Thames Blog 37: Guest Blog by John Grigsby

John Grigsby is a doctoral student (or doctoral candidate) at Bournmouth University. He is studying “shaping mythology” at British Neolithic sites, under the direction of Professor Tim Darvill. Learn more about John and his work at

- Glen

Falling Down the Thames Blog 37, 26th November 2014

Guest Blog by John Grigsby

Anyone wishing to navigate the Thames from source to sea finds themselves having to choose a starting point from a number of possibilities, for a number of tributaries feed into what we now call the Thames – but for ancient man it seems as if the starting point may have been reckoned as the source of the river Kennet in the environs of the monumental landscape of Avebury in Wiltshire.

Avebury is a good choice as a starting point – it is, according to archaeologist Tim Darvill, the furthest point ancient man would have been able to navigate inland from the sea by canoe, and it may be that the monument we now call ‘Silbury Hill’ somehow acted as a marker for this special location.

Silbury Hill is the largest man-made prehistoric mound in Europe, and today it sits beside the road just outside Marlborough like a giant upturned pudding-basin. This mound would have once have been gleaming white from the chalk used in its construction, though we now believe it was created over time not as a single planned monument but as a series of raised mounds added to over time.

Silbury Hill, by John Grigsby

Silbury Hill, by John Grigsby

The question of why the mound was built has eluded archaeologists, though folklore records it was the tomb of a King Sil, buried in gold armour on horseback, and that it was built in the time it took a posset of milk to boil. Folklore aside many European and Near Eastern myths recall a ‘primal mound’ that at the beginning of time arose from out of the primeval waters of chaos, and it may be that Avebury, with its multitude of springs, was seen as the birthplace of both the river Thames and of creation itself, and that Silbury Hill was symbolic of that first mound of dry earth that rose from the water at the beginning of time. In Egypt this primal mound is known as the Benben and on its summit the Bennu bird, or phoenix, would alight – an occurrence that was mirrored in the temple of Heliopolis where the first light of the rising sun would fall upon the pyramidal BenBen stone at the centre of the temple on New Year’s day.

There are Hindu traditions that talk of the coming of the light of day as the release of the ‘dawn cows’, and the illuminated dawn sky as the milk of the self-same cows. One ancient Hindu ritual sought to encourage the coming of dawn by heating a vessel of milk, which would boil over as a piece of sympathetic magic aimed at helping the sun to rise. Might the folklore of Silbury that speaks of the boiling posset of milk be some echo of a similar rite? Silbury itself contains the element ‘Sil’ which can be linked back to an Indo-European word for sun *Sawilo (the origin of Latin ‘Sol’) but which also seems to be remembered in the name of the spring that lies just beyond Silbury which is known as the ‘swallowhead’ spring.

Silbury Hill

Silbury Hill

It is easy to imagine, when stood at the base of the giant mound of Silbury, that our ancestors might have once ascended the summit of the hill in winter, when its base would have been surrounded by flood-water, to light fires and boil milk to encourage the return of the warmth and light of the sun in the spring – and who knows, once the golden light of the early morning sun had struck the mound, maybe they would have travelled along the river, carrying the sacred fire and ‘posset’ of milk; on a celebratory journey all the way along the Thames to the sea?

We are never far away from such pagan musings as we travel along the Thames, whether this be because as we travel we pass over the sites of ancient ritual offerings to the gods of the river, such as the Waterloo helmet or the Battersea shield, or because we recall the strange chapter in ‘The Wind in the Willows’ – called ‘Piper at the Gates of Dawn’ that is nothing less than a paean to the Greek god Pan. To journey along the river is to become a pilgrim on a quest for the place of the rising sun, a journey through history itself. And if Conrad starts his ‘Heart of Darkness’ with a description of the Thames as seen through Roman eyes, as leading into savage, dark, places, we must also remember that the prehistoric source of that same river was not a place of darkness but of creation and light.

- John Grigsby

John Grigsby

John Grigsby

Photo credit: Aerial view of Silbury Hill,

Thames Blog 36: Paddling Past Family History

Falling Down the Thames Blog 36, 19th November 2014

Paddling Past Family History

On Wednesday 6 May of next year, Krista and I will paddle our kayak out of the harbour at Whitstable on the north coast of Kent. The last two days of our journey will take us past Herne Bay and then on to Margate, Broadstairs, and Ramsgate. After taking a shortcut across Pegwell Bay, we will travel up the River Stour and past Sandwich, to end our journey at Richmond, the first site of Roman occupation in Britain.

Within the communities on the north and east coasts of Kent are much smaller settlements with names like Beltinge, Hillborough and St. Peter’s. These are part of my heritage, because I have heard many stories about them from my mum and her brothers who grew up there in wartime Britain.

Last week I wrote that Krista and I would be speaking at five primary schools as part of our Falling Down the Thames paddling adventure. One of these schools is in Canada, and the other four are in England; each is along our paddling route. I explained that the final presentation, at Reculver C. of E. Primary in Herne Bay, will be particularly relevant to me, as it was the school of my mum and my uncles, Desmond and Gerald, seventy-five years ago.

Gerry, Kathleen and Desmond

Gerry, Kathleen and Desmond

Mrs. Pettman was the headteacher at Reculver at the time, and my mum remembers the names of two other teachers, Miss Mann and Miss Jones. A lady named Peggy Wells cooked lunches in a small corridor for all the students. “We were assigned very small garden plots just outside the school fencing at the front, and had one class where we went out and tended them,” my mum said. “It was a happy time… There were benches where we used to eat lunch.”

My mum’s family lived on Rumfield Road in St. Peter’s when the war broke out. “The cliffs in Beltinge were where the concrete turrets were built for firearms in the event of an attack by Germany.” My mum has told me that classes would come to an end when the air-raid sirens rang. All of the students would put on gas masks, and go into underground shelters. She told me that it often seemed like a game. “The air raid shelter was in the back green space,” she said, “and we were in that shelter during the air raid in which my Dad was so badly injured in Margate.” As I remember the story, my grandfather required a year in a body cast after the explosion of a bomb caused a wall to fall on him.

www gornalandsedgley org uk

Children in an air raid shelter, World War II

According to my mum, a huge farm was operated in Acol during WWII by a man named Charles Willett. Across the street was a post office outlet operated by my grandmother. “Land Girls,” members of the Women’s Land Army, worked the agricultural fields, filling in for men who had entered military service. Mr. Willet had many pigeons, and my mum now wonders if some of these were trained to carry messages to and from the battle lines.

Over a period of two days, Krista and I will paddle within a few hundred metres of all of this family history.

- Glen


Photo credits: Children in an air raid shelter during World War II: Gornal and Sledgley – History,

Thames Blog 35: Falling Down the Thames in the Classroom

Falling Down the Thames Blog 35, 12th November 2014

Falling Down the Thames in the Classroom

When I was a primary school student, almost fifty years ago, an adventurer came to my school. Everyone was herded into the auditorium to hear the gentleman speak. After about twenty minutes of gabbing, he showed the start of a black-and-white film about his recent trip to Africa. Just as the film reached the point at which the adventurer was about to be killed by an elephant, the film stopped. We were told that if we wanted to see the rest of the film, we would have to return to the school that evening, and pay ten cents each. The remainder of the film was rather good, as I recall, and well worth my allowance for the week. The elephant changed its mind about charging at the last moment.

Photo by Ben Cranke

Photo by Ben Cranke

Films about adventures of this sort, in school, cinemas or on television, were the hottest thing in entertainment in the middle and late 1960s. Sixty minute television specials by Jacques Cousteau and Jane Goodall were anticipated for months. Now that I am one of those adventurers, I take every opportunity to speak to school students about the wonders of the natural world. I like to think that my visits to primary schools in Calgary to show off an assortment of snakes and turtles were eagerly anticipated.

As part of our Falling Down the Thames paddling adventure, Krista and I will be speaking to students at five schools next year. One is in Canada, and the others are in England, along our paddling route. The schools are:

William G. Miller Elementary in Toronto; about 520 students. On Thursday 16 April, Krista and I will make our first presentation about Falling Down the Thames at the school where I was a student between 1963 and 1967, and where I saw the film about the African trip. The following day we will fly to England to begin our adventure.

Green Dragon Primary

Green Dragon Primary

Kemble Primary School in Kemble; approximately 100 students. This school is the closest one to the head of the River Thames. This presentation will be on Monday 20 April, the day before Krista and I start paddling.

Battle Primary Academy in Reading; about 450 students. Reading is the largest city on the Thames outside of greater London. We will visit with these students on Friday 24 April, having completed about 145 kilometres of paddling.

Green Dragon Primary in London; more than 400 students. We will be more than half-way through our adventure when we speak with students in the London suburb of Brentford the north shore of the River Thames on Wednesday 29 April.

Reculver C of E Primary in Herne Bay; about 475 students. Wednesday 6 May will be our second last day of paddling when we will stop to speak to students at Herne Bay. This community is on the north shore of Kent.

Of these five presentations, the last might be the one closest to my heart. Reculver C of E Primary was the school of my mum and my uncles Desmond and Gerald. Krista and I will be making our presentation seventy-five years after they attended school in Herne Bay.

- Glen

Reculver C of E Primary School banner



Photo credits: charging African elephant – Ben Cranke,; Green Dragon –; Reculver C of E Primary School banner –

Thames Blog 34: Over, Under, Over

Falling Down the Thames Blog 34, 5th November 2014

Over, Under, Over

Not content to paddle the entire length of the River Thames, from its source near the village of Kemble, through the Thames Estuary, and along the north and east coasts of Kent, Krista and I feel the need to travel under the river as well.

Luckily we will not need to add a submarine to our arsenal of watercraft – there are plenty of tunnels under the river.

But driving through one of the road tunnels between North Greenwich and Blackwall doesn’t seem like enough to me. Nor does hopping on one of the Underground systems’ Jubilee Line trains for the trip through a dark tunnel between Westminster and Waterloo. Our Falling Down the Thames adventure is about active, self-propelled travel. I want to walk under the River Thames.

Krista and I have narrowed our options to three:

1. The appropriately named Thames Tunnel was the first ever underwater tunnel. Built under the direction of Marc Isambard Brunel, construction required nearly twenty years. Opened as a pedestrian tunnel in 1843, it is now serves as a rail tunnel between Wapping and Rotherhithe. The Brunel Museum provides all sorts of opportunities for adventurers to go down into the ground, and to travel by train through the tunnel, but I suspect that Krista and I would have difficulties convincing whoever is responsible for the tunnel to let us walk through it. It is probably worth our time to ask.

Thames Tunnel

Thames Tunnel

2. My attention was first drawn to the Tower Subway when I read the English translation of Edmondo De Amicis’s 1873 book Memories of London. The tunnel in central London was constructed in 1870 to house a cable-drawn carriage to take passengers from one side of the river to the other. The company responsible quickly went bankrupt, and the tunnel was given over to pedestrians who paid half-a-penny to use it. De Amicis described the tunnel as being “lit by a long row of lamps which cast a dim light, like the lamps you find on tombs.” He wrote that there is something mysterious about the tunnel, “while not exactly frightening, induced a vague sense of anxiety.”

The Tower Bridge was built in 1894, rendering a nearby pedestrian tunnel rather pointless. In 1898 the tunnel was sold to the London Hydraulics Power Company who put water pipes through it. I believe that those pipes are still there, as are a system of fibre-optic cables. Whether the tunnel is accessible to a pair of intrepid river paddlers, I do not know.

Tower Subway

Tower Subway

3. The Greenwich Foot Tunnel was completed in 1902. One hundred and twelve years later it still allows pedestrians to cross under the River Thames between the Isle of Dogs on the north bank and Greenwich on the south bank. Members of a newly formed group, the Friends of Greenwich and Woolwich Foot Tunnels, dedicate themselves to the responsible and safe use and enjoyment of these tunnels, and work to ensure their maintenance and appearance. The Greenwich Foot Tunnel is about three metres in diameter and 380 metres in length, and was constructed out of cast iron.

Greenwich Foot Tunnel

Greenwich Foot Tunnel

If you have experience with any of these tunnels, Krista and I would love to hear from you.

- Glen


Photo credits: Thames Tunnel –; Tower Subway -; Greenwich Foot Tunnel –

Thames Blog 33: Rivers and Tunnels

Falling Down the Thames Blog 33, 29th October 2014

Rivers and Tunnels

The Wind in the Willows, the 1908 book by Kenneth Grahame, tells of the adventures of Mole, Rat, Toad, Mr. Badger and an assortment of other animals that live near the banks of the River Thames. Some chapters are light and breezy, while others have a more sinister tone about them.

www foliosociety com

The story about Mole wandering away from Rat’s home in the fading light of a Winter’s afternoon is one of the more sinister ones. Mole becomes lost, and the Wild Wood is full of dangers. Although Mole is eventually discovered, hiding in a hole in a beech tree, by Rat, both characters are now in peril. By chance, they come across the front door of Mr. Badger, who provides Rat and Mole with a hearty meal, and allows them to warm themselves by the fireplace in his underground labyrinthine home.

E H Shepard Badger door

But Rat lives by the riverside, and soon he becomes restless in Mr. Badger’s home. “The underground atmosphere was oppressing him, and getting on his nerves, and he seemed really to be afraid that the river would run away if he wasn’t there to look after it.”

Being an understanding sort, “the Badger, taking up his lantern again, led the way along a damp and airless tunnel that wound and dipped, part vaulted, part hewn through solid rock, for a weary distance that seemed to be miles.” Eventually the tunnel system emerged at the edge of the Wild Wood, not far from the river’s edge.

Those dark and airless tunnels probably left Rat feeling very anxious. If so, then he was not alone in those feelings of anxiety; according to the National Health Service, as many as one person in ten in the United Kingdom experience feelings of claustrophobia.

And what does all of this have to do with the plans of Krista and me to pilot a canoe and then a kayak the length of the River Thames? It seems as though we will be paddling over a surprising number of tunnels that pass beneath the river. Many tunnels allow trains of London’s famous Underground system to pass from one side of the river to the other, from Wapping to Rotherhithe, from Westminster to Waterloo, and so on. Several tunnels house electricity and telecommunications cables. There are road tunnels and tunnels for pedestrians, all passing under England’s greatest river.

Strangely, I have not been able to find a single reliable report of a tunnel under the River Thames anywhere outside of greater London.

Next week I will describe the four most interesting tunnels under the Thames, and the efforts of Krista and me to get permission to walk through them as part of our Falling Down the Thames adventure.

- Glen

The Wind in the Willows 2

Photo credits: illustrations from The Wind in the Willows by Ernest H. Shepard

Thames Blog 32: Mole Meets the River Thames

Falling Down the Thames Blog 32, 22nd October 2014

Mole Meets the River Thames


Thirty years ago, while working on my university studies, I had a friend named Kevin. I studied gulls and cormorants, and Kevin studied pelicans.

Wind in the Willows by K Graham

Whenever Kevin felt stressed, he reached up to the bookshelf above his desk and pulled down a copy of Kenneth Grahame’s book The Wind in the Willows. After reading a few pages Kevin would feel better about the world and could get back to work.

The Wind in the Willows was published 106 years ago to great popular success and critical acclaim. The book describes the adventures of a series of animals that lived on or near a river. There is every reason to believe that Grahame had the River Thames in mind when he wrote about these adventures.

The book begins as a mole grows tired of spring cleaning his home, and runs away. When he approaches the river, Mole spies a water rat, and the two become friends. Rat introduced Mole to the joys of paddling a boat, for instance. Enjoying a wonderful day on the river, Mole admits that he has never before been in a boat. Rat finds this astonishing, and asks what Mole has been doing with his life.

“’Is it so nice as all that?’ asked the Mole shyly.”

“’Nice? It is the only thing,’ said the Water Rat solemnly, as he leant forward for his stroke. ‘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…”

The Wind in the Willows illustrated by E H Shepard

Mole and Rat go on to have other great adventures, sometimes in the company of other animals such as Toad and Mr. Badger. Early in the book, Mole finds himself tired after running along the river bank, and sits on the bank to rest. While Mole rested, “the river still chattered on to him, a babbling procession of the best stories in the world, sent from the heart of the earth to be told at last to the insatiable sea.” In paddling more than four hundred kilometres for the head of the River Thames to the insatiable sea, Krista and I will have plenty of opportunity to listen to stories told by the river.

Mole and Rat Wind in the Willows

Although The Wind in the Willows is considered to be a classic book for young readers, I feel that readers of all ages can take away from it a sense of joy and awe. There are lessons to be learned about friendship, ambition, and the need for relaxation. Next week I will tell you about the underground home of Mr. Badger, and how that relates to the River Thames paddling adventure of Krista and I.

- Glen

Photo credits: The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame. Illustrated by Ernest H. Shepard; plush Toad, Badger, Mole and Ratty – River and Rowing Museum,

Thames Blog 31: Our Paddling Repair Kit

Falling Down the Thames Blog 31, 15th October 2014

Our Paddling Repair Kit

They say that admitting you are a gear junkie is half the battle. Well, I am pretty sure that volunteering to assemble our field repair kit served only to fuel my addiction to all things designed for the outdoors.

Glen and I are hardly going to be in the backcountry when we paddle down the River Thames and around the north and east coasts of Kent. Having said that, it is important to always be prepared for any scenario involving a medical, safety or mechanical crisis, whether you are 300 kilometres from help or 300 metres from a five-star hotel. Our first aid and safety kits will be described in later blogs. Here I will detail the contents and assembly of our Paddling Repair Kit.

I considered what items might suddenly be in need of in-the-field or on-the-water repair or replacement. These include our canoe trailer (including its inflatable tires), the body of the canoe and sea kayak, the canoe seats, any part of the kayak rudder and foot rests, the kayak sprayskirts, the bow or stern lines, our outerwear, paddles (our solution is to have 1-2 spares), our PFDs, our shoes/boots, our packs, our glasses, the GPS unit, our headlamps, and our cameras.

As with most outdoor gear choices, we wanted the items to ideally be of high quality, lightweight, compact and reliable. We also wanted to minimize redundancy, so including an item that could serve multiple purposes was a huge plus. Finally, the gear needs to kept in a sturdy waterproof container and be organized such that each item could be easily located and retrieved.


(click on image for larger version)

The contents of our repair kit are, from top to bottom, left to right:

- plastic cover from a flexible 3-ring binder to patch a hole in the boat. It also makes a great cutting board;

- Petzl headlamp;

- waterproof mini flashlight;

- travel watch repair kit;

- travel sewing kit, including two extra large needles for penetrating spray skirt material;

- alcohol swabs to clean surfaces prior to repair;

- sand paper, both medium and coarse grains;

- alcohol hand sanitize;

- used pill vial containing Aquaseal, Crazy Glue, Seamseal, safety pins, and elastic bands;

- PC Marine epoxy putty, which works on wet surfaces;

- nylon fabric adhesive patches;

- nine metres of duct tape;

- Gear Aid Tenacious Tape;

- Tide travel laundry detergent;

- premoistened lens cleaners;

- small pack towel;

- nine metres of polyethelene utility rope, 4mm diameter, to use as spare rudder cable;

- nine metres of polyester floating rope to use as a spare bow/stern line or throw rope;

- daisy chain;

- accessory straps with buckles. Pictured are Sea to Summit Accessory Straps;

- thin cord, 3mm x 9m. Pictured is Sea to Summit Reflective Cord)

- waterproof thick vinyl cut from a Dollar Store poncho, 40cmx40cm to use as a kayak hatch cover in case original is lost;

- one metre of shock cord, 2-3mm to secure a makeshift hatch cover, and cord lock;

- pair of shoelaces;

- Swiss Army knife;

- multitool with pliers (Leatherman Skeletool);

- mini carabiners, made for climbing;

- waterproof matches;

- spare batteries for headlamps, GPS unit, and water purifier;

- Sharpie permanent marker; and

- a pencil

In the photos, the gear is sitting on an All Weather Emergency Blanket (I take this with me on all outdoor excursions. It is waterproof and fabulous to use as a ground tarp, an over-the-head tarp, an emergency blanket, and to place under a sleeping bag for additional insulation. Not pictured are: Gorilla Tape, waterproof notebook, dental floss (for sewing, etc), spare nuts and bolts for rudder, bandana, extra plastic buckles.

Since many of the repair items are cylindrical rather than flat, I found that traditional first aid bags did not work very well. Instead, I used two small Insight transparent accessory bags purchased from the travel section at Mountain Equipment Co-Op. One bag contains our quick-reach items (multitools, matches, pack towel and flashlights), and the other bag contains the remaining items. I found that both bags fit perfectly into a Pelican watertight case (size 1150). For additional storage, I glued a small zippered pocket to the inside of the Pelican case for storing the waterproof notebook, pencil and indelible marker.

Repair kit 2 - 4

(click on image for larger version)

Finally, the 30m-long ropes are stored in a small mesh bag, along with our bow and stern lines. The All Weather Emergency Blanket is rolled up and stored in a small ditty sac.

We would welcome your comments on the above items, including what gear has made it into your own field repair kit. Watch out for our later blogs detailing our First Aid Kit and Safety Kit.

- Krista


Thames Blog 30: Music to Paddle By

Falling Down the Thames Blog 30, 08th October 2014

Music to Paddle By

The year 1717 didn’t start well for King George I. He had been on the throne for just three years, but a certain someone was keen to take the seat from him. There was tension between George and his son, the Prince of Wales. It seems that the prince had gathered the support of many influential men in London, and that this support extended to Parliament, which impeded the work of the King’s ministers. George’s son was being a pest. It was time for George to take action. He needed to make a mark. He needed to throw some parties.

King George I and Prince George II

King George I (left) and George II, Prince of Wales (right)

For the rich and famous residents of London, the summer of 1717 was marked by three months of festivities, including extravagant receptions at Hampton Court. The beginning of this merriment was a concert on the River Thames. Not just any concert, but the performance of special work composed for the occasion.

Or perhaps not. It is not clear whether George Frideric Handel composed Water Music specifically for the King’s party, or whether he cobbled together an assortment of pieces that he had been working on. Regardless, Handel’s Water Music was an instant success.

George Frideric Handel

George Frideric Handel

It was first performed on the evening of Wednesday 17 July, 1717. King George and a substantial retinue of English nobility took to barges on the River Thames at Whitehall, and sailed upriver as far as Chelsea where they stopped for a meal. The party then sailed back downstream. According to biographer Anthony Hicks, His Majesty arrived home at St. James’s Palace at half-past four in the morning. A report in the Daily Courant explained that one of the barges contained fifty musicians who provided a magnificent presentation of the suite of movements: “which is Majesty liked so well, that he caus’d it to be plaid over three times in going and retuning.” The Prince of Wales was not in attendance.

I close my eyes, and try to imagine the scene. Trumpets, oboes, bassoons, recorders and horns, all bellowing out into the night. It is said that double the usual number of violins and woodwinds were employed so that their contribution wouldn’t be lost in the open air. Upriver on a floodtide, and then back downstream on an ebb tide. The work was so appealing that it was soon heard in London’s theatres, concert halls, and even taverns.

Recreating the 1717 presentation.

Recreating the 1717 presentation.

Even now, nearly three hundred years later, I suspect that the Water Music’s Alla Hornpipe from the Suite in D / G major would be recognized by almost everyone, if only because it has been used in so many television advertisements.

Krista and I chose the Common Kingfisher to be our mascot for our 2015 paddling adventure, Falling Down the Thames. We have chosen Handel’s Water Music to be our musical accompaniment.

By my reckoning, there is distance between Whitehall and Chelsea is just shy of three kilometres. Krista and I will be paddling that section of the River Thames on Wednesday 29 April. Krista will be listening to me whistle a medley of movements from Handel’s Water Music. What a lucky girl.

- Glen

Photo credits: King George I -; George II, Prince of Wales -; George Frideric Handel –; Handel discussing Water Music with King George I and his retinue, on the royal barge – painting by Edouard Hamman, found at

karina-lumeanoastra blogspot com

Handel with King George I during the presentation; painting by Edouard Hamman.

Thames Blog 29: Annus Mirabilis and Annus Horribilis

Falling Down the Thames Blog 29, 01st October 2014

Annus Mirabilis and Annus Horribilis

Falling Down the Thames will require nearly three weeks of padding. By itself, greater London is so large that it will take several days in late April and early May of next year for Krista and I to pass through it. In doing so, our River Thames adventure will take us through one of the most recognizable landscapes on Earth. After the Eiffel Tower in Paris, I suspect that the Palace of Westminster and the great clock tower housing Big Ben facing the River Thames is the world’s most recognizable landmarks. London is, I believe, one of the world’s truly great cities.

www exploretravelphotography com

But as for people, cities have good years and bad years, London included.

The Metropolitan Railway, the world’s first underground railway and now part of the London Underground,  opened for business in 1863, making that a pretty good year for the capital city. And 1605 must be considered a particularly good year, and least for King George and members of the House of Lords who were not blown to smithereens by Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators. Residents of London celebrated with gusto in 1953 for the coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Each of these was a good year, an Annus Mirabilis.

London went through a particularly bad spell in 1665 and 1666. At that time the last of the really awful outbreaks of bubonic plague killed off about 100,000 people, followed quickly by a fire that left almost everyone in central London homeless. In Latin, it was an Annus Horribilis.

Fire of London www hearthtax org uk

Then there are years in which nothing particularly noteworthy happened in the city by the Thames, and 1717 was one of those years. I had to dig deep to find anything at all.

Botanist and book collector Emanuel Mendez da Costa was born that year. The first ballet ever staged in England, The Loves of Venus and Mars, was seen by Londoners. Catherine Sedley, the Countess of Dorcester, and one of the mistresses of King James the Second, died in 1717. A maypole that had been constructed in 1661 was dismantled in 1717 and given to Isaac Newton to be used as a base for a telescope. The steeple of the church of St. Mary le Strand was completed that year under the direction of architect James Gibbs. King George threw his son out of the royal household in 1717, and Free Masons founded the Grand Lodge of London and Westminster… Nothing terribly riveting. A Mediocris Anno.

St Mary Le Strand 1842 partleton co uk

With one exception. Next week I will tell you about composer George Handel and a wonderful piece of music with an intimate connection to the River Thames.

- Glen

Photo credits: the Palace of Westminster & Big Ben –; The Great Fire of London –; St. Mary Le Strand -

Thames Blog 28: Our Mascot “Alfred”

Falling Down the Thames Blog 28, 24th September 2014

Our Mascot “Alfred”

When Glen and I were tossing about ideas for our Thames adventure, we decided it would be fun to have a mascot join us for the aquatic voyage.

We were already very fond of the kingfisher thanks to its residence along many parts of the River Thames, and due to the fact that I am an amateur bird lover and Glen is a professional bird lover. We stared at the kingfisher on our logo and decided that would be the perfect mascot.

Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) feeding young UK

Now we just had to find a plush Kingfisher big enough that it could be viewed by observers on the river banks as we paddled down the Thames.

As it turns out, kingfisher plush toys are hardly ubiquitous. But thanks to an intensive Google search, we came across a beautiful handmade kingfisher being sold by a young woman in the Netherlands.

Karin was selling the bird on the wonderful online artisan marketplace,, through her business Stitched Creatures. We contacted Karin and after describing our upcoming trip and our mascot needs, she agreed to make us a custom kingfisher using the colors which appear on our logo: bright blue, deep orange, and deep yellow.

After two weeks and a series of back-and-forth emails from Karin in which we applauded her fabric selection, Alfred was born. Standing 14 inches tall, and composed of a precise patchwork of brightly-coloured felt, corduroy and flannel, he looks majestic and sports an expression that says “Ready for adventure!”. He even has a small fabric loop behind his head, allowing us to clip him to our backpack or the deck of our boat, and a small fish in a front pouch.


Alfred will be experiencing every inch of the Thames and every moment of our voyage, including our visits to pubs and to elementary schools. We now just need to find him a suitable lifejacket.

- Krista


www stitchedcreatures com

Photo credit: Common Kingfishers –; “Welcome” –