The Thames River – our annual classic tour
With a total length of 236 miles (380 km), the Thames is the longest river entirely in England and the second longest in the United Kingdom. It rises at Thames Head in Gloucestershire, and flows into the North Sea via the Thames stuary. On its way, it passes through London, the country’s capital, where the river is deep and navigable to ships; the Thames drains the whole of Greater London.
Its tidal section, reaching up to Teddington Lock, includes most of its London stretch and has a rise and fall of 7 metres (23 ft).
Along its course are 45 navigation locks with accompanying weirs. On Rowing in Europe tours we meet 26 or 28 Locks, depending on the tour. Most of them well maintained and equipped during normal business hours.
The marks of human activity, in some cases dating back to Pre-Roman Britain, are visible at various points along the river. These include a variety of structures connected with use of the river, such as navigations, bridges, and watermills, as well as prehistoric burial mounds.
A major maritime route is formed for much of
its length for shipping and supplies: through the Port of London for international trade, internally along its length and by its connection to the British canal system. The river’s position has put it at the centre of many events in British history, leading to it being described by John Burns as “liquid history”.
Rowing and sailing clubs are common along the Thames, which is navigable to such vessels. Kayaking and canoeing also take place. Major annual events include the Henley Royal Regatta and The Boat Race, while the Thames has been used during two Summer Olympic Games: 1908 (rowing);1948 (rowing and canoeing).
Safe headwaters and reaches are a summer venue for organised swimming, which is prohibited on safety grounds in a stretch centred on Central London.
Non-Olympic watersports with a lesser presence include skiffing and punting.
The River Thames is one of the main rowing areas in England, with activity taking place on the Tideway and on the 45 separate lock reaches on the non tidal section. The river hosts two major rowing events The Boat Race and Henley Royal Regatta, and a large number of other regattas and long distance events take place on the river.
Dorney Lake in Buckinghamshire was opened specifically as a rowing lake besides the Thames and has become the venue for a few events that formerly took place on the river. Other lakes adjacent to the Thames are the Redgrave Pinsent Rowing Lake and Royal Albert Dock.