By Laura Burgoine
Historically, thanks to the Romans, it’s probably the reason London is our country’s capital. It’s been a trade route, a sewer, an ice rink during the frost fairs of the nineteenth century, a beach between the 1930s and ‘70s for locals who couldn’t afford to go to the seaside, It remains the largest open space in London, with people sailing, rowing, kayaking, canoeing, even swimming in it. Whether you choose to hide on your side of it, or ride the tide, the Thames is undeniably the heart of London, writes Laura Burgoine…
It’s the time of year to embrace it again with the Mayor’s Thames Festival, which has grown from just a party by the river to a ten-day extravaganza. For its first sixteen years the festival focused on the stretch of water between Westminster Bridge and Tower Bridge. Now it projects all the way from the source of the river to the mouth, festival director Adrian Evans says. “We’re doing more commissioned art, more contemplative stuff, with more focus on the actual river,” he explains. “Everything is connected with the Thames and our aim is to do weird and wonderful, quirky stuff to spike people’s interactions with the river.”
Artist Richard Wilson’s 1513: A Ships’ Opera is a main highlight, Adrian says, with nine historic vessels traveling up the Thames creating a moving orchestra using ship horns, bells and whistles with a grand finale at Tower Bridge. “It’s a genius mix of art and engineering. The horns belong to a guy who’s been collecting for 40 years; this is their first public outing,” Adrian recounts.
Elsewhere a river relay will see a bottle of water travel from the source of the Thames for 215 miles to the mouth of the river by a number of means and mechanisms, including canoes and pleasure boats. “People are really proud of the river,” Adrian says. “The Thames’ history is London’s history. There are so many amazing stories to tell, so much to do, so much to enjoy.”
1513: A Ships’ Opera is on 14 September starting at the Thames Estuary with a final performance at the Pool of London (Tideway between London Bridge and Tower Bridge, SE1 2JH) from 7:45pm-8:30pm. The Mayor’s Thames Festival runs from 6-15 September. http://www.thamesfestival.org