30 January 2016

There We Sat Down

On the bed of the River Thames, looking for the elephant in the room.
Bankside, London, 3rd June, 2015
One day last Summer the tide was low enough on the Thames to walk from Southbank to Bankside along what would usually be covered riverbed. This may happen a lot, but it was the first and only time I have seen it this low. The Very Understanding Girlfriend and I climbed down a set of normally submerged steps at the Oxo building and set off for a sunken stroll, emerging at the Globe Theatre (though we could have gone much further).

Along the way we passed other urban ramblers, all taking advantage of something quite unexpected, but in a very matter of fact way. There was no shouting, no DVD commentary, just folks walking along and enjoying something rather unusual.

In a way it reminded me of the stories of the Frost Fairs, when the river froze so solidly at times during the Little Ice Age (between the 17th and early 19th centuries) that ad hoc markets were held on the ice. Bankside itself was the site of the last one in 1814, lasting five days and accompanied by eating, drinking and, apparently, an elephant being led across the ice from bank to bank multiple times pretty much where the Millennium Bridge is today. Londoners just took it all in their stride, adapting quickly to the new and temporary reality.

When London Bridge was replaced in 1831, more salt water from the Thames Estuary was able to reach this part of the city, so the river froze less often and not as solidly. Thus ended the Frost Fairs.

Unlike the elephant, we didn't manage to make it from bank to bank that day which, all things considered, is probably a good thing.

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