A Day Out at the Thames Barrier, London

The Thames Barrier London
The Thames Barrier with a closed section visible on the left

For some reason I cannot quite pinpoint, I have long been fascinated with the Thames Barrier in London.  Yet despite living in that area for a year, I only saw it for the first time from the Docklands Light Railway on the way to the airport in March.

Well, we finally made a visit to the Thames Barrier on the Bank Holiday weekend (the day after we went to Canterbury).

The weather was absolutely glorious that day and by 10am in the morning it was already sweltering.  I love London in summer!

Close up of the Thames Barrier London

The Thames Barrier is the second largest moveable flood barrier in the world (the largest is in Maeslantkering in The Netherlands).  It was set up to protect the 125 square kilometres of central London from tidal surges.  Tidal surges are a real threat in the area and in 1953 the North Sea Flood left 307 people dead in the UK and 1,835 people dead in the Netherlands.  A flood in 1928 had left 14 people dead and the scale of these natural disasters prompted the construction of one of London’s most visible landmarks.

A View of the Tate and Lyle factory from the Thames Barrier
The Tate & Lyle plant across the Thames to the south

Only a fool would underestimate the seriousness of tidal surges in the area.  Two South African fools such as Stephen and I for example.  On 9 November 2007, the barrier had to be closed twice following a storm surge in the North Sea that was comparable in scale to the 1953 surge.  Stephen had been in the country a week and we got calls from my father in Liverpool and my uncle in Westerham asking if we could find somewhere else to stay that weekend.  Well, Ste and I hadn’t seen each other in four months and we weren’t about to go through that rigmarole, so we laughed off the threat.

Close up of Thames Barrier London

Thames Barrier London

Thames Barrier 9 London

Thames Barrier and O2 London

In reality, the only thing that saved the area was that the surge did not coincide with high tide.  We were living in Thamesmead which is down-river from the barrier (and therefore not protected by the barrier) and the area would have been submerged had the flood actually happened – we were probably the only idiots who actually stayed in Thamesmead that weekend!!

The O2 from the Thames Barrier 
The O2 (formerly the Millenium Dome) and Canary Wharf across the Thames to the north

The Thames Barrier was a quiet and eerie place but then it was before noon on a Sunday in London!  I noticed long ago how quiet things are up to lunch time around here. I would recommend that people go visit at least once but you may want to combine your visit with a trip to Greenwich or the O2.

There is a lovely park there (The Thames Barrier Park) but unfortunately my guests did not want to visit it.  There is also an information centre which is meant to be open seven days a week but apparently it was not open on the day we went to visit.  I would suggest calling them first on 020 8305 4188 if you want to visit the Information Centre and remember, you can get 2 for 1 tickets if you travel with National Rail.

Close up of Thames Barrier

28 comments on "A Day Out at the Thames Barrier, London"
  1. Another place I missed seeing last year! I guess I'll just *have* to come back 8-). I'm fascinated, also, by anything to do with the Thames. What an amazing water feature to have in your town!

  2. Wow that is very interesting Emm, I love when you take pictures and share your adventures with all of us.

    God bless,

  3. Hi Emm i have never visited it, but apparently the tours are quite interesting. I did once watch a good documentary on the engineering involved which is very complex.

  4. You post always let me know more about London, Can't waiting for the chance to visit your city!

  5. Hi

    This interested me as my brother works at the Thames barrier and he is always on call to rush into work if there are bad tides predicted. Once a year he takes friends and family on a tour around the barrier but I have never been yet.

    Bye for Now
    Creative Cafe

  6. Hi Emm, Who'd have thoght the Thames Barrier as a tourist attraction? You've certainly turned it into one with your fascinating post. Good stuff on a beautiful day.

  7. @ Kathy: I think in a town as rich as London, there is always going to be something that you just don't see! But yes, if you do *have* to come back then maybe we would *have* to get coffee too?

    @ Jodi: Glad you liked it m'dear. Now if only my friends and family (for whom this blog was started) would read.

    @ Mike: Hmmm, maybe I should try catch a documentary on it one day too. I can imagine that it must have been an engineering marvel almost 30 years ago!

    @ iWalk: I am glad to be of service! I'm going to try write more posts on London in future to balance out my travels from around the globe.

    @ Jill: Hi! Thanks for stopping by my blog! It must be really interesting to go on a tour by someone who works there. Let me know if you do ever decide to go!

    @ Martin: I must say, the idea to actually go out and visit it came from seeing the 2 for 1 special in the Days Out Guide. I guess it would most appropriately be an educational destination for children.

  8. So many places to visit, so little time. GB & Ireland are on my list for sure.
    I don't think I ever heard about the moveable flood barrier before. It's sure needed on the island.

  9. I love the look of the Thames barrier also. It's so futurist looking and unusual. I've never visited though. Perhaps I'll have to give it a closer look. Great post!

  10. I also saw the show that Mike was referring to. I can't remember if it was on The History Channel, Discovery or TLC (The Learning Channel), but I found it all very fascinating.

    By the way, can you explain to me how it is possible for "Thames" to be pronounced "Tims?" One would think that the English would know how to speak their own language better.

  11. I wanted to thank you for coming by my blog in May and commenting. I appreciate your input. Hope you come by again soon!


  12. Lovely pictures Emm and a great documentary..I'll have to do some more reading on this as I find it interesting. Your Brother is lucky to work in such a fascinating place.

  13. I loved London and I love your pictures, We stayed in London for a whole week thanks to the Royal holiday points we have saved, but it still wasn't enough, we want to go back, so we are preparing our visit by looking at blogs as great as yours.

  14. Wow, I actually have ~not~ heard of the Thames Barrier before, until reading this post. Thanks for the education. If ever I make my way to the UK again (and I ~want~ to return to Stonehenge!!!!) I will put this on my list of things to do/see :) and btw - yikes!! I'm glad that the tidal surge in 2007 went by without incident for you!

  15. I can so see why you like the Thames Barrier. Add it to the list of things Mandy will take Vanessa to see when Vanessa finally makes her away across the big blue :)

  16. I visited many years ago when I took some visitors on a river trip up to it. It must be about 15 years ago now. What I remember most was that it was spring time and we had the boat, and then the barrier, entirely to ourselves. It was a fascinating place to see, so I really ought to go back.

    I keep threatening to go and see London as a tourist but never get around to it.

  17. This is the first time I have seen detailed pictures of the Thames Barrier and it looks an impressive sight. The second from bottom photo has a real futuristic horizon look to it and really does do London proud.

  18. @ Ivanhoe: Oh, Ireland is beautiful! It is so green and lovely and the people are so friendly. You have to visit one day!

    @ Dori: If you're ever travelling on the DLR line, you can getting a fantastic view of the barrier just before London City Airport.

    @ FishHawk: Ha! I wouldn't say it is pronounced "Tims", just that the 'h' is silent. Wihtout the 'h', you would pronounce it like "tames" (as opposed to wilds).

    @ Dogs Deserve Freedom: It's a pleasure! Thank you for your comment.

    @ Baron: Glad you enjoyed it! It was Jill's brother who works there - my brother is an office slave like me!

    @ rhworldvacations: Thanks for stopping by my blog and commenting! A week is definitely not long enough for London, I agree! If you enjoy travel, you should blog too. It just takes passion and dedication!

    @ lynne: :) Yes, we were very lucky considering how pig headed we were! You should visit Stonehenge over the summer solstice!

    @ Vanessa: Oh... I would love you to visit! But I wouldn't let you go home so we'd have lots of time!

    @ Sheila: Were you able to moor your boat there at that time? They have closed the launch point unfortunately.

    @ Martyn: Hiya! I am always intrigued as there are really two centres to London - the old and the new but each are equally important. I love the Canary Wharf skyline at night!

  19. Hi Emm! It's truly amazing; so many times in London and never at the Thames Barrier... And I use to walk the tunnel to Greenwhich and went to the Dome while it was open... ;))
    Lovely post; gorgeous sky!!

    Want to see Trakai Castle? Blogtrotter has it… ;) Enjoy and have a great weekend!

  20. I like that view! The silver sparkling.

    Thanks for visiting Norwich Daily Photo and leaving your comment. Come back tomorrow!

    A Pinay In England
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    I, Woman

  21. Interesting. A good device to save the city. Venice needs something like this.

  22. Hi Emm,
    Thanks for signing up for World Blog Surf Day! Please visit my blog: http://sheroffthebeatenpath.blogspot.com for updates and instructions.

    The next update will be on Tuesday and will include the link list.

    Have a great day,
    Sher :0)

  23. Oh, I share your fascination with the Thames Barrier...absolutely amazing.

    Happy to hear you have a bit of summer...as miserable as UK weather can be, nothing beats the occasional brilliant summer day :)

  24. A new one on me, which looks like it would be an intresting place to visit, and I will do so next time I'm over in the south east of London at the 02 or Greenwich, both of which are well worth visiting.

  25. What an lovely place to visit !! Really enjoyed the visit and after that joe's kitchen..I am now hungry..lol's ..Great one..Also I Have Started My Own Website And Would Like You To Have A Look At It.I Would Love To Have Your Comments On That Also.Unseen Rajasthan

  26. @ Gil: It's a strange, interesting place. I would definitely recommend a visit. The dome is still open, it just isn't an exhibition centre anymore. It is now known as The O2 and is London's most popular concert venue. It also has shops, restaurants, clubs, movies and other events.

    @ Joy: Thanks for stopping by! Yes, it was very pretty.

    @ DL: This is a very silly question but I just don't know - do they suffer from floods and surges in Venice?

    @ Sher: Thanks for organising it!

    @ Cowgirl: In the two years I have been back in the country, this is certainly the best! The first summer in 2007 was actually freezing at times!

    @ Garry: Hiya! Yes, Greenwich and the O2 are both cool. Perhaps we could schedule a photoshoot of the deers in Greenwich park one day?

    @ Unseen Rajasthan: Your blog is looking good! Good luck. Me? I'm always hungry!

  27. Wow, interesting story. Had no idea! We live relatively close to it (on the DLR line), so I might take a visit there. I've wanted to go for a while, because it fascinates me, but after this blog post I have to make a point :)

  28. Is highly recommend it Nuraan!


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