Totally Thames – celebrating London's river

Racing boats approach Tower Bridge on the River Thames in London during the Great River RaceThe River Thames has always played a central role in the life of the capital, from London’s founding right through to the present day. From trading and shipbuilding through to transport, defence and leisure, there are few aspects of London’s development that have not centred in some way on this winding body of water.

Totally Thames (the rebrand of the former Thames Festival) celebrates London’s river, its ecology and history in a month-long festival of river-themed events. Held from 1st to 30th September, the 2014 festival includes everything from races and regattas to live gigs, fireworks, art exhibitions, educational talks, archaeology and more – plus the appearance of a giant floating hippo sculpture by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman, previously best-known for creating a massive inflatable rubber duck.

Here are a few more highlights of Totally Thames 2014 to watch out for:

Royal Greenwich Tall Ships Festival

Over 50 tall ships will visit the historic borough of Royal Greenwich over the course of this five-day festival (Friday 5th to Tuesday 9th September), which will feature live music, fireworks and other entertainment, as well as the opportunity to board many of the tall ships moored along the banks of the river. The opening extravaganza will include an impressive underwater spectacle – complete with illuminated fish – staged by Catalan street performers Sarruga in a giant aquarium in the grounds of the Royal Naval College, while the grand finale is a stunning Parade of Sail as the fleet makes its way from Greenwich down to the mouth of the river.

Totally Thames Archaeological Walks

Get a close-up look at the fascinating history of the Thames with this series of guided archaeological walks taking place each day from 6th to 15th September. Each walk meets at a different point along the water and explores varying facets of the river’s past, from prehistoric and Roman settlements through to Anglo-Saxon burials, medieval shipbuilding, Tudor trade and Victorian development. It’s a unique opportunity to don your wellies and glimpse some astonishing remnants of a bygone age.

Sand sculpture to celebrate the history of the Thames during London's Thames FestivalClassic Boat Rally at St. Katharine Docks

Step aboard an impressive array of classic and historic vessels and modern working boats at this family-friendly event at the famous St. Katharine Docks (Saturday 14th to Sunday 15th September). The Classic Boat Rally features free tours of the docks and boats – including the Massey Shaw fire boat and the Queens Row Barge Gloriana, amongst others – plus live music and refreshments in the marina’s restaurants and bars. You can also catch a film on UP Projects’ Floating Cinema, or take to the waves yourself with activities from Active 360 and Moo Canoes.

Handel’s Fireworks Music and Illuminations

Hampton Court Palace will host what is sure to be a spectacular outdoor performance of Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks. Performed by the 30-piece Arcangelo orchestra in a romantic riverside garden in the palace grounds, the music will be followed by an authentic Georgian fireworks display, making this a must-see event for lovers of history and classical music.

The Great River Race

On Saturday 27th September, watch over 300 traditional boats race along a section of the Thames from Millwall to Ham in an event that has been called London’s river marathon. Crews from around the world will compete for the title of UK Traditional Boat Champions in vessels that range from shallops and wherries to Viking longboats and Greek galleys, while others take part for fun or to raise money for charity. It’s an exciting and colourful event that is sure to keep the whole family entertained.

Visit the Totally Thames website for more information on the full programme of events, and in keeping with the river theme, consider staying at The Tower Hotel or The Royal Horseguards Hotel, both of which feature fabulous views of the Thames and are near to many festival events.

(Images: AndyRobertsPhotos and SPakhrin, both on Flickr CC)

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