Though I’ve lived in London for nearly seven years now, I consider myself to be something of a “forever tourist”. I think maintaining a sense of curiosity about the place you live is key to keeping life interesting, and because I may not live in London forever, I want to make the most of it while I’m here. This might mean geeking out over the Royal Wedding in 2011 (yes, my mum, sister and I were among the crowds outside Buckingham Palace who witnessed “the kiss”), seeing new art exhibits regularly, taking the train to Brighton or the Cotswolds for the day, or sometimes, something really random. This past Saturday I indulged in a spot of the latter, when I went beachcombing along the banks of the Thames with London Walks.
London Walks offers a variety of popular guided walks around London, some of which are rooted in pop culture (Jack the Ripper, Harry Potter) and some of which are slightly more esoteric (Literary Walks and Secret Ceremonies come to mind). The Thames Mudlarking walk was highly recommended to me by a friend last year, and I’ve been meaning to try it ever since. Exploring the riverbanks at low tide, looking for buried treasure from London’s long and layered past? Count me in.
The day of the walk dawned overcast and cold, though my friend Claire (who I’d roped into doing this with me) and I were committed to seeing through our plan. I took the tube into the City (which I always love on the weekends, so quiet it is) and waited for her in a Pret-a-Manger close to the meeting point. I firmly believe that Pret makes the best croissants in London, and will take any opportunity to start my day with their buttery, flaky goodness.
Once we met up with our guide, Fiona, it was a brisk walk with about 15 other brave souls to the Thames’ south bank, with several stops along the way for facts, figures and stories. I’d say 2/3 of the walk was actually informational and took place before we made in onto the riverbank; we learned all about how Londoners have used and manipulated the Thames over thousands of years, the architecture of some of its’ 33 bridges, and some surprising facts about modern flood defences (swimming in the Turbine Hall, anyone?). As a Tidal Archaeologist specialising in the Thames, Fiona knows more about this stretch of river than almost anyone else, I’d reckon.
When we arrived at the stretch of riverbed in front of the Tate Modern, Fiona distributed latex gloves and set us free to rummage. I’d been a little worried that I wasn’t going to find anything interesting, but to my surprise the banks were covered in pieces of London’s history. My finds included an animal bone, a clay pipe, a very old and rusted earring and several pieces of pottery. Others found iron nails over six inches long, Victorian leather children’s shoes, pieces of flint and even some old coins. Lining them all up on the wooden stumps on the riverbed and hearing Fiona tell us about each piece, and what it told us about life in London at the time it came from, was fascinating.
All images © Eleanor Busing
By the time the two hours of our walk were up, Claire and I could barely feel our toes, so we thanks Fiona profusely and popped into the Tate Modern to warm up. We then finished the day by grabbing lunch in a café at Somerset House, and doing a spot of window shopping around Covent Garden.
The frigid weather aside, I thoroughly enjoyed my slightly random, ever-so-nerdy excavations along the Thames. I’d recommend it to anyone who’s interested in London’s history and fancies themselves a bit of a treasure-hunter. I’d love to know– what’s the most random thing you’ve ever done in your town?