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Crossings of the River Thames

Many of the present road bridges on the river are on the site of earlier fords, ferries and wooden structures. The earliest known major crossings of the Thames by the Romans were at London Bridge and Staines Bridge. At Folly Bridge in Oxford the remains of an original Saxon structure can be seen, and mediaeval stone structures such as Newbridge, and Abingdon Bridge are still in use. Kingston’s growth is believed to stem from its having the only crossing between London Bridge and Staines until the beginning of the 18th century. During the 18th century, many stone and brick road bridges were built from new or to replace existing structures both in London and along the length of the river. These included Putney Bridge, Westminster Bridge, Windsor Bridge and Sonning Bridge. Several central London road bridges were built in the 19th century, most conspicuously Tower Bridge, the only Bascule bridge on the river, designed to allow ocean going ships to pass beneath it. The most recent road bridges are the by passes at Isis Bridge and Marlow By-pass Bridge and the Motorway bridges, most notably the two on the M25 route Queen Elizabeth II Bridge and M25 Runnymede Bridge.

The development of the railway resulted in a spate of bridge building in the 19th century including Blackfriars Railway Bridge and Charing Cross (Hungerford) Railway Bridge in central London, and the spectacular railway bridges by Isambard Kingdom Brunel at Maidenhead Bridge, Gatehampton Railway Bridge and Moulsford Railway Bridge.

The world’s first underwater tunnel was the Thames Tunnel by Marc Brunel built in 1843 and used to carry the East London Line. The Tower Subway was the first railway under the Thames, which was followed by all the deep-level tube lines. Road tunnels were built in East London at the end of the 19th century, being the Blackwall Tunnel and the Rotherhithe Tunnel, and the latest tunnel was the Dartford Crossing.

Many foot crossings were established across the weirs that were built on the non-tidal river, and some of these remained when the locks were built – for example at Benson Lock. Others were replaced by a footbridge when the weir was removed as at Hart's Weir Footbridge. Around the year 2000 AD, several footbridges were added along the Thames, either as part of the Thames Path or in commemoration of the Millennium. These include Temple Footbridge, Bloomers Hole Footbridge, the Hungerford Footbridges and the Millennium Bridge, all of which have distinctive design characteristics.

Some ferries still operate on the river. The Woolwich Ferry carries cars and passengers across the river in the Thames Gateway and links the North Circular and South Circular roads. Upstream are smaller pedestrian ferries, for example Hampton Ferry and Shepperton to Weybridge Ferry the last being the only non-permanent crossing that remains on the Thames Path.

There are several watersports prevalent on the Thames, with many clubs encouraging participation and organising racing and inter-club competitions.

The Thames is the historic heartland of rowing in the United Kingdom. There are over 200 clubs on the river, and over 8,000 members of the Amateur Rowing Association (over 40% of its membership). Most towns and districts of any size on the river have at least one club, but key centres are Oxford, Henley-on-Thames and the stretch of river from Chiswick to Putney.

Two rowing events on the River Thames are traditionally part of the wider English sporting calendar:

The University Boat Race is rowed between Oxford University Boat Club and the Cambridge University Boat Club in late March or early April, on the Championship Course from Putney to Mortlake in the west of London.

Henley Royal Regatta takes place over five days at the start of July in the upstream town of Henley-on-Thames. Besides its sporting significance the regatta is an important date on the English social calendar alongside events like Royal Ascot and Wimbledon.

 
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