10 Interesting facts about the River Thames

2 Feb 2021 Thames River Sightseeing

Tower Bridge

Interesting facts about the Thames

The history of the River Thames has always been very fascinating and there are a lot of wonderful and interesting facts that you probably didn’t know. Here are our top 10 curious facts about the Thames. Check them out!

Did you know that the River Thames…

1 …is one of the cleanest rivers in the world that flows through a major city?

This is an amazing achievement, considering that 60 years ago nothing could survive in the Thames, and in fact it was declared biologically dead by the Natural History Museum in 1957. This epic recovery was due to many factors, but the most important change was the improvement of London’s sewage system in the late 60s. The cleaning up is an ongoing process, and the current biggest risk is plastic waste.

2 …is home to about 125 fish species? 

Today you can find in the Thames 125 species of fish, such as shads, salmon and eels. Also, don’t be surprised if you see seals and porpoises, and even a northern bottlenose whale was spotted in it once in 2006.

3 …used to host Frost Fairs on its surface?

A long time ago, the River Thames used to often freeze in winter, and between 1608 and 1814, Londoners used to take advantage of this by holding Frost Fairs on its surface. So this was their Winter Wonderland with market stalls selling food and drinks and many different activities like football, dancing, horse racing as well as ice skating. Even on one occasion, believe it or not, an elephant was led across the frozen Thames just below Blackfriars Bridge!

Thames Frost Fair, 1683–84, by Thomas Wyke

Thames Frost Fair, 1683–84, by Thomas Wyke

4 …is the longest river in England?

The River Thames is 215 miles (346 km) long, and is split into two sections, tidal and non-tidal. The tidal part, which is affected by the North Sea’s tides, runs for 68 miles (109 km) from the mouth of the river to Teddington Lock in west London. And the non-tidal section is 147 miles (237 km) long from Teddigton Lock to the source of the river in the north of Kemble, a village in Gloucesterhire.

5 …provides 2/3 of London’s drinking water?

Even though it is a murky brown colour, after being treated and filtered, around 2/3 of the capital’s drinking water comes from there. So if you live in London, you have probably drunk some Thames water. 

6 …hosts the oldest boat race in the world?

This unique contest is the race for Doggett’s Coat and Badge, the oldest rowing competition since 1715 contested by watermen and lightermen. For the second time in more than 300 years of its history, the 2020 race had to be postponed to 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Thames Watermen on Thomas Doggett boat

Thames Watermen on Thomas Doggett boat

7 …is crossed by over 200 bridges?

From small wooden footbridges on the Upper Thames to grand structures like the spectacular Tower Bridge, they make a total of over 200 crossings along the Thames.

8 …was the pool of a polar bear?

In 1251, King Henry III was given an incredible present by the King of Norway, nothing less than a polar bear! This was kept at the Tower of London, and on hot days used to go for a swim in the river Thames.

9 …has the longest river walk in Europe?

Indeed. The Thames Path is a National Trail of about 184 miles (296 km) long, and it goes from its source in Gloucestershire to the Thames Barrier making it the longest river side walk in Europe.

10 …has the second largest flood barrier in the world?

The Thames Barrier, built in 1982, is London principal defence against flooding in the event of exceptionally high tidal surges. It is the second largest flood barrier in the world, after Oosterscheldekering Barrier in the Netherlands. Don’t miss the opportunity to see this incredible feat of engineering from our river cruise during the summer months.

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