If Westminster is the heart of London, the River Thames is surely the aorta, its waters flowing from the Cotswolds in the west some 200 miles to the sea, bisecting the city along the way. King Henry VIII was rowed by crews of servants up and down the Thames as he tried to pressure Sir Thomas Moore into letting him divorce Anne Boleyn. The great clippers plied its waters laded with exotic cargoes of tea and spices from the Far East. Prisoners were taken to the Tower by boat through Traitor's Gate.
If you happen to be blessed with clement weather, a boat trip on the Thames is a spectacular and worthwhile side trip for visitors to the British capital. There are several from which to select.
One of the most enjoyable is from Greenwich to Westminster Pier. Take the short train trip to Greenwich. Wander through the old Royal Naval Observatory (which used to calibrate the world's clocks), visit the Maritime Museum, tour the clipper Cutty Sark, and then walk the hundred yards or so to Greenwich Pier. The Westminster-Greenwich Thames Passenger Boat Service will take you back to London for about six pounds per adult; a family of four can travel for the equivalent of about $13.50.
The boat's pilot will supply the rapid-fire commentary which is always informative and often quite amusing:
"This is Southwark Bridge. Not one of the most famous of London's bridges. I find most tourists who find themselves on Southwark Bridge are lost."
Or you might hear: "On the left is the studio of London Weekend Television, LWT. They show so many reruns that we think LWT means Last Week's TV."
Perhaps it'll be a bit of trivia: "That famous structure on the right is St. Stephen's Tower. Everybody calls it Big Ben, but Big Ben is actually the bell that tolls the hour."
They'll pass a hat for an extra pound or two for the entertainment as the boat approaches the pier.
The schedule changes seasonally so call them at 0171-930-4097.
Rob Armstrong is the author of the travel guide Golfing in Ireland, published by Pelican. His next book Golfing The Virginias will be published in 1999.
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