As I mentioned in my previous post, I decided to take an extended lunch break this week to see the Swan Uppers passing through my home town - enjoying some of the delights of the river along the way.
What on Earth is Swan Upping, you ask?
It's a historic ceremony, hundreds of years old, where the Queen's Swan Marker and the
Royal Swan Uppers row down the Thames to conduct an annual census of the
swan population - crying "All-Up!" when a family of swans is located. The Royal Swan Uppers wear traditional red uniforms, row traditional
wooden boats, and (as they pass Windsor Castle) stand to attention and
salute "Her Majesty The Queen, Seigneur of the Swans".
I love quirky traditions like this! I unfortunately missed seeing the Swan Uppers last year (I was too busy working towards a deadline to take the time off) so I was determined to see them this year as they passed through Boulters Lock.
As the scheduled arrival time approached, the sides of the lock began to get crowded as people showed up to watch. From snippets of conversations I overheard it seems some people come back every year to see the Swan Uppers and others follow them along their route up the Thames. How nice!
Just past 1pm the first boats came into view. The Royal Swan Uppers (in red) and Swan Uppers from the Vintners’ and
Dyers’ livery companies (white and blue) rowing in traditional wooden
skiffs, with support boats behind.
The Worshipful Company of Vintners and the Worshipful Company of Dyers are two of the only three bodies with rights to own swans apart from the Crown. The Companies' swans are marked with leg rings and the Crown's swans are left unmarked. Together, the livery companies and the Crown maintain the tradition of Swan Upping in the third week of July each year.
Many years ago swans were valuable as food to be served at
banquets and feasts, but these days swans are no longer eaten and the emphasis is on conservation and
education. The Queen's Swan Warden examines the birds for disease or
injury, cygnets are weighed and measured and the swan population is thus
recorded. The Uppers meet with school groups along the route, teaching
children about the history of Swan Upping and how they can help protect
the river and its wildlife.
The boats waited for the lock to open, then made their way through the gate...
... and into the lock. Check out the Queen's initials on the oars in the Royal boat and the swan feather in the Queen's Swan Marker's cap!
The support boats fly special flags so the lock keepers can easily identify them. I loved the swan vases filled with flowers on the top of each boat.
We all had plenty of time to admire the boats and the flags as the crews waited for the water level to adjust.
Then the lock gates opened and they were off again!
Next stop: Cookham Bridge (immortalised in Stanley Spencer's famous Swan Upping -inspired painting).
My next stop? Home and my work To Do list... via a leisurely stroll back along the river, of course.
P.S. Can you spot me in these photos from the day? (Tip: I was wearing a floppy black hat!)
If you're interested you can read more about Swan Upping and watch a video of the Swan Uppers in action here.