My three daughters and I love nothing more than a day in London. No trip is ever the same with so many activities and sights on offer. The journey there or home, however, can be the most testing part of the day. Over-tired children, sticky from a day exploring London and its many culinary delights, and suited, booted and stressed commuters, can be an explosive combination. For everyone’s sanity I try to avoid travelling to or from London during peak travel hours. However, we made a discovery on Friday… a solution to rush hour travel with children, in the form of an MBNA Thames Clipper and getting to Battersea by Boat!
We left our south-west London home early on Friday morning and on jumped on the 9am train to waterloo. I probably owe an apology to several commuters for having their morning silence broken my excited children. Once we reached waterloo we took a short stroll across the Hungerford pedestrian bridge spotting London’s famous landmarks along the way including St Paul’s, the Shard and the London Eye to reach Embankment Pier.
I had run my finger along the lines of a paper timetable the night before, which felt far cry from the usual travel planning websites and apps we are used to in London, so I was relieved to see the pier had familiar real-time ‘count-down’ information, maps, route numbers, and even accept pay-as-you-go Oyster cards. However, the river service also had the advantage of several staff who were able to greet us, direct us to the enclosed waiting area, and personally ensure we got on the correct boat. The ‘floating platform’ and staff with life jackets and ropes added excitement for the children.
Our boat arrived on time and I was pleasantly surprised by the space on board, wishing I had risked an even earlier start so we could have taken the 42-minute ride from embankment to Greenwich, rather than our 18-minute hop west to Battersea Pier. We sat at a table for four by the window and next to the well-stocked cafe. The girls spotted the much coveted ‘children packed lunches’, but having just had breakfast they managed to resist. Instead the crew presented them with colouring pencils and engaging activity books which are freely available on board during school holidays. The boat was easily access, even with three small children and a giant bugaboo, and I understand that there are toilets baby changing facilities on most boats. The boat glided past the house of commons on the way to Battersea as we appreciated the uniqueness of the view from the river.
We arrived in Battersea, and took in the sight of the rapidly changing power station. The chimneys, which only 35 years ago were belching smoke out across London, now provide iconic backdrop for a host of sleek new apartments. To help the new community thrive, a village hall space and pop-ups area has been provided on the riverside, within the arches of Chelsea Bridge. This included a play-space with foam building/climbing blocks, table football, and a free craft pop-up running throughout the school holidays. On the day we visited the children were decorating flower pots and planting lavender to take home with them. The girls were absolutely delighted as they were provided with their flower pots and an seemingly endless supply of shiny stickers to decorate them with. They spent half an hour carefully adorning their pots and then were shown how to mix a very special soil to nourish their lavender, which they potted with untypical care. We were told how to care for the tiny hidcote lavenders (no pressure) and they the girls very proudly left with their new lavender (now 1 week old!). We will definitely try to return for the miniature Garden workshop popping up at May half term.
After our creative hour, the girls and I enjoyed a delicious lunch at no. 29 restaurant, whose interior reflected the art deco age of the original power station, built in 1925. The children’s menu had a delightful selection, of burgers, macaroni cheese and fish fingers and hand-cut chips, followed by ice cream sundaes or a rather delicious fruit cup. Despite being a Friday lunchtime, the restaurant was calm and relaxed and clients varied from business lunches to breastfeeding mothers, and my very own three small children. The food and service were spot on, and the whole meal remarkably relaxing.
After lunch we pottered down the river path for a few minutes to the much-loved Battersea zoo. The older children threw themselves into the Easter bunny hunt challenge, as my two-year old was transfixed by the snake in the mouse house and raced up and down the tunnel to the meerkat enclosure. The compact size of the zoo means you can wonder between the playground and favourite animal enclosures easily.
I thought I would meet some resistance when I told the girls we were heading home, but they raced towards the pier. Our boat from Battersea wasn’t quite as new and shiny as the one we got from Embankment to Battersea, and sadly did not have a cafe. But there was still lots of space, and a lovely view from the window as we raced west along the Thames towards Putney and happy commuters sipped gin and tonics and started planning their weekends. And best of all, no one batted an eyelid at the presence of three over-tired girls clutching armfuls of souvenir toys from the zoo.
I would highly recommend planning a day trip to London around a Thames Clipper route. So many of London top attractions are within a few minutes-walk from a pier, and you are guaranteed an exhilarating view, comfortable surroundings, and no delays due to congestion. Why not make your journey part of the day-out itself. We are hoping to repeat our adventure in the summer when we should be able to take a boat (or two) all the way from our home in Teddington.
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