Hidden Gems of Lower Thames

We paddled down the Thames countless times, day time or night time, we would go with the tide marvelling at how wide, fast, and exciting the river is. 

This time however, we set to do something different. We joint our friend Ian, who has done this trip before, and relying on his local knowledge we approached the muddy banks of the Thames at low tide with good faith. 

We started by the Diver. We’ve seen him many times before when returning upstream from Gravesend, always handing there, partially submerged in the water or mud. The concrete barges have been here even longer, since 1953, as an extra protection during floods. Amazing structures, once floated, used during WW2. 

We launched and crossed to the other side, the south side. This time we decided to stay very close to the shoreline to explore. We didn’t need to wait for long, as we passed the yacht club in Erith, strange heaps of mud came into view. But of course, it wasn’t mud, it was what the heard about some time ago, the petrified forest, thousands of years old. We could see few tree trunks  and many root balls. We will definitely be back at even lower tide for closer inspection. 

Our next stop was the mouth of the river Darent, tributary to the Thames, we paddled as far as the tidal gate surrounded by walls of shiny mud, supervised by a turnstone (according to Ian). Sadly time was pushing us, and if we wanted to get to our planned destination, we had to turn and continue downstream. 

We wanted to visit Broadness Harbour, a little tidal harbour on the tip of Swanscombe peninsula. I never heard of it, but few times while going past Broadness Point to Gravesend I glimpsed some boats stationed there. The creek leading into the harbour was dry but mud was firm enough to let us land and go on shore. What an amazing place: highest pylons in the UK, Met Office weather station. The wind moving through long grass with ramshackle houseboats and huts behind reminded us of Aleutian Alaska. 

We crossed the Thames here and turned to go upstream with the tide. At Purfleet we briefly peeked into the mouth of river Mar Dyke, but the flood gate threatened to open any time, so we decided to proceed. However we spent some time admiring the remains of the old quay. In the late 18th century this place was used as a natural harbour, and a quay was built to land gunpowder for the magazines in Purfleet.

From here the wind and tide pushed us back past the Coldharbour Lighthouse back to our launching place.

Wave Machines

There are many things London has to offer to a visitor: architecture, scenery, history, just to name a few. Through all this the river weaves its path and attracts attention with its amazing views into the naval history, the beaches or water splashing over the railings, and of course the strong tides. Large numbers of boats pass up and down through the city at any time of the day. For me, however, the ones that create the beautiful wake to surf are the most interesting.  We call them Wave machines.

The feeling of excitement if a wave machine appears travelling in the right direction. Then, all what’s needed, is to check all is safe and paddle closer. To get the most of the waves and prolong the ride, it is best to surf diagonaly in the same direction as the chased boat. It is very easy to turn to much towards  the boat or to be too, aggressive in correction, both result in loosing the wave. Sometimes the first wave is not the best one, and it pays to wait for the third.

Last weekend we went for short paddle and made a little clip.

XTRA Launch

I don’t know how those things happen. Or should I rather say that I don’t know how human mind, and more precisely, how my mind works.

There are moments when an idea appears in my head, almost like a picture. It stays there, and doesn’t want to leave. Sometimes if the idea is too stupid, I manage to force it out but most of the time the best way to deal with it, is to have a go.

Few weeks ago I could see this picture in my headxtra R

and I could not get it out…

London is on fire

London. For some it’s just a town where they live. For many it’s an exciting place, one of the most visited in the world. They come here and leave again. For some it’s a place they never leave. But most of them will say that London it’s a buzzing city, where buildings are everywhere, traffic, people, noise, commotion and more.
However, even within this town there are places where it could be calm, even quiet. Yesterday we went to one, and discovered that sometimes we don’t have to leave, that in the end the outdoor facilities in this City are rather above average.

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And that’s what we love about it.

Wozzit or Bubble-wrap?

After long time of thinking I decided to treat myself to a new boat. Originally it looked that it would be a long wait, but that suited me fine, since I had my other new boat to play with anyway.

Then an email came and everything was happening fast. Rather too fast, within a week I became owner of new boat. Not wanting to upset my other one, I took time, and really there needs to be a bit of fuss if something is to be unwrapped; and this one came in bubble-wrap.photo-3

However, not wanting to leave in unattended for too long I took it for a spin or rather roll.

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wozzit (2)

Later I decided that if one can roll a bubble-wrap, one should be able to paddle one, too.

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One can, but it is hard work, since bubble-wraps are not really watertight.

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wotsit 6

wotsit 1

But is there any other better place to uncover a new boat than with Tower bridge as a backdrop? Probably yes, but this place suited me just fine.

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wotsit 2Pace Tour 17 is my new boat.



We acquired the bag long time ago, somewhere in Wales, on our way around the Island. Surprisingly it stayed with us and has been used every time we went kayaking ever since. Even the trustworthy people of Scillies did not manage to part it with us when it had not arrived on Scillonian on our last journey from there to Penzance. The bag still made it home couple days later.


It was at the Scillies, one warm dry evening in early June when we came with the idea of holding a picnic on a beach on our home waters.
The idea was born and the name was found: The Great British Summer Picnic.
And since our home waters are the major part of the city, it was held on the sandy beach of Thames, right opposite the Tate Modern, to be be precise.

Some time ago, while visiting Gravesend, the Paddling Gourmands Club was established. I won’t bore anyone with details but since this wasn’t first outing some firm rules were laid down.
The food had to arrive by kayak. Some members went further and even brought the food by bike.sb picnic 29

The food was strictly Great British Food. Some members, however foreign, showed effort and made Scotch Eggs,traditional with twist and veggie. Food had to be posh. Some members went far and even made organic, hand-picked, home-made Elderflower champagne. And so on the story went.sb picnic 24



Paddling that day was not easy, we had to go against the tide both ways. It was our home water which we know very well, yet we discovered some new unseen corners of the Thames.

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Written by Toby Carr

Shadwell to Gravesend 

Friday 28th June 2013

Start Time: 18.45

Finish Time: 23.15

Distance: 45km

It was with slight trepidation that I signed up for this trip, the distant memories of a cold and wet December version with a biting westerly wind on the way back, a difficult paddle against the tide for the final stretch and a premature finish. Memories can be fickle things though and in this case the chance to sneak past ships taller than city blocks in the middle of the night after a gourmet dinner from a kayak hatch was too good to miss, anyway it’s summer – right?

After the usual frantic scrabble to leave work with a kit list including a whisk, we launched from the ladder at the basin onto the river at high tide.  The plan: to follow the tide out to the estuary and stay overnight in Gravesend, a possible trip to Canvey Island on Saturday, returning to London with the tide on Sunday.  So far, so good and as London geared up for a Friday night we dodged the party boats and clippers circling in the river at Greenwich, and left the bright lights behind us. We were soon through the barrier and into the low lying flats of Rainham Marshes and Purfleet enjoying the sodium discharge lamp sunset under the QEII bridge and the feint smells of hops and grain hanging in the muggy air. Barrier gravesend 45

Now officially outside city limits we pushed on past spit and buoy, under the power lines at Thurrock and through some choppy water in Fiddler’s reach to Grays. As we negotiated our way through barges and grain wharfs we were greeted by cheers from shift workers loading gravel into boats on the quayside and a spectacular fireworks display marking the end of our journey at Gravesend.  From our low vantage point riding the falling tide, we passed the town piers where Friday night was in full swing and were escorted by a friendly/confused harbour master as we disembarked safely on the rowing club jetty.  Having hauled our boats up the jetty and along the promenade we established that luckily the key Natalie had been given was indeed for the sailing club and as if by magic a man appeared out of the darkness and offered to open the bar. It was about midnight and the sailing club were holding their annual race to Shivering sands and back with an early start at 6.30am. The man – who was the race officer promised to sound the starting claxon quietly, surely an oxymoron but a very considerate gesture nonetheless.

Saturday 29th June

Gravesend to … Gravesend

Distance: < 1km ?

Agreed departure time: 10am for a paddle downstream to Canvey Island and towards the Estuary proper. Something about best made plans of mice and men should go here but I have forgotten the connection, anyway with a forecast of force 5 westerly winds, we may have got there quickly but the probable headwind on the way back could have zapped our energy for the return to London that evening.  So it was time for some oil city blues a shower for Alan and a slightly longer breakfast than planned.  Lower Hope, Mucking, Scars Elbow and Deadman’s Point will just have to wait until next time.

We were not destined to be land lubbers for long and had soon boarded the ‘Duchess’ for a short ferry crossing (£3 return) over the river and so to Tilbury Fort where we found free elderflower wine and raspberry curd for (a second) breakfast courtesy of English Heritage.  The fort has impressive outworks of moats, bridges and ramparts and a long history. Sadly the only bit of which I can remember was that Scottish prisoners from the battle of Culloden were once kept there, the people of London travelling up the river with perfume scented hankies to mask the smell and paying sixpence to sneak a peak at the men in kilts. gravesend 46 gravesend 47

We returned to Gravesend with a band of Saturday afternoon shoppers from Tilbury, had a pint in the Three Daws where from our vantage point in the beer garden we could see the vast Hamburg Sud leaving Tilbury ladened up and heading out to sea.  The wind had dropped by the afternoon in time for a sunny snooze on the benches outside the sailing club as the crews returned from their race and wandered what on earth these funny pointy boats were doing there and who let tramps into the sailing club.

As is now becoming tradition, we ate well before our departure at 1 am the following day. A meal of roasted vegetables, antipasti, chilli pesto, godfather pasta and freshly made pizza was started with a chilled aperitif and finished with Tiramisu.  After some pyjama clad boat faff, we were in bed by 8 for and early start for the trip back to London.gravesend 48 gravesend 49

Sunday 30th June (just)

Gravesend to London

Start Time: 1.30am

Finish Time: 7.30am

Distance: 45km

With bleary eyes and dubious amounts of sleep we started the kayak packing rituals and the procession to the jetty.  We were watched eagerly by a couple of drunk but interested Gravesenders who helpfully reminded us that the river is not like a road and it’s not like you can stop at a service station if you get tired and need a cup of tea.  They also decided that kayaking could be good as they were often looking for things to do at night (we chose not to point out it is more usual to do it during the day).  Our new supporters followed us to the jetty despite warnings not to and with their shouts or good luck and ‘see you later gaw-jus’ to Natalie, we were back on the river.gravesend 36 gravesend 37 gravesend 38 gravesend 39

Having crossed the river and started on our way, the VHS crackled and London VTS announced ‘six kayakers have entered the terminal’ as we slipped quietly past the container giants loading up in Tilbury Docks, literally like ships in the night.  gravesend 43

The misleading sight of the towers of Canary Wharf from Erith seemed like a mirage as it disappeared amongst the grain silos, pylons and chimneys as quickly as it arrived not to be seen again for several hours. As we turned the corner, a cluster of motionless bulldozers, silhouetted against the bright pink sunrise sat quietly atop the landfill at Rainham and the calm water reflected the early morning sun, it was 4am with a high tide at Shadwell at 8.gravesend 17gravesend 5 gravesend 9  gravesend 21

gravesend 11 gravesend 13 gravesend 32gravesend 7gravesend 6We pushed on past Barking Creek and the barrier to watch the long haul flights banking high in the sky over the empty strings of the cable car, starting their final descent into Heathrow.  A Heron slapped by with its oversized wings and lanky legs whilst gangs of Shags flanked the gulls who were lined up on pontoon railings like spectators. As balloons and coconuts floated past us down the river, the serene stillness of the river and a calm, hot Sunday morning in London combined and somehow felt odd and familiar at the same time, like a distant memory.  Then I realised in my tired and delirious state – it felt like summer!gravesend 19

Great trip, thanks to all and to the Gravesend Sailing Club


Over the years I have spent climbing I learned that there are two ways of how to take good pictures. You can enjoy yourself, climb, have lots of fun and have camera somewhere handy all the time. With some luck sooner or later there would be an opportunity to take a nice shot. Another approach is to think about the picture in advance and then prepare everything according to your idea.

There are some disadvantages with both ways. In the first case you have to carry the camera all the time with you and some of them can be pretty heavy. More importantly you may miss lots of good opportunities just because you are not ready or camera you have is not good enough. I personally think that the second approach works much better. Of course there are some drawbacks, too. There is not much fun unless you consider taking photos as fun. More importantly it is often hard work and can take several hours to gain one image.

This time we decided that we needed some good images to promote our homeSEAhome project.

Our criteria for pictures’ content were quite clear: the us two with our kayaks and paddling gear, river Thames, and somewhere within Tower Hamlets. The final photos also had to be suitable for a poster, a postcard and blog header.

Once we knew what we were aiming for, it was time to do some research. From two obvious choices of a background: Tower Bridge and Canary Wharf, we decided on the second one. So one weekend we cycled around Isle of Dogs to find the best possible viewpoint of Canary Wharf, and found two nice places which would work really well during low tide. Since we chose time close to sunrise or sunset when sky is not too clouded, we were looking for weekends when low tides coincide with the sunrise/sunset and preferably with good weather forecast. Fortunately this was easy to work out with the help of world wide web.

It was last Saturday morning when finally all aspects worked together. Now we only had to pack the camera and our boats, get to our local beach and paddle to O2 Arena, where we had to be at 6:30 am.

The photo taking itself was the easiest part. I only had to put the camera on tripod on manual setting, set up the interval shooting for 20s and place the remote flash closer to our position. There was just one challenging decision to make: the length of the exposure. Longer exposure times make water surface look very nice and smooth, but we had to stay still for the whole time during the opening of the shutter. In the end 5 second seemed as the best compromise.

To stay still proved to be difficult.

That is it really. The rest was simple. We  had to move around and pose while the camera was doing all the work for us.


As members of the Tower Hamlets Canoe Club we regularly take part in the club’s Christmas paddle. A crazy affair when up to 50 boats (can’t have more, said the Harbour master) long and short are paddled by all, skilled or beginners, towards Tower Bridge. There everyone gets out on the beach, has mulled wine, mince pies and tries as best as they can to sing Christmas carols.

We have taken part in this for the last three years. Fun.

But being foreigners in this country gives us the great opportunity to celebrate Christmas differently to the norm. And so Czech Christmas being done and over with by the midnight of the 24th of December it leaves us with a day with nothing to do, no duties, no family obligations  and no public transport.

This year we did not go anywhere for Christmas and could spend Christmas day doing the true Christmas paddle. The tides run favourably and we set off from Isle of Dogs at noon. We had a very leisure paddle up the river towards Westminster and the MI5 beach, where we shared some mulled wide and yummy biscuits. Then we had a very pleasant paddle back to East London, with the setting sun reflecting in London’s best sights.

The river wasn’t quiet, it was flowing fast and bouncy with wind over tide, but there was no traffic. Bliss.