In the Chelsea borough of London, you can embark on a river kayaking adventure, swapping natural vistas for historic cityscapes, white-water rapids for surging river tides. This is as interesting a water adventure as any—urban or wild.
When I first heard about river kayaking trips on the Thames, I thought, “Great, that would be a perfect way to get a different perspective on Central London”. Once under way, the Thames and its rich history became intensely vivid, and the importance of the river in the development of London came into full focus.
The Thames has always been central to the history of London. In the Neolithic age, humans were living along the river Thames. The British Museum houses a decorated bowl found in the river at Hedsor, Buckinghamshire, dating back to the end of this period (3300-2700 B.C.) When the Romans under Emperor Claudius occupied England, the Thames became of major economic and strategic importance, with Londonium being its trading center. In 1066, when William the conqueror won control of the Thames Valley, it set the stage for him to invade the rest of England. William built the Tower of London, the same building where tourists still throng to see the crown jewels. And in 1215 when barons forced King John to sign the Magna Carta, it was on an island in the Thames at Runnymede. I could go on and on, but you get the idea of the importance of the Thames in the history of London.
“What about the water, is it safe?” you may be asking. That was my thought after we set off. The history of the cleanliness of the Thames is a checkered one, so although my concerns were unfounded, the Thames bad reputation was well earned.