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The Grand Old River Thames

by Sarah Macadams

Thames River, London

Thames River, London

The River Thames is the longest river situated entirely in England and has become synonymous with the City of London. The river boasts three areas of outstanding natural beauty, is home to over 25 species of fish and is the only river in Europe which has a national trail following its entire length. The River Thames is over 210 miles long and starts as a tiny trickle in the Cotswolds. After it has traveled right through the center of the City of London, the River Thames eventually makes its way out into the North Sea.


The River Thames is thought to get its name from the Middle English word Temese and many believe this is because of its cloudy water and dark color. These characteristics however do not detract from its beauty or importance. The Henley-on-Thames regatta began in 1839 and in 1851 gained royal patronage. The very first university boat races between Oxford and Cambridge were held here and finished at Henley Bridge. The Oxford/Cambridge boat race is still a popular event today and usually takes place on the last Saturday of March or the first Saturday of April each year. The course covers a 4.2 mile stretch of the River Thames from Putney to Mortlake and both teams are traditionally referred to as ‘blues’.

Important Role

The river itself has played an important role in human history. Evidence dating back to Neolithic times shows that there has been human habitation along the entire length of the river. It is regarded as an economic resource, a boundary, a fresh water source, a water highway and a source of food. An important resource provided by the river today is the water distributed by Thames Water for drinking purposes. Their responsibility runs the length of the river and the City of London’s water is distributed from the Thames Water Ring.


Julius Caesar refers to the River Thames in his written accounts of the Roman’s second expedition to Britain in 54BC. It is evident that the Thames presented a major obstacle to Caesar as he encountered Iron Age Belgic tribes along the river. In AD43, under the Emperor Claudius, the Romans occupied England. They recognized the importance of the River Thames and built fortifications along the Thames Valley. One of which was a major camp at Dorchester.

Major Clean-Up

The Thames hasn’t always been as clean and beautiful as it is today. The Victorian era saw the ‘Great Stink’ of 1858 where pollution in the river reached extreme levels. The problem was so bad that the House of Commons were unable to sit at Westminster due to the smell. Prince Albert’s death from Typhoid in 1861 has even been attributed to the river’s dirty waters by Windsor Castle. Advances in sewage treatment and the decline of heavy industries such as tanneries and oil-pollutants has seen a resurgence in the wildlife population of the Thames. Former ‘dead’ stretches are now benefitting from the return of aquatic life and the River Thames remains an area of beauty enjoyed by walkers, cyclists and anglers alike.

When to See It and Where to Stay

England is infamous for its unpredictable weather patterns. That said, your best bet for a clear day that you can enjoy soaking up the atmosphere of the River is probably at the end of August. If Winter is more your thing, it has been a long time since the whole river iced over, but one excellent time to get yourself down there is on New Year’s Eve, when you can enjoy the water lit-up under the explosions of one of the World’s most famous fireworks displays. Regardless of when you go to see it, make sure that you have somewhere comfortable to take yourself back to afterwards. London is absolutely jam-packed with accommodation options for visitors, ranging from budget hostels where you might have to share a bunk bed, right through the luxury options found on Park Lane. We think that a nice ‘middle ground’ – and an option not often considered by tourists – is the idea of a serviced apartment. Monarch House (monarchhouse.co.uk), situated in Kensington, offers just the thing. It is sensibly priced, fantastically located, and will give you a stay more comfortable than any you are likely to have in the Capital.

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