London walks: Thames river pirates

A merry two-hour ramble from Canary Wharf to Monument

Canary Wharf river Canary Wharf river - © Heloise Bergman

By Simon Rodway, who leads the ‘Thames River Pirates’ walking tour for Silver Cane (

Duration 2.5 hours

Exit Canary Wharf station (S) into the world of high finance, housed in a mountain range of iconic glass towers. Walk to the river at Westferry and turn right for Limehouse. On your right lies Lime Kiln Wharf (1), as romantic an inlet of old Dickensian riverscape as you could hope for this side of a prison hulk. Walk out on to Narrow Street and head west. Jane Ackroyd's wonderful 'Herring Gull' sculpture calls across to the Dickensian Grapes tavern (2). Gordon Ramsay has his gastropub The Narrow (3) at the mouth of Limehouse Basin, at the London end of the Grand Union Canal.

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Free Trade Wharf

The yuppie riverside frontages are hard to ignore, but some of the architecture is exemplary. Watch out for narrow dank stairs leading down to the water: throughout the nineteenth century millions of hopefuls left from here, bound for the US, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand – part of one of the biggest mass migrations in history. Ahead looms the 1970s red-brick mass of Free Trade Wharf (4), next to what remains of Gun Powder Dock, from where the East India Company dispatched its army to police the subcontinent. Look back for a spectacular view of the Canary Wharf towers, aglow in the sunset on a good evening.

Tobacco Dock

Carry on through King Edward VII Memorial Park (5) and turn left into Wapping. Have a break and a beer in the famed Prospect of Whitby pub (6) - check out the noose over the river at the back of the public bar. Carry on up Wapping Wall to Wapping Lane. On this lane lies the beautiful St Peter’s London Docks (from the 1850s) and Tobacco Dock (7) complete with two replica pirate ships. But if it’s real pirates you’re after, carry on up ‘The Wall’ to the Captain Kidd pub (8), a former boat repair yard but more or less on the site of the infamous Execution Dock where pirates like Kidd met their fate as a cheering crowd of London ghouls looked on.

St Katherine Docks

Ahead lies the entrance to London Docks, where you recover the Thames Path and enjoy another great river view, Tower Bridge seen from the east with Norman Foster’s City Hall and HMS Belfast beyond. Finally, through St Katharine Docks (9) to the Tower of London and time for a foaming pint of London Pride at the Hung Drawn and Quartered (E) on Tower Hill. It’s a short walk along Great Tower Street and then Eastcheap to get back to Monument tube.