Lonely Planet review
The sci-fi–looking Thames Barrier is in place to protect London from flooding and, with global warming increasing the city’s vulnerability to rising sea levels and surge tides, the barrier is likely to be of growing importance in coming years. Under construction for a decade and completed in 1982, the barrier consists of 10 movable gates anchored to nine concrete piers, each as tall as a five-storey building. The silver roofs on the piers house the operating machinery to raise and lower the gates against excess water. They make a surreal sight, straddling the river in the lee of a giant warehouse. The reason why London needs such a flood barrier is that the water level has been rising by as much as 60cm per century, while the river itself has been narrowing; in Roman times it was probably around 800m wide at the site of today’s London Bridge while now it’s barely 250m, with constant pressure to develop the foreshores. The Thames tide rises and falls quite harmlessly twice a day, and once a fortnight there’s also a stronger ‘spring’ tide. The danger comes when the spring tide coincides with an unexpected surge, which pushes tons of extra water upriver. The barrier has been built to prevent that water pouring over the riverbanks and flooding nearby houses. Today environmentalists are already talking about a bigger, wider damming mechanism further towards the mouth of the river, before the current barrier comes to the expected end of its design life in 2030. The barrier looks best when it’s raised, and the only guaranteed time this happens is once a month, when the mechanisms are checked. For exact dates and times, ring or check the website of the Thames Barrier Information Centre . If you’re coming from central London, take a train to Charlton from Charing Cross or London Bridge. Then walk along Woolwich Rd to Eastmoor St, which leads northward to the centre. If you’re coming from Greenwich, you can pick up bus 177 or 180 along Romney Rd and get off at the Thames Barrier stop (near Holborn College on Woolwich Rd). The closest tube station is North Greenwich, from where you can pick up bus 472 or 161. Boats also travel to and from the barrier, although they don’t land here.