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Did you know that London’s great river has an annual festival, now in its 23rd year? Totally Thames Festival runs throughout September, and sees live events, installations, walks, talks and other activities all themed around the waterway. You can even go paddleboarding.
The River Thames has seen it all. Formed after the last ice age, it has witnessed the Roman invasion, the birth and growth of London, wars, recessions, plagues; Shakespeare, Dickens, Queen Victoria. It flows on through the age of coronavirus, and will continue to meander through the capital for eons yet. The annual festival reflects this rich, storied history with one of the most imaginative and diverse events programmes around.
This year is, of course, a little different. Events that might have seen large numbers of people come together are nowhere to be seen. There’s a stronger emphasis on online events, with dozens of films, virtual tours and online exclusives. But that doesn’t mean the festival is lacking in ‘real world’ stuff for your family to enjoy, either.
If you can get down to Bankside, by Tate Modern, then the first thing you’ll see is a display of children’s artwork. Created during lockdown, the Rivers of the World exhibition carries contributions from children of the UK as well as Ethiopia, Sudan, Morocco, Tanzania, Lebanon and India -- all with a riverine theme.
Perhaps your family is more adventurous. Perhaps you’d like to actually get into the water? Join Thames Tidefest on 6 of September for a chance to paddleboard, kayak, canoe or simply go dipping for wildlife. Events are either free or low cost, and take place in Strand-on-the-Green near Kew. Look out too for a family boat trip along the Thames themed around the legacy of Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
Back on dry land, you could take a guided walk in the footsteps of the Pilgrim Fathers, whose famous ship The Mayflower departed from Rotherhithe exactly 400 years ago, or else join archaeologists on a wander along the foreshore.
One rare opportunity is a chance to descend into the dry dock that surrounds the Golden Hinde. The replica of Sir Francis Drake’s galleon is currently undergoing repairs. Small tour groups can get up close to the timbers.
The festival’s website also includes plenty of virtual events, art exhibitions, videos and other features to explore the river. You can also download walks, such as a route map to follow the buried River Fleet.
Take a look at the Totally Thames website and book your family into some of these unique events.
Although originally from the Midlands, and trained as a biochemist, Matt has somehow found himself writing about London for a living. He's a former editor and long-time contributor to Londonist.com and has written several books about the capital. He's also the father of two preschoolers.