“Believe me, my young friend, there is NOTHING–absolutely nothing–half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply messing,’ he went on dreamily: `messing–about–in–boats; messing—-” (Water Rat to Mole, Wind in the Willows, Chapter 1, Kenneth Grahame).
So it is for Bill and I, as we make our way down to Richmond pier to pick up the boat for Hampton Court. We say we have come to London, but there is no sign of Buckingham Palace, or Trafalgar Square, or the Tower of London, nor any of the other sights that a tourist to London is meant to see. No indeed. We have manoeuvred our rented car into this part of London that was once counted as Surrey, had a brief argument with the rental company that the tank is two pound fifty short of petrol because we filled up on the M25, and not at the petrol station down the road (we should know this?), and then joined up with our Aussie “daughter”, to be ensconced in her one bedroom flat that she has recently rented in salubrious Richmond.
By London standards, the flat is spacious and well appointed, and better still – it is not us who are sleeping on the sofa bed for the next three nights. Thank goodness for the priorities of old age and arthritis. And the weather report said Saturday is to be lousy, while Friday (we arrived Thursday evening) is to be sunny. So we hurry up and decide that we will visit Hampton Court – via a jaunt down the Thames – before the weatherman has a chance to change his mind.
It is a funny old river, this Thames. It is the longest in England – I think – (maybe the Severn is longer?), and it loops and meanders along the strangest route. Everyone associates it with London, but it gets to many other places as well. There are times when it is extremely tidal, and Richmond is one of those places. A walk along the riverbank is wet and slippery, and pubs have signs that direct patrons to alternative entrances when the tide is up.
The Thames figures a lot in Dickens novels, when he drew attention to its growing use as a cesspit of the mid-1800s, and I cannot count the number of times I have tried to read “Our Mutual Friend”, and never moved beyond the opening chapter of people scavenging their living from the detritus scattered in its waters. But it is a romantic river nonetheless, and it is the romance and gaiety that we concentrate on today.
We stride through the streets of Richmond, and turn down a damp cobble-stoned side-street, and then, suddenly, there it is before us. The elegant stone of the Richmond Bridge arches across it, and its banks are lined with stately houses of the – Georgian?? – period. Ducks and water fowl make themselves perfectly at home, strutting along as if they own the place, and every so often pausing to push out the biggest duck “poo” I have ever seen. I am impressed. (and I tread carefully).
On the boat, we pass attractive homes of the “wish I owned that!” variety. They are all set well back from the banks, and the reason is immensely obvious on our return journey. High tide and dahlias is not a great combination. We pass through the Teddington lock, which engrosses us as we watch how we are winched up to the higher level of the river. (On our return journey, with the assistance of a high summer tide, we sail straight through – barely able to glimpse the machinery of the lock).
When we arrive at Hampton Court Palace, we have a sudden change of heart about going inside the stately building. We realise that it was owned by Henry VIII, and that it houses many stories and stately treasures. But the entrance fee is so damned expensive, we have already seen so many imposing palaces, the weather outside is glorious – and we are feeling very mellow from our trip down the river. I channel Kenneth Grahame’s water rat again:
“–about in boats–or WITH boats,’ the Rat went on composedly, picking himself up with a pleasant laugh. `In or out of ’em, it doesn’t matter. Nothing seems really to matter, that’s the charm of it. Whether you get away, or whether you don’t; whether you arrive at your destination or whether you reach somewhere else, or whether you never get anywhere at all, you’re always busy, and you never do anything in particular; and when you’ve done it there’s always something else to do, and you can do it if you like, but you’d much better not. (Water Rat to Mole, Wind in the Willows, Chapter 1, Kenneth Grahame).”
So we do nothing in particular, and then we find something else to do, and before long, we reach nowhere in particular – except that nowhere turns out to be Bushy Park, and inside the park are the most magnificent specimens of royal deer ……………..
Further inside the park, there is a large pond with an ornate statue in the centre. It is covered in algae, but the various waterbirds did not seem to mind. (some of these photos were taken on the Thames).
Then we end the day with another meander down the Thames, and this time we stop en route at Kingston, and we enjoy a drink and a snack in the sunshine ………… and so – even though we cannot boast to have “done” Hampton Court – after all is said and done, is this not another valid method of sightseeing?
Friday 23rd August 2013, Garrulous Gwendoline, Richmond (London) England.