OK, the Thames Path isn’t exactly the wilderness! It doesn’t compare to crossing the Bayuda Desert or ascending the peaks of Nepal, but this challenge has still pushed me and Victoria out of our comfort zone. There have been moments of tenuous map reading, the scaling of inhospitable fences after taking a wrong turn, cautious negotiation of a field full of curious cows, and a LOT of loo stops in convenient bushes. There have been miserable gale force winds, and feet so sore we thought we couldn’t walk another step. But there has also been euphoria; the first time we broke through the twenty-mile mark, we realised what we were truly capable of, and our whole mindset shifted.
We’re walking the Thames Path in aid of the mental health charity Mind, and what better way to find peace of mind than putting one foot in front of each other in the great outdoors. We reflect and we ponder. Whilst the walking pushes us physically, it also stimulates our brains. Motherhood can consume you mentally. Sometimes a personal achievement can be simply getting the last pile of washing folded and put away, and so you can crave a creative or therapeutic outlet for yourself – a chance to get better acquainted with the ‘you’ that existed before the children came along. Vic and I embarked on the Thames Path as a way of finding our feet after The Baby Years, and boy has it worked! We’ve worked through a lot of indecision, answered a lot of our own questions…and then asked ourselves a whole bunch more!
In our eyes, the river is so synonymous with this stage of our lives, we feel we belong to it, and it to us, so it’s no wonder that started to feel somewhat possessive of it. Oxford, our first big settlement, was a milestone for us. I’d been looking forward to breezing through this iconic city, but the experience was somewhat of a disappointment, a shock to the system. We been one of the very few people walking the Thames Path for so long that sharing it felt like a violation. This was our river, wasn’t it? This waterway with its meadows, wild flowers, fields, sheep, woodlands, styles and country lanes had belonged to us and now we had to make allowances.
We had to yield to insistent people on bicycles, the tinkle of a silver bell constantly sneaking up behind us.
We had to weave around students dressed up for an end-of-year bash, lovers holding hands, children on scooters, and dogs on retractable leads.
Oh, and not to mention the tramps, swigging from a can of lager and slurring insults at each other.
Our Thames which had been so rural, so clean, now felt crowded and tainted. You realise just how ugly civilisation is when you’ve been away from it. The path led us under huge, unsightly concrete bridges, upon which rushed a thousand cars, and we walked through these sinister, lifeless depths. A lone dark figure crouched under the eaves, anonymous and soulless, and we hurried on. This was not the Thames we knew. Soon, the path became green and unimpeded, we breathed a sigh of relief. Still, urbanisation was something we’d have to accept. After all, London was calling…
Enough of the rumination for now, here are some of the highlights of our journey, photographed by myself. If you have time to look at our fundraising page and make a small donation to Mind, we would be over the moon. Thank you!