Ever since my first trip to London back in 2002, I’ve always wanted to walk along the sandy beaches of the Thames at low tide. It always seems that I catch it at high tide or all the gates leading down are locked. This trip, however, I happened to be by the river at just the right time.
The rain and cold have chased away all but the most stubborn tourists and the water no longer touches the embankment wall. I lean over the railing and see a couple people milling about and they were not burly dock men chasing away pesky trespassers. Sure enough, about 5 feet down from I’m standing is a gate that opens up to stairs leading down to the beach. I check around to see if there’s a sign that forbids passing through or a beady-eyed guard ready to yell if I step over some invisible barrier. There’s nothing around to stop me!
The gate latch groans when I unhitch it and the hinge squeaks when I pull it open. I steal down the stairs and before I know it my feet crunch on the sand. The river and I are now on the same level and it changes my view of everything around me. Instead of neatly poured pavement, there is gravel, debris, and enormous wooden stakes. The cityscape feels even larger and I feel smaller. The smell of musty water is everywhere with no cafes or street almond roasters to disguise an odor that was once a larger part of Old London.
I wish I could romanticize the whole experience, but the Thames is one dirty river. Along with smooth sand, there are the remnants of what a large city inevitably leaves behind. Everything from the standard beer can to the less expected car engine sit on the shoreline. And no matter how shallow the water, its brown through and through. Londoners are much more earth friendly these days than ever before, but the Thames is literally crying for a bath.
Despite the ick, there is still plenty of relatively clean shoreline to walk along. Before heading back up the embankment, I pick up a rock and seashell from the shore. The very best souvenirs are free and my favorite are those which commemorate drawing a line through an item on my travel to-do list.
My feet on the shoreline:
The view from the ground:
A little sand did get into my shoes and in my pockets (where else do you put a rock?), but I’ll gladly take the grit for the chance to see the city from a different point of view.