Yes, yes, it’s an obvious choice and hardly needs pointing out, but then again it’s perhaps because it is so obvious that it does need praising. Aren’t we just so lucky to live on the River Thames?
Growing up far from London the idea you could live within strolling distance of the Thames would have been met with incredulous scoffs about price, availability of places, and other derision, and many friends in other areas of London often seem surprised by the closeness of the river when they come to visit: “What, it’s just down there?” “Yeah, come on I’ll show you.”
What’s so nice, so engrossing, is the endless change that it brings to the area. Any stroll down to the banks and you’re greeted by the tides in various states of rising and falling, sometimes pouring over the edge of the pavements, other times leaving huge expanses of dry shingle shore expose for dogs to charge along and children to play on, even runners to jog across.
Heading across Putney Bridge, on the tube or on the foot bridge, always brings pleasure, even surprise, no matter how often you do it, that you should be greeted to such fine views from a tube carriage – so often that clichéd-comic concept of sweaty armpits shoved in your face. Those people have obviously never travelled in through the back street houses of Fulham and out onto Putney Bridge to be greeted by the beauty of an ebbing tide and a long, slow sunset flitting between the cast-iron fittings into the carriage as you rattle home from work.
Then, for running, walking, cycling, as you curve up and around to Hammersmith Bridge, as the road gives way to a woody, earthen track, perfect for a feeling of escape and wildlife, the rowers stroking in sync, the birds circling around. You can follow it for miles if you wish, or just loop back around through Barnes, Putney Common, or back on the north side past Fulham FC.
The boat race – we’ll save that for another time – and the boats you can ride up the river to Embankment, Blackfriars to get to work – we’ll also save that for another time…there’s so much to enjoy and be intoxicated by, to help you ruminate, to escape the London that can get you down – the mad, over-the-top, over-priced, endless-battle city it can sometime seems.
But there, at the bottom of the hill, Old Father Thames – the same river the Romans saw when they first arrived, the same river generations of Kings and Queens have ruled over, the same river that has inspired Shakespeare, Dickens and Wordsworth, just keeps rolling in and rolling out.
We should remember this, and praise it, because right now in all that rich span of history, stretching out over millennia, it’s ours.