dry Docking’s multicat EMILIA D is easily recognisable at a distance by her bright red lifting gear.

SEPTEMBER: GPS launch ALERT on her way downstream

Sleek-looking ALERT is one of GPS Marine Contractors’ vessels and is a high speed survey launch. Discover more here.

SEPTEMBER: Mudlarkers on the Victoria Tower Gardens’ foreshore

Watching mudlarkers inspecting and searching sections of the foreshore, I’m reminded of Claire Trévien’s collection of poems: Low Tide Lottery, for that is essentially what mudlarking is. A lottery. Relics from London’s past can be discovered from stone age tools, implements, remains of buildings and all kinds of fragments through to coins and religious offerings. The Museum of London has a large collection of finds from what is described as “London’s longest archaeological site”. However, mudlarking along the Thames foreshore is for licence holders only, and a Port of London permit is needed.

OCTOBER: The Palace of Westminster

Here was another chance to catch a sunlit building against a dark sky. This time the Palace of Westminster.

OCTOBER: A mess of boats

A nice jumble of boats that brings to mind a French artist friend, Pierre Lorthioir (1937-2010), and his paintings of the boatyards at Le Guilvinec in Finistère.

NOVEMBER: Lambeth Bridge illuminated

Just one of the nine bridges over the central London Thames lit up by the inspiring and magical Illuminated River art project. And, as well as using its image as a header on my Twitter site, it’s the bridge I spend a lot of time on.

NOVEMBER: Port of London Authority vessel DRIFTWOOD III

DRIFTWOOD III is one of the Port of London Authority’s marine services vessels. She has all kinds of machinery and gadgets for the various functions she performs to keep the Thames safe and clear of debris.

DECEMBER: Bonzo a faithful companion

Those who follow my Twitter accounts might have noticed a number of pictures of Bonzo the seagull, who would often appear on the wall by our usual bench in Victoria Tower Gardens. Unlike the dreaded dive-bombing, chip-pinching gulls in some seaside towns, Bonzo is quite shy, though not averse to taking a small crust or two from a proffered hand, otherwise quite comfortable resting close by.

DECEMBER: The last autumn leaves hanging on among the plane tree seed *baubles*

The reddish pink colour of the National Covid Memorial wall’s thousand and thousands of painted hearts, runs as a leitmotive through several of these pictures. A line of mourning. It’s been a tough, tough year for so many…

DECEMBER: The Elizabeth Tower emerging from the scaffolding carapace

…a tough year but there are encouraging signs with improvements in treatment and the apparently less severe strain of Covid, Omicron. Could the emergence of the beautifully restored Elizabeth Tower perhaps be a symbol of hope?

Further information
If you would like to follow some officially licensed mudlarkers on Twitter to see the kind of things they find, follow them, among others: @TideLineArt @liz_lizanderson @mudlarkanna @LondonMudlark @Rothersman
See link for mudlarking permits and rules Port of London
If you would like to follow my Thames Twitter account, please go to: @Tidal_Thames95

The Twelve Days of Christmas

A flight of fancy along the Thames…

…to the traditional tune of ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ with a few deviations from the original rhyme and rhythm.

Super yacht passing through Tower Bridge

On the first day of Christmas my true love sent to me: a super yacht on the Thames, yippee!

Two fiery boats, FIRE DART and FIRE FLASH, on permanent standby at Lambeth.

On the second day of Christmas my true love sent to me: two fiery
boats and a super yacht on the Thames, yippee!

Three boats filming along Lambeth Reach

On the third day of Christmas my true love sent to me: three film craft, two fiery boats, and a super yacht on the Thames, yippee!

Four kayaks paddling upstream

On the fourth day of Christmas my true love sent to me four paddling kayaks, three film craft, two fiery boats, and a super yacht on the Thames, yippee!

Nostalgic look back to happier days in 2012

On the fifth day of Christmas my true love sent to me: FIVE OLYMPIC RINGS, four paddling kayaks, three film craft, two fiery boats, and a super yacht on the Thames, yippee!

Westminster Bridge, one of the nine bridges by Leo Villareal for the Illuminated River Thames public art project

On the sixth day of Christmas my true love sent to me: six arches shining, FIVE OLYMPIC RINGS, four paddling kayaks, three film craft, two fiery boats, and a super yacht on the Thames, yippee!

Yachts in St. Katharine Docks ready to race

On the seventh day of Christmas my true love sent to me: seven yachts a-waiting, six arches shining, FIVE OLYMPIC RINGS, four paddling kayaks, three film craft, two fiery boats, and a super yacht on the Thames, yippee!

Boats moored at Greenwich Yacht Club

On the eighth day of Christmas my true love sent to me: eight masts a-clanking, seven yachts a-waiting, six arches shining, FIVE OLYMPIC RINGS, four paddling kayaks, three film craft, two fiery boats, and a super yacht on the Thames, yippee!

Plane tree leaves on the Victoria Tower Gardens foreshore

On the ninth day of Christmas my true love sent to me: nine leaves a-lying (What?!), eight masts a-clanking, seven yachts a-waiting, six arches shining, FIVE OLYMPIC RINGS, four paddling kayaks, three film craft, two fiery boats, and a super yacht on the Thames, yippee!

The Thames Barrier protecting London

On the tenth day of Christmas my true love sent to me: ten Barrier gates, nine leaves a-lying, eight masts a-clanking, seven yachts a-waiting, six arches shining, FIVE OLYMPIC RINGS, four paddling kayaks, three film craft, two fiery boats, and a super yacht on the Thames, yippee!

The well protected tug SIR HENDRIK

On the eleventh day of Christmas my true love sent to me: eleven rubbery rings, ten Barrier gates, nine leaves a-lying, eight masts a-clanking, seven yachts a-waiting, six arches shining, FIVE OLYMPIC RINGS, four paddling kayaks, three film craft, two fiery boats, and a super yacht on the Thames, yippee!

Seen from Lambeth Bridge, boats at rest

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love sent to me: twelve boats a-sleeping, eleven rubbery rings, ten Barrier gates, nine leaves a-lying, eight masts a-clanking, seven yachts a-waiting, six arches shining, FIVE OLYMPIC RINGS, four paddling kayaks, three film craft, two fiery boats, and a super yacht on the Thames, yippee!

Then I awoke…

Further information
Great admiration for the skills of those working on the Thames, and wishing all reading this a happy, healthy, and successful year in 2022.
Inspiration came from Larry the Cat @Number10cat, who has his particular gastronomic take on “The Twelve Days of Christmas” every year.
And thanks to @AlanBarrierEA for correcting my Barrier counting!

Walking into night…

…from sunset at Blackfriars Bridge to night-time at Lambeth Bridge, past Illuminated River’s latest light installations.

Spring 2021 saw the second stage of Illuminated River’s marvellous public art installation: the lighting of Blackfriars, Waterloo, the Golden Jubilee footbridges, Westminster and Lambeth Bridges designed by Leo Villareal. They join London, Canon Street Railway, Southwark and Millennium Bridges, illuminated in the summer of 2019. A walk along the river Thames at nightfall is a magical experience as riverside buildings begin to light up, sprinkling glitter, shimmering on the surface of the water. Here I follow a small section of the Thames Path from Blackfriars Bridge upstream to Lambeth Bridge, looking at the newest installations, where the experience of oncoming darkness is further heightened by the gradual illumination and subtle evolution of the lighting on the bridges along the way.

The sun sets, and right on cue the illumination beneath Blackfriars Bridge stirs into life
Afterglow catching the upstream side of Blackfriars Bridge as different colours of the illumination grow stronger
Waterloo Bridge with its band of light and changing colours beneath its arches
Illuminated arch of Waterloo Bridge and M.V. THOMAS DOGGETT at her mooring
The Jubilee footbridges either side of the Hungerford Railway Bridge
Two of Westminster Bridges arches in their classic shade of green
A subtle change in the lighting of Westminster Bridge as its colour evolves to another shade of green
Partial unveiling of the Elizabeth Tower and one of its clock faces
Luxury yacht BOURNE heading towards Westminster Bridge
M.V. MERCIA heading towards Lambeth Bridge seen from Westminster Bridge
The seven illuminated arches of Westminster Bridge
Lambeth Bridge seen from Victoria Tower Gardens
Lambeth Bridge seen from the Albert Embankment
The London Eye seen from Westminster Bridge
The London Eye and Westminster Bridge seen from Lambeth Bridge

From nightfall you can see the Thames as a kaleidoscope of liquid colour, with infinite, ever-changing reflections shifted by the constant movement of ebbing and flowing tides, wash waves from passing boats, and gusts of wind. But at 2.00 am, the lights fade, the bridges darken and the river returns to its more restful natural state…

Further Information
Article in the Financial Times by Edwin Heathcote, February 10, 2021
Article in the Guardian by Rowan Moore, April 11, 2021
The Illuminated River Project
The Illuminated River Art Trail

Views from a bridge

Looking north, Lambeth Bridge…

… in central London, has one of finest views in the city, taking in the Palace of Westminster, Lambeth Palace, St. Thomas’ Hospital, Westminster Bridge, and the London Eye but it’s also a perfect vantage point for watching all kinds of boats that operate along this stretch of the Thames.
Though, despite a couple of ugly buildings, the north is more in line with Wordsworth’s immortal words composed on Westminster Bridge, “Earth has not any thing to show more fair”, look to the south and you’ll see an architectural mess with little redeeming features. Most of the pictures that follow were taken from the north facing side of the bridge, just a few from the south, not only because the view is basically unattractive but also because sunlight often made things more difficult.

Westminster Bridge seen from Lambeth Bridge
The Palace of Westminster sheltered to the south by mature plane trees in Victoria Tower Gardens

Despite commercial trade being far from what it used to be in the 1960s and before, there are still a number of working boats regularly passing under Lambeth Bridge. A familiar daily sight are the Cory tugs towing empty yellow containers upstream to collect waste from their Wandsworth and Battersea depots, returning downstream, with filled containers to their plant at Belvedere.

Cory tug RECOVERY towing empty waste containers upstream

GPS Marine Contractors are major players in civil engineering and construction along the Thames and the Medway but their business also extends throughout Europe. Their bright tugs and barges are a familiar sight along this stretch of the river too.

GPS Marine tug ARCADIA towing a barge of building materials upstream. She has now been sold, renamed and is bound for Africa
GPS Marine tug ARCADIA returning downstream having made a delivery

Walking beside the Thames you will probably have seen the smart blue refuelling tankers HEIKO, ARMADOR II, GOSSO and CONQUESTOR of Thames Marine Services, making their way along the river, or passed by their static barges at Wapping and Westminster.

Thames Marine Services’ motorised fuel tanker CONQUESTOR approaching their Westminster fixed refuelling barge
Bunker barge ALMERE 4 heading upstream
Livett’s workboat ALFIE heading downstream, approaching Lambeth Bridge

Livett’s Group have been one of the leading companies working along the Thames, the Medway and others, for over three hundred years. With their varied fleet they can take on all kinds of projects including: filming along the Thames by river or drone; luxury river cruises, publicity events and product launches; marine civil engineering, logistics and towage; diving services; the hiring of barges, piers, moorings and pontoons; safety boats and workboats along the Thames.

Port of London Authority’s DRIFTWOOD III heading downstream towards Lambeth Bridge
Workboat REBEL
STORM Clipper part of the Thames Clipper fleet since 1999
GOLDEN SUNRISE one of CPBS’s party and sightseeing boats
Bateaux London‘s M.V. SYMPHONY with her Glass Room restaurant.
James Berry, winner of the DOGGETT’S Coat and Badge Wager 2020, raced on June 25, 2021, a year later due to Covid. The 2021 race took place on September 8, 2021, so continuing the unbroken tradition of the annual race since 1715, and was won by Max Carter-Miller
London Port Health Authority vessel LONDINIUM III
Thames River Police launch GABRIEL FRANKS II
Tower Lifeboat crew attending to a casualty on Lifeboat HURLEY BURLY
Port of London Authority vessel BARNES
London Fire Rescue vessel FIRE FLASH

Looking at the cityscape to the south, the only easily recognisable building is the *sore thumb* Millbank Tower on the right. Ahead, and to the left, is a mediocre architectural mishmash, its only redeeming feature being Vauxhall Bridge, just discernible in this image but better illustrated in the image below this.

Looking across the roadway at the architectural jumble to the south
Vauxhall Bridge seen from the south facing side of Lambeth Bridge
Lambeth Fire Rescue Station with fire rescue vessels FIRE DART and FIRE FLASH on permanent standby
The floating Tamesis Dock Pub

Lambeth Bridge was one of the earliest articles in this series and not many days have passed during lockdown and beyond without my seeing it from Victoria Tower Gardens or walking across to the other side. For many, including me, bridges are a symbol of connection, of bringing together, summed up so well by Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Trouble Water“…

Further information
I have given some information in the text where possible about most of the companies that I’ve seen working on the stretch of the Thames observed from Lambeth Bridge. If you would like to discover more, click on the links in the photo captions.

Birds on the Wall

The company of birds during the time of Covid.

A bench in Victoria Tower Gardens by the Thames in Westminster, has been a place of refuge, a place for slowing down and pausing for reflection during the time of Covid and its lockdowns. And one of the pleasures has been the company of birds, only occasionally lured to the wall in front by the offer of food…
With the gradual cleaning up of the Thames since it was declared “biologically dead” in the 1950s, life of all sizes has come back to the river, which among others has attracted a greater variety of birds. Here are photos of some that have come to sit on the embankment wall nearby, sometimes in the hope of food, often just to look. Some are easy to identify, others difficult, so with the help of friends, and links to useful sites, hopefully you’ll find information if you need it.

Immature gulls waiting in line

A number of birds seemed to like the angled shape of the top of the wall and would sit there for longish periods of time, often relaxed, sometimes semi-dozing, but always watchful.

A relaxed, recently fledged crow looking comfortable on the top of the wall
Slightly peeved looking gull resting on the embankment wall. One of the many types of gull to be seen along the Thames
Contented Egyptian goose adapting to the shape of the wall
A “youngish drake Mallard duck” keeping a beady eye on me

Food offered anywhere in the vicinity is always likely to attract attention, sometimes very loud and insistent attention.

Angry bird: immature gull demanding to be fed
Very angry bird, warning off others, claiming its stretch of wall
Recently fledged magpie meekly asking for food from a nearby parent

If you’re sitting quietly, birds will often stay close by looking at you. If you’ve got your lunch or tea with you, they might be there hoping for a share but sometimes there doesn’t seem to be a particular reason. Special moments of calm, over-riding all else.

Patient pigeon standing on one foot
A ringed Black-headed gull
A gentle-looking, undemanding, immature gull

Then there are those that suddenly spot you as they’re walking along.

Smart turnaround by a Black-headed gull
Crow doing the Lambeth Walk
Egyptian goose, giving me a look
A heart-warming moment of trust

No small birds came to the section of the wall close to the bench where we were, though parakeets often made themselves heard, camouflaged among the plane tree leaves above. In certain settings, some of these birds are rightly regarded as pests but they’re doing no harm here, rather they’re joining with London pigeons to mop up some of the crusts and crumbs left by people picnicking in the park. And they’re always good company.

End Notes
Thanks to Chris Dodson and Ian Young for their help
You can follow 4th generation Master Thatcher Chris Dodson @c_dodson_thatch
and Ian Young, photographer with a particular interest in birds @ianyoung33 You can also see his blog, about birding and mental health on Anxious Birding
And thanks to NS for company and patience.