Monday, 22 August 2016
Wednesday 25th May 2016
I see my alarm was set for 6.30 this morning, ready for an early breakfast; soon after, those of us going to the Chelsea Flower Show were called for disembarkation to the tender and to collect our lunch boxes as we left MINERVA. I have been so looking forward to this day and excursion and now it is starting. The lightweight cardboard lunch boxes soon collapsed with the weight of all their contents, but I was prepared for that with my little lightweight rucksack, and the box went for recycling.
We went onto BELFAST before descending the steps to the pontoon alongside, and then onto SARAH KATHLEEN, for our very short trip across the River Thames to the Millennium Pier opposite. We had good views back to MINERVA, as we went ashore. The tide was going out and some of the riverside shore was visible; this reminded me of stories about the 'mudlarks' of old, scavenging on the muddy sand beside the water of the Thames.
Soon we boarded numbered coaches and were taken to Chelsea for the Flower Show. We passed The Cenotaph in Whitehall and the Houses of Parliament on our route. On arrival I was handed my ticket and advised about the departure time and rendezvous point, and I was then free to wander at will around this wonderful show.
With so many people wanting to attend the annual Chelsea Flower Show, the Royal Horticultural Society decided to increase the covered areas in the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea and this satisfied all the visitors, plus the legal requirements of the safety and fire regulations.
I spent a happy day looking at many exhibits under cover and outside in the grounds, and especially enjoyed the outdoor David Harber Ltd. stand which had won a five gold star award; my other favourite was in the Great Pavilion and this was provided by Interflora, the flower experts, and entitled The Floral Church. The colours and details of both these exhibits were exquisite, in my opinion.
One memorable sight was provided by five thousand small knitted poppies with the backdrop of the Royal Hospital. This was originally a tribute by two Australian women to their fathers who both fought in World War II, and has grown to 'become a worldwide outpouring of respect and remembrance to those who have served their countries in all wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations'.
A picnic area with seating was provided for visitors, near the covered dais with a band playing most of the time, so that was a natural stop for those of us with the ubiquitous picnic. Jugs of Pimms from the Bars were going past constantly, I noticed. It wasn't quite raining but it was cool and damp and my lavender-coloured lightweight waterproof jacket came in useful.
Back on the coach, our route home to the ship took us alongside the River Thames of course, and I noticed TATTERSHALL CASTLE (built in Grimsby) and a pleasant place for lunch or a drink, and HQS WELLINGTON, the home of The Honourable Company of Master Mariners in London.
We left the coach near the Tower of London and I made my way to All Hallows by the Tower, the nearby Anglican Church in Byward Street. A few years ago I attended a service there in memory of Mr Peter Neville Buckley, Chairman of Caledonia Investments PLC. , whose group of companies included the Clan Line Steamers, the Union-Castle Line Mail Steamship Company Limited, and British & Commonwealth Shipping Company (motto Tendimus). A window was dedicated in his memory and now I wanted to take some new photographs.
All Hallows by the Tower is the oldest church in the City of London, founded in 675 AD, and built upon Roman remains. The Visitor Information leaflet told me it was damaged in 1650 by an explosion with barrels of gunpowder stored in the churchyard; repairs were carried out but in 1666 it was surrounded by the Great Fire of London and managed to survive. It owes its survival to Admiral William Penn, father of William Penn of Pennsylvania fame (who was baptised in the church), who had his men from a nearby naval yard demolish the surrounding buildings to create firebreaks. Samuel Pepys, the famous Diarist, climbed the spire with the Admiral during the Great Fire to survey the surrounding damage.
It was damaged in the Blitz of London, but was repaired and is in constant use today. I met the Assistant Priest and she made me welcome, as I explained my particular visit today. Photographs taken, I made my way to the Merchant Navy Memorial across the road,
and then back to the riverside and the little SARAH KATHLEEN, to return to MINERVA berthed beside BELFAST. What contrasts, I thought to myself.
The captain checked that I had come from one of the excursion coaches, and I explained that I had, but had been to visit All Hallows by the Tower because of the shipping line windows. He told me that it was the local church and he had been there for a Christening a couple of weeks ago. I mentioned my Union-Castle Line connections and he smiled and said he had a friend who had worked on the EDINBURGH CASTLE in 1966 or 1967, so I had to tell him that so did I!
Other passengers came on board, and we sailed across the River Thames back to MINERVA. I thanked the captain of SARAH KATHLEEN and his mate, we shook hands and that was yet another unexpected Union-Castle connection in my life.
Back on board there was time to prepare for drinks, dinner and this evening's concert; tonight's little contribution from the scratch passenger choir was to be part of "An Evening in London". This included singing 'Feed the Birds' from 'My Fair Lady', and we ended with a noisy rendition of 'Rule Britannia' by Opera del Mare, us in the choir and all the audience on board.
Ships seen: Minerva, Belfast, Sarah Kathleen (built in 1963), Tattershall Castle, HQS Wellington
To be concluded...
Thursday, 14 July 2016
Tuesday 24th May 2016
I see that this morning I had extra time in bed, until 8 a.m., which was a novelty. We are at sea, travelling towards the River Thames and London, and looking forward to Tower Bridge opening for us at 5 p.m. - what a treat. I have been through Tower Bridge before, on the paddle steamer WAVERLEY, when the Bridge opened up for us then as we left Tower Pier and headed for the open sea.
After a walk on deck I went for breakfast and then to the 9.30 a.m. Garden Lecture from Christine with advice about visiting the Chelsea Flower Show tomorrow. There was time for coffee before the 11.30 lecture from Ian about Londoners and the Thames. After that I had another chat with Gervase Phinn about London, ships, books and life generally; he enjoys talking with passengers and many of us are happy to sit with him too.
Out on deck the sun was actually shining and it was hot - about time too. Karina in Reception gave me my book to put on the Library display table, and I felt like a proud mother as I did so. (It now has the proper labels on it, showing it is the ship's property.) Outside we are heading into London waters, and preparations were being made for a deck barbecue which was wonderful in the hot sun.
The Pilot came on board at Margate, various ships went to and fro, we saw Ramsgate, and then Sheerness (on the Isle of Thanet) where my father was born when his father was working there in the shipyards; these are in Kent, with its own River Medway. From the top deck we could see the Thames forts out in the water, and then the RICHARD MONTGOMERIE surrounded by marker buoys. This sunken vessel is so full of unstable explosives that it is considered safer to leave it there rather than try to do anything else.
Soon we approached the London Gateway with its huge cranes and ever-growing facilities for unloading cargo, Gravesend, the Woolwich ferries (James Newman, John Burns, Ernest Bevin) the Princess Pocahontus, Tilbury, the Queen Elizabeth II road bridge over the River Thames, the Thames Barrier, the Emirates cable cars overhead with small jet aircraft landing and taking off from London City Airport overhead, West India Dock (Union-Castle ships used to dock there in the 1930s), and the O2 Dome.
The River Thames twists and turns frequently so the views kept changing and soon we were approaching Greenwich and could enjoy seeing the old Royal Naval Hospital from the water; next we could see the CUTTY SARK old preserved tea clipper and nearby that was the entrance to the Foot Tunnel going under the Thames from the Isle of Dogs to there at Greenwich. It's fascinating to walk under through it and realise one is underneath the River Thames, thanks to Victorian Engineering.
The skyline kept changing and soon we could see well-known buildings such as Canary Wharf, Limehouse, the Shard, the Swiss Re bank building in St. Mary Axe (where Cayzer House was located when I first joined Union-Castle Line), Wapping Pier, and clear views of the top of the towers of Tower Bridge.
The River Thames turned yet again and suddenly Tower Bridge was ahead of us; we passed the Royal Navy's HMS PRESIDENT ship and headquarters on our starboard side, and watched as the two bascules each started lifting and were completely open as we sailed through underneath the fabled Tower Bridge. I looked up and could see the newly-installed two glass floors inserted into the top walkway. I have walked across that top walkway and it is an amazing sensation to stand on the Grade 1 Listed Heritage structure dating from 1894. The whole thing is well worth a visit I think.
It was such an extraordinary sensation to be sailing through London's Tower Bridge at 5 o'clock on an early summer's afternoon, and our cheers on board were soon joined by those of hundreds of people on the riverside paths and on Tower Bridge roadway and pavements. Visitors to the nearby Tower of London joined in and we could see lots of camera and phone flashes as people took photographs.
We were soon through the Bridge and heading for HMS BELFAST just ahead on our port side, and there we soon tied up.
There were a couple of large fenders keeping MINERVA and BELFAST apart, and soon a very short gangway was put in place so we could go ashore if we chose. A small pontoon was beside BELFAST and this is where we could board a little riverboat for the five minute sail across to Tower Millennium Pier. A celebratory drink and dinner was next, followed by an after-dinner talk from Gervase Phinn which amused and entertained us all.
Out on deck later I was so glad of lots of warm clothing, but the sights and sounds all around us were mesmerising. One of the young assistant restaurant waiters standing nearby was so excited as he talked about his plans for the free time he had tomorrow, so we wished him well for the day. We were all excited about our plans!
Ships seen: Cymbeline, Wilhelmine, Princess Pocahontus, Grande Abidjan, tug Svitzer London, Svitzer Laceby of Grimsby, Cemil Bayulgen, James Newman, John Burns, Ernest Bevin, Cutty Sark, HMS President, HMS Belfast, and various River Thames pleasure craft
To be continued...