Riverside

Riverside

Summer warmth, autumn winds. August days tinged with October. 

I walk the towpath on the north side of the river. Twickenham to Richmond. Dipping down from the broad, bustling, characterless main road through the ancient churchyard. Dark sarcophagi. Mossy gravestones bent over from years. Soulful.  

The river. 

Early morning. Still. Quiet. The road winds behind The Stables where local government officials are tethered to flickering machines. Past the White Swan. Droplets of last night’s downpour glisten on umbrellas above empty tables. A lone glass holds dregs of beer diluted with rain. Last night’s laughter echoes softly in the canopy of trees. Passing under an old bridge I reach a patch of green shaded by limes. A playground beside a sheltered bank. Children reach for swings, climb up a wooden insect mounted on a massive spring.

Dawn has eased the wind. The river is brown, calm and oily thick. Boats moored. Perfect reflections in liquid bronze. The path is strewn. Tattered leaves and twigs. A bounty of seedpods of lime and sycamore lies underfoot. Torn ruthlessly to land on stony ground. Perhaps, given time and sunshine, they will dry here, burst open. Precious seeds will blow to fertile spots to take root. Or birds will lift and devour – an alimentary journey through some hungry finch or robin.  

The bank is moist. Summer flowers fall over themselves. Fading away. Marble Hill House framed in green, fragile like porcelain. The path is shared – dog walkers, runners, cyclists. I notice, occasionally catch an eye, exchange a greeting. Often the eyes avoid, heads down or averted as if my greeting would be intrusive. Benches mark places where people once sat. And watched. Talked. Thought.

I reach the bridge at Richmond and cross to the south bank. Elegant wooden rowing boats lie two abreast at their moorings. I turn back then cut uphill through Terrace Gardens. Extravagant blooms on neat beds, a manicured world after the dishevelled wild of the riverbank. Hollyhock Café nestles against the steep slope of the hill, a balcony drapes around the small shack under heavy branches of big old trees. I sip coffee at a table near the edge. Glimpses of the river down below. Gentle conversations rustle beside me. Distant planes glide noiselessly into Heathrow. 

A Jack Russell darts to just in front of my feet. He stares intently at the tree about 20 feet away across the hillside. He spots movement in branches at his eye level. Some creature is busy there; some bird or squirrel. Jack is transfixed, body taut, ears pricked, every muscle alert. The creature moves and he makes chase, finds his way down to the foot of the tree some 20 or 30 feet below the terrace. He looks up into the branches that moments before were eye level. How did that happen? He is flummoxed. He returns to the terrace and does it all again.

I return to the river walking back along the south side. Salvia blooms bright purple-blue here. Swathes of it caress the water’s edge. Past Ham House. The ice cream van, engine idling, fuming. The path narrows as it enters the trees. It’s wild again here. Trees bent and broken. Brown river mud caked on low branches. Bramble bushes prickly and tortuous, full of September’s fruit.

White metal ahead. A double bridge over the lock and the river. Teddington. Tide’s end.

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