Wednesday, 1 April 2009

The Times of the Tidal Thames

As Spring approaches the Thames plays an ever more important role in the down time between each frenetic day at University. We're very lucky to have it on our doorstep, just two minutes across Cross Deep takes you into the willow tree lined Radnor Gardens, where you can sit, chat, revise and watch the slow progress of the river as it heads into town . The Thames isn't just the life line that keeps London going, at stressful moments it can provide a welcome place of calm.

Sunday was the boat race and a big party. The weather was perfect so I walked with Carolina from Twickenham, past Richmond , Kew, Chiswick and on into Barnes, where the view opens up and makes you feel as if you're by the seaside.

We met up with Paul, our theatre technician, and some of his friends in The Sun. It was a great day - expectation, sweep stakes, barbecue, news of the early stages of the race on a fuzzy transistor radio and then legging up to the river side to catch the crews power by on the final leg. Oxford well in front to my great delight. Afterwards celebration and dancing.

Last night a very different river. By the Doggetts pub on the South Bank are some old stone steps that lead down to the water. You used to be able to take your drink down them, sit in secrecy, letting the water lap your feet. A few years ago they put a big metal barred gate up to stop this dangerous activity. As my friend Emma and I walked along towards London Bridge we passed the gate and pushed it in protest, sure it would be tightly chained. To my surprise somebody had forgotten or couldn't be bothered to lock it and it swung open.

It was low tide so we clambered down onto the clay, shingle and debris of the unmasked river bed and walked for about a mile passing underneath the high concrete defences of Bankside under Blackfriars, Millennium and Southwark Bridges. Past the Tate and The Globe. It's a darker, forgotten world down amongst the mudlarks, remnants of old Victorian jetties, landing stages, the foundations of storehouses and custom posts, a history that reveals itself twice a day as the tide pulls out but only to those brave or stupid enough to risk the slippery stones and unknown revelations. It was a magical, surreal walk through a hidden past. We finally surfaced by climbing a ladder set into the wall at The Anchor.

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