For a long time I’ve wanted to take the short trip by ferry from Gravesend to Tilbury, something that I did when I was a teenager 60 years ago. But recently I discovered that the Uber (Thames Clipper) had bought or were buying the old Town Pier in Gravesend and in addition to their weekday commuter route they were trying out summer Saturday excursions from Gravesend or Tilbury going to Greenwich Peninsula or London Bridge and as there was a trip on my birthday I booked tickets for myself, my husband and adult son. There are car parks near to the Gravesend Town Pier but we chose to park in the long stay car park in Milton Place at a cost of £5 for the day but it only took us an (interesting) 10 minute walk to the pier. Everything went according to plan and we arrived in plenty of time. Gravesend Town Pier is the oldest cast iron pier in the world, listed Grade 2* and a beautiful structure. It is very near the centre of Gravesend – at the bottom of the High Street and a 10 minute walk from the railway station. There was a very cold easterly wind blowing so waiting in the open for the arrival of the boat was unpleasant especially as it was late arriving and there are currently no toilets on, or anywhere near, the pier – something I hope will be rectified soon, if its listing allows. There was a very long queue of family groups by the time the boat arrived and we continued to wait on the pontoon while our names were checked before being allowed to board. Disabled access was advertised but there appeared to be a glitch and no gangway was available at Gravesend. The boats are large, holding around 200 passengers. We managed to get 3 seats together near the front with good views while some people went straight to the bar where hot drinks, alcohol and snacks were on sale. There were toilets on board and outside seating, which would be a popular option for photographers in good weather. We were soon on our way across the river to Tilbury where we picked up a few more people, some of whom then stood at the front blocking our view as they said there were not enough seats for them which I don’t think was true as everybody has to have a booked seat, even under 5’s, whose journey is free of charge.
The journey along the Thames towards London was fascinating – past the Tilbury docks where large passenger liners berth, lots of commercial vessels and dredgers, industrial buildings, marshland on the Kent and Essex sides, then underneath the Queen Elizabeth Bridge at Dartford and eventually through the Thames Barrier. I was amazed at the large numbers of high rise flats on both banks, something you don’t see from riding on the train or driving up to London. Before long we stopped at North Greenwich pier but I don’t think anyone got off our boat, although it would be ideal for those wanting to use the Emirates Airline. Personally I would prefer it if the boat stopped at the pier nearer to the Cutty Sark. We passed underneath the Emirates cable cars, then the O2 with its recent storm damaged roof.
There was too much of interest to mention everything but I loved seeing all the old warehouses on the banks of the Thames, some now converted to upmarket apartments. There are also quite a lot of houseboats moored near Wapping and some really lovely old houses which made a change from all the new skyscrapers at Canary Wharf and other dockland areas. Then under Tower Bridge, past Tower Bridge and HMS Belfast, after which we slowed down to stop at London Bridge City ferry terminal where we left the boat. We headed up the steps onto London Bridge to cross the Thames to visit the roof garden at No. 120 (Fenchurch Street) and explore the City but had to cross back to find somewhere to get lunch as there was nowhere open in the City at lunchtime on Saturday. We chose a pub rather than Borough Market (which was much too busy for us on a Saturday) then walked along the South Bank past Southwark Cathedral and The Globe to Tate Modern. Then it was time to return to the ferry terminal to catch the boat at 4.00 pm for our return to Gravesend; again there were delays to all services due to the large number of passengers using the boats. The return time for this excursion has since been changed to 4.30 pm. Our return trip to Gravesend took an hour, even though the wind was extremely blustery and the water choppy.
All in all a very good day out. Tickets cost £20.50 for adults and £10.25 for children from 5-15 for the return journey from Gravesend to London Bridge, or £16 and £8 for a single journey: concessions are also available. We paid extra for whole day tickets, which meant we could have hopped on and off other Uber boats once we got to London but it was a waste of money because due to the delays to the services that day it would have been risky to try to take any add-on trips, for example to Battersea, as we might have missed our return boat. There is apparently limited free parking at Tilbury pier plus pay and display plus a local bus service runs to the Tilbury railway station. Weekly excursions are planned for the Easter holiday period and no doubt in the summer too.