The charming 500-year-old River Thames ferry that appears in a famous sci-fi novel

Shepperton Ferry crossing the river Thames
-Credit: (Image: Rick Hall / Geograph, CC)

Crossing the River Thames has never been an easy feat, with far fewer river crossings in London than you might expect. With the contentious Silvertown Tunnel project in progress and a slew of proposals still under consideration - including a new road bridge across the Thames Estuary, a footbridge or ferry at Rotherhithe, and additional 'water taxi'/riverbus services - we're left dreaming of a simpler solution to connect North and South London.

While crossing the mighty River Thames baffles transport planners in the city, just outside the hustle and bustle of London, the river presents a much calmer scene. Here, the Thames isn't affected by tides and is considerably narrower, making crossing from one side to the other far less complicated.

A simplistic Thames-crossing solution is still being used at Shepperton, located just four miles from the Greater London/Surrey border at Hampton. For 500 years, a small ferry catering to a few pedestrians or cyclists has provided a link between the two riverbanks.

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Shepperton ferry entrance
The peaceful ferry was the site of an alien attack in H.G. Wells' novel The War of the Worlds -Credit:Mertbiol / CC

Currently operated by Nauticalia, the ferry runs every 15 minutes between Shepperton Landing on the north bank and Weybridge Landing on the south bank during daylight hours, with the last boats around 5pm in winter and 6pm in summer.

It's a simple system - if a boat hasn't arrived within 15 minutes, passengers ring a bell, prompting the boat to cross over from the opposite side to pick them up. The river here is quiet and narrow enough for the ferryperson to hear the bell across the water.

The historic ferry service that links the Surrey towns of Shepperton and Weybridge has always been a necessity, providing a direct route and avoiding the roundabout journey via Walton Bridge at Walton-on-Thames. The ferry also boasts aesthetic charm with a riverside coffee shop and mezzanine on the Shepperton side, offering stunning views.

It even features in HG Wells' 1898 novel 'The War of the Worlds', where it is the scene of a dramatic alien attack.

For those trekking the Thames Path, the ferry provides an essential link. Without it, they would be forced to take a lengthy detour along the Wey Navigation - a complex network of junctions, locks and islands starting just west of the ferry landing on the south bank.

On the north side, the river winds its way towards Shepperton, making the ferry a time-saving option for those travelling north-south through the Home Counties on foot or by bike. Like its counterparts further along the river, such as those at Tilbury and Rotherhithe, the ferry isn't free. An adult single ticket costs £3, or £4 if you're bringing a bike.

Children can travel for half price, and there's a weekly ticket available for regular users. Despite plans surfacing in the 1960s to replace the ferry with a footbridge, this historic passenger service continues to operate in this picturesque corner of Surrey suburbia.

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