From the river….

Views of the Thames by Wal Daly-Smith

Working on the Thames as a commercial Skipper with the Tideway project and as Mate with Bateaux London, Wal has a unique view of the river. Whatever the weather, whatever the state of the tides, he is sensitive to the constant changes affecting the perspective of London’s landmark buildings, bridges, and boats and will when he can, seize the moment to capture them on film. He has kindly allowed me to share his pictures with you. 

Putney Bridge on a misty morning ©Wal Daly-Smith

Working for the Tideway project, building the super sewer for London under the Thames, Wal is based at Carnwath Road, on the north shore, upper side of Wandsworth Bridge. His work often takes him to the Tideway site at Putney, where he gets to see Putney Bridge in its many guises.

Putney Bridge turning the Thames to gold ©Wal Daly-Smith
Westminster Bridge and Portcullis House ©Wal Daly-Smith

His work for Bateaux London Cruises can take him as far upstream as Plantation Wharf, just below Wandsworth Bridge, and downstream to the Thames Barrier, depending on the tides and the cruise time.

A Thames Clipper beneath the London Eye ©Wal Daly-Smith
Tourist passenger boats M.V. SARPEDON and M.V. SAPELE ©Wal Daly-Smith

He knows the various sights and vessels along the river well, having watched and learnt about them since his childhood. And being part of the Thames river family, he knows many of those working on, or along the river.

Wal, centre, taking part in the Apprentices Barge Driving Race from Greenwich Pier to Westminster Bridge in October 2018. Photo ©Thames Waterman and Lighterman, Ben: @liquid_highway1

Wal tells me that his favourite day of the year is the Thames Historic Barge Driving Race, a physically tough seven mile course from Greenwich Pier to Westminster Bridge. Set up in 1975, the race celebrates the knowledge and skill of lightermen, who until the 1930s used these 30 tonne barges under oars as a major means of moving freight along the river. The crews are made up of Freemen and Apprentices of the Company of Watermen and Lightermen, who rely on their strength and knowledge of the tides to navigate the various obstacles on the course. He likes the way “the race brings people together in a good atmosphere”, with spectators on the banks, following the race on different boats, or watching from the bridges, all cheering the teams on.

An extra passenger hitching a ride ©Wal Daly-Smith

The photographs that follow show just a few of the places and the variety of craft, from tourist vessels to tugs working on industrial projects, that Wal comes across navigating the Thames.

City Cruises tourist boat MILLENNIUM DIAMOND ©Wal Daly-Smith
Cory tug REGAIN towing barges carrying waste containers ©Wal Daly-Smith
Sunset from the Blackfriars Tideway site where Wal worked earlier last year ©Wal Daly-Smith
The new Apple HQ in the UK: a major building site along the river – the old Battersea Power Station, its four chimneys now restored ©Wal Daly-Smith
Cadogan Pier ©Wal Daly-Smith
Albert Bridge ©Wal Daly-Smith

Many of Wal’s trips take him to Tower Bridge, a favourite with visitors to London, particularly if they’re able to see a Bridge Lift for ships too large to pass under the roadway – you can discover the timetable on the above link.

Tower Bridge lifts to allow golden super yacht BELLAMI upstream ©Wal Daly-Smith

He clearly loves the river at any time of the day but says: “My favourite time is at night. It can be that bit more special, probably when it’s slack tide and the river becomes a mirror, reflecting the lights beautifully…”

Passing beneath Tower Bridge ©Wal Daly-Smith
Nightfall at Tower Bridge ©Wal Daly-Smith

There are many photographers, professional and amateur, for whom the Thames is a constant source of inspiration. Just as the waters are in a continual state of flux, so the possibilities for individual photographs are infinite. Moments frozen in time, never to be replicated exactly. And Wal is one of many who have their own story to weave into the flow of the river. See here my earlier interview with Wal Daly-Smith.

The Thames: Shining in the Dark

The beauty of the river at nightfall…

As the sky slowly darkens and lights from lamps, buildings, boats and bridges begin to glow, the ever-changing river sparkles into nightlife mode. A magical time.

M.V. MERCEDES preparing for a night out

Party boats are spruced up for the evening before collecting their passengers, while the usual traffic of Thames clippers, tugs and barges carries on with normal work.

Blackfriars Bridge

The water around Blackfriars Bridge, the red chunky, abandoned pillars of an earlier bridge, and Blackfriars rail bridge is beguiling, lit by reflected lights that swirl and dance in the dangerous currents. Further downstream just beyond the Blackfriars bridges, you’ll see the discreetly lit Millennium Footbridge. It’s the first of four Thames bridges to be illuminated this year in a project designed by Leo Villareal for the Illuminated River art commission. It’s difficult to capture in a still photograph as the thin blades of white light are in constant movement through the sections across the bridge but if you’re there, it’s lovely to watch.

The Millennium Bridge
Southwark Bridge in the blue phase of its changing cycle of light

If you turn to look downstream from the Millennium Bridge to Southwark Bridge, and wait awhile, you will see the colours slowly changing.

City Cruises’ vessel CITY DELTA taking passengers to see the illuminated bridges. They are approaching Southwark Bridge, now subtly changed to pink

And onward from Southwark Bridge, is the third of the illuminated bridges, Canon Street railway bridge, again with subtly changing colours.

Cory tug RECLAIM passing under Cannon Street Railway Bridge

As I walk across Southwark Bridge beneath a darkening sky, a tug towing a barge with empty waste containers passes beneath Cannon Street Railway Bridge, bound for collection points upstream. The diversity of river traffic means that safety for all river users is vital and there have been several improvements in the last three decades.

Movements of freight traffic and passenger vessels are overseen by the London Vessel Traffic Services, VTS, part of the Port of London Authority, who are responsible for the management and safety of navigation along the tidal Thames. So, out on a walk, you will see commercial boats, tugs and tourist boats, as well as a variety of small boats. In 2007, the Port of London Authority introduced an automatic identification system, Thames AIS, so that larger vessels and tugs, towing or pushing, have now to be equipped with a screen showing where other boats are on the river. This is particularly useful for the central London Thames, where “visibility is often obscured by bridges and other obstacles.”

Tower Bridge, and just visible to the left of HMS BELFAST is a Thames Rocket heading downstream

Another important safety feature of the tidal Thames is the twenty-four hour presence of the highly-trained Royal National Lifeboat Institution, RNLI, crews in four stations along the river from Teddington to Gravesend. Their arrival is relatively recent and came about after the tragic sinking of party boat the MARCHIONESS on August 28, 1989. Fifty-one young people including the Skipper, were drowned after the dredger BOWBELLE rammed her twice near Southwark Bridge, sinking her with frightening speed. Rescues were carried out by Police launches and sister party boat the HURLINGHAM, who between them managed to save eighty people. As a result of the findings of the Thames Safety Inquiries that followed, it was agreed that there should be a permanent presence of the RNLI on the tidal Thames. After some discussion and delay, this was finally achieved in 2002.

Figures from December 8, passed on to me by Paul Dunt of the RNLI show that since they came to operate along the Thames, the four Stations have launched 14,448 times, saved 587 lives, and aided 5,017 people.

A City Cruises’ boat approaching HMS BELFAST and London Bridge

London Bridge is the fourth bridge to be illuminated this year, and like the other bridges, its colours quietly merge and change.

Tug pushing an earth-filled barge
Walking across Tower Bridge

Alongside the beauty of the night-time river lies the ever-present threat of danger. Swift-flowing currents can sweep away those who accidentally, or deliberately, end up in the water, and the recent terrorist attacks on Westminster and London Bridges have left emotions raw.

Turbulent waters at the Blackfriars bridges

However, life must go on and there is some comfort in knowing that there are those who are on permanent standby to assist in an emergency: the launches of the Marine Policing Unit, the RNLI based at four stations along the tidal Thames, and the London Fireboats based at Lambeth. Depending on the type or place of an incident, others may come to help as well as there is a shared understanding and bond between those who work regularly along the river. And with the advent of mobile phones, anyone concerned about another person, or witnessing an accident, can swiftly dial 999 for help and ask for the Coastguard. Many lives, once lost in the past, have been saved by the quick reaction of the public calling for help.

Night watchmen: a Marine Policing launch heading downstream to Cannon Street Railway Bridge and London Bridge
One of the RNLI lifeboats moored, ready for action, twenty-four hours every day of the year

Our thanks must go to all those ready to come to our aid.
You can find out more about their work by following:
Thames RNLI stations on Twitter: @rnli_teddington; @ChiswickRNLI; @TowerRNLI; @GravesendRNLI
and the MPS Marine Policing Unit on: @MPSonthewater
For all information concerning regulations on the river see: The Port of London Authority.