T is for the Thames

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Classic Thames, deep in the countryside

Yeah, yeah, I know, a total cheat. How can a river be a place? It cuts through many places. It just happens to be both fabulous and something I’ve been walking along with the Textiliste and two friends for the last two years or so as we journey from sea to source.

The Thames bubbles to the surface in Gloucestershire nearer the west coast than the east and pitter-patters along for 20 miles or so until a towpath emerges. After that real traffic begins to appear and from Lechlade to the sea it is navigable.


Miles away… WAKE UP!

In the 1980s four of us hired a narrow boat for a week, which was blissful until I crushed my hand in a rope (dithering – I seem to recall I was listening to Craig Stadler miss a two foot putt in the Ryder Cup, not that sport is important to me, you understand) and ended up in A&E.

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Moment of civilisation, the many locks until the Thames becomes tidal after Richmond

Once on the towpath you criss cross locks and bridges, journeying through beautiful countryside, past the dreaming spires in Oxford, alongside the industry and prison in Reading before the houses get closer and bigger as you enter affluent West London. The path becomes a road and the scenery becomes as familiar as a film set.

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near the source, in the floods of spring 2012

Officially the Long Distance Path is 180 miles and ends at the Thames Barrier, close to Woolwich. The river is now tidal and barely estuarine any more. But there are still many miles hugging the Kent and Essex coastlines before you can look left and right (port and starboard – I learnt not that long ago that the word ‘Posh’ is in fact an acronym for Port Out, Starboard Home being the best cabins for going to and from India back in Victorian times – neat, huh?) and only see open sea.

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Even the path, when it strays from the river, can have a fantasy feel to it…

Where was I? Oh yes, out into the North Sea. Here the land is wild and bleak and beloved of migrating birds. Our blond pillock of  a mayor wanted to put an airport on a man-made island hereabouts. Dick head.

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lots of different ways to cross it

The Thames, as it passes Teddington lock becomes more and more deadly. In yesteryear that was the pollution from London’s industry but don’t be misled into thinking the Thames is deadly for its water quality today. Yes it is deadly but that is for the tidal race as it hurtles between the embankment walls. Ok, I admit that, until the Tideway tunnel is finished (a huge new sewer that follows the line of the Thames) there will be days when Joseph Bazelgette’s brilliant Victorian sewage system can’t cope and the only current overspill is still the river. But those days are going to end soon and the blue nosed dolphin and the porpoises and the salmon that have been found in the Thames in the last decade will be increasingly common. The London Wildlife Trust estimates there are 125 species of fish that inhabit the tidal Thames – essentially the bit through the city. Not bad for a murky old stream.

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Intrepid walkers…

If you visit London you see the Thames from all angles. It is almost impossible to appreciate how severe is the meander through the city from ground level. But look at an aerial photo and be amazed at the north-south, east-west configuration.

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Deep into the city, it is majestic as it wanders though its embankments towards the sea. Really not the place for a swim mind you.

These days it is pretty empty of traffic, though still Tower Bridge goes up daily (causing some traffic chaos).

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Tower Bridge 2012

When I worked at the Olympics I became utterly disillusioned with my commute to Canary Wharf where the administrative offices were situate. One day the tube entrance at London Bridge had shut and the crowds spilled onto the pavement. Someone near me said he was going to catch the river bus. I’d never thought of that so followed him on the two-minute walk away from the Hieronymus Bosch like nightmare to the river bank. As we waited for the boat a gannet dived into the water and came out, fish in beak. I weighed up the options: a ten minute crush on the tube with my nose pressed into someone’s armpit or twenty minutes on the boat watching the sea birds dip and dive in the murky water?

Difficult decision eh?

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some local residents are happy to stop for a chat…

The best way to see the Thames? Try this from the bog-mindingly brilliant Olympic Opening Ceremony.


About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published several books: a four book series following Harry Spittle as he grows from hapless student to hapless partner in a London law firm; four others in different genres; a book of poetry; four anthologies of short fiction; and a memoir of my mother. I have several more in the pipeline. I have been blogging regularly since 2014, on topic as diverse as: poetry based on famous poems; memories from my life; my garden; my dog; a whole variety of short fiction; my attempts at baking and food; travel and the consequent disasters; theatre, film and book reviews; and the occasional thought piece. Mostly it is whatever takes my fancy. I avoid politics, mostly, and religion, always. I don't mean to upset anyone but if I do, well, sorry and I suggest you go elsewhere. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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11 Responses to T is for the Thames

  1. lucciagray says:

    Lovely post! Great pictures. Riverboat wins hands down. I hate the tube. I remember taking it daily to school during the bomb scares in the 70s. I prefer to take 20 or even 30 minutes longer by any other means of transport 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. noelleg44 says:

    The riverboat would win it for me! I’d love to take a boat trip down the Thames from where it becomes navigable. So much history surrounding it!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Archaeologist says:

    The St Lawrence is water.
    The Mississippi is muddy water
    But the Thames is liquid history

    Or from Kipling

    Twenty bridges from Tower to Kew
    Wanted to know what the river knew
    For they were young, but the Thames was old
    And this is the tale the rive told.

    I march my beat before London town
    Five hours up and seven down
    Up I go till I end my run,
    At tides-end town that is Teddington
    Down I come with mud on my hands
    which I spread all over the Maplin sands

    But I’ll have you know these waters of mine
    Were once a branch of the Rive Rhine
    And hundreds of miles to the east I went,
    and England was joined to the continent.

    I remember the bat-winged lizard birds
    and the age of Ice, and the mammoth herds,
    and the great tigers that hunted them down,
    from Regents Part to Camden Town.

    And I remember as yesterday
    The very first cockney that came my way
    With paint on his face and a club in his hand
    as he pushed through the forest that lined the Strand.

    He was death to feather, and fin and fur.
    He hunted the beavers at Westminster
    He shot the heron, he killed the deer,
    He fished for the salmon off Lambeth pier

    Whilst down at Greenwich for slaves and tin
    the tall Phonecian ships stole in
    And Norsemen and Negro. Gaul and Greek
    Drank with the Briton in Barking Creek
    And all was young, and the world was new
    And I was a mile across at Kew.

    Then the Romans came, with a heavy hand,
    Bridged me, built roads and ruled the land.
    And the Romans left, and the Danes blew in.
    And that’s when your history books begin.

    Twenty bridges from Tower to Kew
    Wanted to know what the river knew
    For they were young, but the Thames was old
    And that was the tale the river told.

    I apologise for any errors, but I had to type it out from memory.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. willowdot21 says:

    I Love the Thames it has wound through my whole life!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Autism Mom says:

    *sniffle* The video won’t work for me. Otherwise loved this one! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  6. njmagas says:

    Rivers, especially city dwelling ones, are great. In Vancouver, we have the Fraser river and the Pitt River, but you’d be crazy to swim in them. They’re mostly used for industrial hauling. Kyoto has its famous Kamo river which has a huge part in history and is notorious for looking harmless before the typhoons make it flood its banks.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Charli Mills says:

    From a gurgle to the Games. After reading your post, watching the video probably made more sense to those of us who simply reside near “water” and not liquid history. 🙂 The video works if you watch it on YouTube. And yes, that’s neat, learning about the origins of posh!


  8. rogershipp says:

    Of course a river can be a place!

    Liked by 1 person

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