Falling Down the Thames Blog 54, 8th April 2015
Why the River Thames?
Krista and I are just a couple of weeks from the start of the paddling adventure we are calling Falling Down the Thames. We will propel ourselves the length of England’s great River Thames, from its source near the village of Kemble in Gloucestershire, under countless bridges and through myriad locks, taking in the grand cities of Oxford, Reading and London. We will pass out through the Thames Estuary and along the north and east coasts of Kent, to end at the Roman fort at Richborough. More than four hundred glorious kilometres of paddling, first in a canoe, and later in a kayak.
Plans for our upcoming adventure have attracted a great deal of attention, and a fair few quizzical looks. The single question that I have been asked most frequently is: “How long is this going to take you?” We will be on the water for three weeks. The second most common question has been: “Why the Thames?” I don’t think that Krista and I have a single, simple response to that question. Perhaps the best answer is: “Because of my mum.”
Kathleen Chilton was born in Leicester in 1931. Her family moved to Kent when she was very young, and resided there at the outbreak of WWII. Despite the dangers and privations of those times, Mum frequently described them as some of the best of her life. Hardship persisted in Europe for many years after the war ended, and like so many British families, my mother, her husband and my older brother emigrated in search of a more prosperous life. They moved to Canada in 1954, where I was born four years later.
My mother may have left England, but England never really left my mother. There was, for instance, always a hint of the Queen in her voice, and this was never more true than while I was being scolded for being naughty. I was swept along on this wave of British nostalgia. On birthdays I received toys constructed in the UK, and I devoured copies of The Beano and The Dandy comic books. As a child, I used the word “chesterfield” rather than “couch,” ate Marmite sandwiches for lunch, and often had Bird’s custard for dessert. When I was eleven my first-ever ride in an airplane took me to England, and a month in the cathedral city of Canterbury started my love affair with that community. All told, I have spent about three years in the United Kingdom.
The River Thames is as rich in human history as in natural history. Paddling it, and the coast of Kent, will be a significant challenge for us, without being too dangerous. But the same qualities can be attributed to lots of other rivers. Could it be that Krista and I are about to paddle the Thames because of my mother?
After a happy and productive life, Kathleen Chilton died two weeks ago. At no time in her passing was she in pain, nor was she frightened. She simply came to the end of her life. Perhaps that life can be celebrated in some tiny way by the Falling Down the Thames adventure. Over the past year-and-a-half my mum followed the preparations of Krista and I carefully. She read all of our blogs. Krista gave Mum one of the Alfred Kingfishers that she had made specially for our adventure. Mum was eagerly anticipating our presentation to the students at Reculver Primary School, seventy-five years after she attended classes there. She knew intimately some of the spots that we will be paddling past, including Herne Bay and Broadstairs.
Mum – it is almost time to go Falling Down the Thames.