Watch the Thames Barrier Annual Closure

The Thames Barrier is the linchpin of London’s flood defence system, and once a year, you can watch the modern marvel at work at the annual test closure.

Thames Barrier Test Closure 2017

Thames Barrier Test Closure 2017

Thames Barrier Test Closure 2017

Thames Barrier Test Closure 2017

London Thing 786 of 1000: Visit the Thames Barrier.

For something that doesn’t get shouted about, it’s actually pretty monumental. The Thames Barrier is one of the biggest movable flood barriers in the world, and it protects London from storm surges that otherwise would wreak havoc upstream.

The barrier stretches half a kilometre across the Thames, with glinting silver structures that look like sails interspersed with 10 steel gates. To protect London from flooding, these gates are raised so that they are as tall as a five-storey building to keep the water out.

Thames Barrier Test Closure 2017

What am I getting myself into?

Once a year, the gates of the Thames Barrier are tested during a high spring tide, usually in September or October. The area around the Thames Barrier Information Centre is turned into an environmental funfair of sorts, with information booths and historic photos for the adults and games and cheesy dressed-up mascots for kids.

The gates lie on the riverbed and then slowly emerge from the water.

Thames Barrier Test Closure 2017

Thames Barrier Test Closure 2017

Each gate can be closed in 10 minutes, but the test closure is a slow process that takes more than an hour and a half, but seeing the whole thing in place is pretty impressive.

Thames Barrier Test Closure 2017

Thames Barrier Test Closure 2017

The best place to stand to watch the action is along the river east of the information centre, but this is primo nerd real estate, so get there early. If you’re too late to get a waterside spot, there are a few decent viewpoints west of the information centre, but the gates look less dramatic from that side because you’re further away.

Thames Barrier Test Closure 2017

Thames Barrier Test Closure 2017

Anything nearby to do when I’m done?

In a word: nope, unless you like hanging out around industrial estates. But the number of families who decided to make a day of it and pack a full picnic basket, blanket and flasks of tea was actually astounding, and it’s possibly one of the most British things I’ve ever seen. Fantastic.

Sections of the Capital Ring and Green Chain Walk pass by the Thames Barrier, as well as (obviously) the Thames Path. The Thames Barrier is a trek from any station you arrive at, but there is a bus stop on the main road.

See: Thames Barrier,1 Unity Way, London, SE18 5NJ. Tube North Greenwich or DLR Woolwich Arsenal and then bus.

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