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The Thames

The Basics

From its source near the Gloucestershire village of Kemble, to its arrival at the sea in Essex, the Thames is England’s second longest river, a mere five miles shorter than the Severn. The fact that it runs through the capital has made it the scene of many of the key events in the country’s history.

thames silhouette
In the ninth and 11th centuries, fleets of Viking longships sailed upriver in hostile raids on London. In 1533, the river bore the lavish wedding procession of Henry VIII and his new queen, Anne Boleyn, and three years later, carried that unfortunate lady back in the opposite direction to the Tower of London to be beheaded. Hymned by poets from Spenser and Pope to TS Eliot, the Thames became as much of a cultural symbol as Rome’s Tiber.

Pollution issues dogged the river from the mid-Victorian era, when sewage build-up caused the prime minister Disraeli to refer to it as “reeking with ineffable and unbearable horror”, until not so long ago. It’s all a lot cleaner now though, so much so that around 80 species of fish have returned to waters that are once again fit for them to swim in.