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It may not be the longest river in Europe or even in the United Kingdom — the River Severn tops the 215-mile Thames by five miles — but few rivers speak to Britain like the River Thames.

It’s a national symbol the way the Mississippi is to the United States or the Amazon is to Brazil.

But the river comes from very humble beginnings. Literally.

The river originates from little more than a brook outside the village of Cirencester in the west of England. It widens and gains current strength as it flows southeast toward London and ultimately past Southend-on-Sea into the Thames Estuary and finally the North Sea.

However, it’s fair to note that archaeologists contend the Thames is really an ancient tributary to the Rhine River in Germany from a prehistoric period when England was not an island but attached to mainland Europe, according to a Web site ( dedicated to the river and managed by The River Thames Guide Ltd.

The river has been a transportation artery since the Roman era and was especially important during the Dark Ages. Today the river remains a key transportation hub, although much of the ship traffic now stops at the London docks in Tilbury, according to the Web site.

While the Westminster Bridge leading up to Big Ben and the picturesque Tower Bridge draw acclaim for their aesthetics, the Thames is crossed by dozens of bridges from the Cotswolds to Essex. It also contains more than three dozen locks for shipping.

The river at one point was so polluted in London that nearly all aquatic life had ceased, but revitalization efforts in the past 100 years have brought a diverse biological community back to England’s favorite river, according to

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