Ok, the idea sounded deeply enticing from the very start: some lovely gardens afloat on a group of miscellaneous houseboats and barges on the river Thames, and only just downstream from Tower Bridge. Ok too, it was a cold and blustery day with the threat of serious rain, not that that usually deters garden enthusiasts, but the cakes-and-tea folk don’t usually care for bad weather. We were expecting surprise, but not, as we were, to be totally bowled over.
The moorings, officially Tower Bridge Moorings, are offshore from a dense assortment of warehouses now all of them converted into cramped looking apartments, whose courtyards too often house cars rather than vegetation. Once free of those, then out over the water on a wonky bridge swaying with the waves. And then it becomes clear: an untidy array of barges, ketches, some restored, some very much not so, but all moored to a grid of seven huge barges gloriously planted. Box hedges, arbours complete with lanterns and dining tables, fruit trees, banks of roses, standard wisterias, golden leafed robinias, medlars, clumps of herbs, opium poppies, three beehives, new zealand flaxes and more and more and more. Beneath the vegetation, the skylights for the studios, workrooms, offices below. Totally wonderful.
The garden barges are connected with rickety steps, and through all the foliage, views of nearby Tower Bridge, the Tower itself, and, of course, the endless developments of apartments for the unecessarily rich. And everywhere the sound of the river, of ropes taughtening, creaking, somwhere where the river is infinitely more real that it can ever be for those who can only watch it from glass balconies.
Not all the bargees themselves are entirely converted to gardening, and one or two barges have nothing more than a pot of derelict agapantus, or a geranium in a window. Some go in for rows of colourful ‘bedders’, but why not? With such stylish abundance all around, to compete is tough.
There must, I suppose, be disadvantages to life there. There is a barge devoted to the parking of bikes. Commercial car parks nearby are woundingly expensive. We wondered, too, how it would be transporting the week’s groceries at any time, let alone on a wild winter night. Supermarket deliveries must be well and truly out. And there would be logs for the stove, the powers of decay to defeat… And yet… It must, for at least some of the time, to be totally wonderful.
Though opening to the public must be a major inconvenience, there is a two day opening later this June. Even if the rain sweeps in, go. The gardens will be great, the baking delicious – on a canopied barge with seriously good views.
There is a great deal of info on the web, provided by numerous websites. Most of them will be found after a search for http://www.towerbridgemoorings.org, or even just ‘tower bridge mooring’. At least one barge can be rented, and another offers a room for rent.