Colin Crosby Heritage Tours

Cruising the Blackwater on a Thames Barge

I was able to enjoy a cruise recently on one of the reconstructed Thames barges.

The cruise was in conjunction with a Coach Trip organised by Woods Coaches of Leicester. I enjoy going on other people’s trips sometimes – it’s a way of seeing nice places without having any responsibility!

The coach took us to Maldon, that wonderful town with the salty air in Essex. Maldon is one of my favourite small towns anywhere, and I was very happy to have a stroll around until it was time to get on the barge.

The Thames barges were quite large boats with sails, but with a very shallow draught, so that they were able to sail up quite small creeks, which of course abound around the Essex marshes.

They spent most of their time on the Thames Estuary and the many estuaries and islands along the Essex coast, sometimes going a bit further afield to Kent or Suffolk. They were even known on occasion to venture up the East Coast as far as Newcastle.

They tended to bring agricultural produce from Essex to London, and on the return journey down the River Thames would bring manure from London’s horses.

Today a number have been restored, and Maldon holds regular Barge Races.

We got on the barge at the Hythe, Maldon’s wonderful quayside close to the much loved Promenade Park, for a two hour cruise halfway down the estuary and back. It was great.

The only trouble was identified by several people, who pointed out to me that there was no commentary. I realised that, but I could not take it upon myself to provide one.

One man asked me “What river is this?” I told him it was the Blackwater, but it’s a fairly basic thing to tell visitors, I would have thought.

We passed Northey Island, scene of the famous Battle of Maldon in 991, and Osea Island, bought by a member of the Charrington brewery family as a recuperation centre for alcoholics, having been horrified by the effects of the family business. We saw Bradwell Power Station looming in the distance, where the Blackwater joins the North Sea. But none of this was mentioned.

When we got back on the coach, one lady asked me “Was that the River Thames, then?”

After the cruise, those of us who found it visited the very interesting heritage centre, on board a moored barge.

It was marvellous to visit Maldon again, and doubly marvellous to be able to breathe in the sea air.

If you would like to be shown around the lovely little town of Maldon, I am leading Guided Walks there before too long.

If you live in Essex, you could go on the Guided Walk on Saturday 9th September, starting at 1pm.

And if you live in the Leicester area, you could go on the Coach Trip to Maldon, which will include a Guided Walk, on Saturday 26th May next year.

You can book places on either of these as soon as you like.