Terrible news this morning about the death of a worker at the Woolwich Ferry. I’ve always enjoyed crossing by the ferry – the best journeys aren’t necessarily the quickest, and it’s always a pleasure to take in the view as the vessel crosses the Thames. I’m not sure the lorry drivers who have to queue to use it would agree, but you see a different side to the ferry on foot. The boats have always fascinated me, with their closed-off downstairs compartments hinting at busier times in the past, when the docks were open and Woolwich had industry.
Arriving at North Woolwich, strolling off the boat with the traffic clanking along the ramp, has always felt like crossing a border into a different country. It feels like it should be a location for espionage, instead of a corner to pass through as quickly as possible heading for somewhere else.
If Ken Livingstone had got his way, and the Thames Gateway Bridge was built, the ferry would have ceased running by 2013. But it’s difficult to imagine Woolwich without its big boats crossing the Thames.
I’ve enjoyed crossing even more since I got the bike. Cycles can go on first, ahead of the traffic, and there’s a childish glee in racing up and down the ramp before everybody else. (I’ll deal with the lethal road on the north side another time.) But part of what makes it such a good way to travel is the ferry staff, who are always friendly, and seem a close-knit bunch. Many of those who work on the river have come from families who have done it for generations. At this time of year, just about every time I cross, I reflect that it must be a good job on the ferry. I’m not as envious in the middle of winter.
But today’s awful news is a reminder that life on the ferry has its dangers too, and many regulars will have the crews in their thoughts today. We owe them our thanks for maintaining one of London’s few pleasurable, and despite recent problems, reliable, transport links.