Saturday, 14 July 2012


Eight years ago on the solstice, my beloved and I found the Thames Path by accident. It was a rare perfect summer's day, and the sunshine compelled us to go outside and just keep walking.

From little acorns. 
We lived in a neighbourhood of Oxford called Jericho, on the Thames. We walked to Port Meadow, an ancient common, and followed the river to the Perch pub and then on to the Trout. We picked daises at Godstow Abbey, as far as we'd ever come before. Then, feeling childishly curious, we slipped through the old wooden kissing gate beyond and just kept going.

What we found was a charming sheep-infested landscape of towering electricity pylons and picture-perfect parish churches. We discovered narrow boats and locks like delighted toddlers finding ice cream for the first time. A timid affection was born in us that day for the little island that had up to that point only managed to impoverish us and piss rain on our heads.

Bridge over the river Frump. 
We met a rambler who explained that we were actually on a well-established path stretching 180 miles from the source of the Thames in a muddy Cotswolds field to the Thames Barrier beyond Greenwich. This was news to us because we'd never even heard of rambling before.

We asked a lock keeper how to find a bus. He laughed and pointed out in charming local dialect that Oxfordshire on a Sunday was "basically total BFE". So we walked all the way home, only arriving at dusk. For some reason our resulting blisters convinced us that this Thames Path business would make a great summer hobby.

Table for two for ten. 
We did it in day chunks, taking the train to the start of the next section of walk, and then home again (avoiding BFE Sundays). We watched the river bloom from small to mighty, tracing a ancient journey through green hills and pleasant valleys. Eventually trains got too expensive and grown-up duties called, so we skipped the end bit from Hampton Court to the Thames Barrier. We returned to the tedious grown-up landscape - a place that transcends national boundaries - and forgot about the Thames for some time.

But this summer, on our tenth wedding anniversary and exactly eight years after that sunny Jericho afternoon, my beloved and I set out to finish the Thames path from where we left off.

Though we are seasoned islanders now, we made new discoveries this time too. We discovered that Chiswick is covered in wiry rowing boys, like the rivers of my childhoods were covered in water spiders. We noticed that some of the lesser-known London bridges look like Victorian wedding cakes designed by three-year olds. We witnessed a Tower of Babel rising over Southark, and confirmed that the Millenium Dome is in fact the ugliest single thing that humanity has ever built (including Las Vegas).

Best of all, we reacquainted ourselves with the quintessential ramblers beverage: ale shandy.

Time and tide. 
There are so many wonderful statues on the Thames Path, like one at Rotherhithe, where the pilgrims departed for America. It is a statue of a pilgrim papa showing his boy a book about America, and the future. The pages show cowboys, space shuttles, cars, and in one instance: a cowboy riding a space shuttle. We left a penny in the papa's pocket for good luck. Pilgrims like us can always use some luck.

It took a relatively brief time to walk through central London, as compared to much longer jaunts through the home counties and the docklands. I find it odd to consider that such a dominant stretch of the cultural landscape is physically dwarfed by Sloughs and Mudshoots. 

Wherever you is, that's where you are.
When we made it to the barrier, we recounted our journey down the river - all the places we'd been to over the years. We found a giant plaque of the Thames on a wall, with all the towns along it marked out. We traced paths to our friends homes, recounting the best pubs and the sunniest afternoons. We picked out both the idyllic and the hideous from the landscape (sometimes one and the same), and remembered all the places where we'd been rained on (this took some time).

We put it on video for the kids. They will never see it with our eyes, nor will we see their discoveries with ours. But I try to leave them stories scattered here and there, like this blog for instance, which turns two today.

At the end, my beloved and I felt rather like Odysseus returning home from sea. We smiled like high fructose corn syrup breakfast champions, and strode into the guest centre at the Thames Barrier.

Here we found a lonely lady in a tea shop. We were the only ones through that day, she said, what with the bus strike an' all. She coughed  and made us tea. We tried to figure out how the heck to get home, having unexpectedly looped back to total BFE.

Crossing the bar.
It was a fitting end to the adventure of a decade on a rainy island, where there have been brief flashes of mighty London, and long desolate stretches of Slough.

Endings involve an inevitable element of sadness. But I reckon they are good for the soul, because endings are a reminder that life is a verb, and it is rapidly lifing past the window.

Best drink those ale shandies now.


  1. this is the single most romantic thing i have read in quite some time...thank you!

  2. What a lovely comment, thank you :)

  3. Half your posts make me laugh and the other half make me cry... I wish I saw the world through your eyes.
    And happy second birthday!

  4. How kind, thank you! I reckon two will be better than one - more tantrums, but less spoon feeding ;)

  5. Amazing story, Rachel, thanks for sharing.

  6. Amazing story, Rachel, thanks for sharing.

  7. So romantic. What a lovely story. Happy birthday to your wonderful blog. I don't know why I am sad that you are leaving, as I am not there, but somehow I am. X

  8. Thanks lady. I am sad/happy too. Have grown quite fond of my adopted home. Wish me luck.

  9. That is such a romantic thing to do, and happy anniversary!

  10. Sparkly Date Palm12 August 2012 at 12:53

    I was saw the Thames Barrier being closed - it was amazing to see.

  11. Sparkly Date Palm12 August 2012 at 12:53

    I was saw the Thames Barrier being closed - it was amazing to see.

  12. What a special thing to witness - lucky you.