Get Outside: The Thames

Out of all the things I miss about my time living in the south of England, I probably miss the Thames (pronounced “Tem-s”) the most. According to its tourism website, the River Thames stretches for 210 miles from the Cotswolds, through Oxford and London, and out to the North Sea. In Oxford, it is sometimes referred to as the Isis or Cherwell, though I stubbornly always called it the Thames. Before last term, I had only known the Thames as something literary thanks to Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness.” Upon arriving in Oxford and quarantining in a room overlooking this magnificent river, however, I quickly became very familiar with and fond of it. 

The Thames’s fame is very self-evident. For the two weeks I was perched up in my quarantine room with a view, I saw countless narrowboats, rowing boats, kayaks, stand-up paddle boards, canoes and birds utilizing the long river for sport, pleasure or pure nature. Being from Appleton, no one uses the Fox River like the British people and birds used the Thames! After leaving quarantine, I moved to another accommodation building in South Oxford. Though I no longer had a direct view of the river, I still saw it every day on my way to get meals and walked along it every week for my tutorial. My tutor actually lives in a boat community on the Thames, so we discussed Conrad over a cup of black tea on her narrowboat — that was incredibly unforgettable. On my 20-minute walk along the river, I noticed permanent narrowboats tied to steel posts with permits hanging in their windows; many others were also living on the river. With the cost of living in Oxford so high, many find this to be a cheaper and more idyllic alternative to living in the City Centre.  

With all of the schoolwork I had to do each week, it was easy to stay in City Centre or on St. Aldate’s and ignore Oxford’s natural beauty. Christchurch Meadows, Portmeadow and University Parks, along with my standard walk alongside the Thames, all were great escapes. Positioned around Oxford, each offered a different view of the Thames. I tried to try rowing at my college’s boat house in South Oxford, but the characteristic English weather prevented me. I did get to kayak on the part of the Thames inside Portmeadow and cross a bridge overlooking the river in University Parks. Getting to kayak on the Thames was one of my most favorite moments. I remember paddling on a narrow stream with several others. There were branches all over, and the water was relatively shallow. We got very close to ducks — some stayed really still and quiet, watching us in the branches, while others, startled, quacked as they flew close over our heads. It was such a misty, gray-blue day, and the water took the same characteristics. I will always remember that incredible moment when I felt so close to the ducks. 

As the leaves started to change along the river, I began documenting my appreciation for the Thames. I have so many pictures of orange leaves, swans, geese, horses, cows, boats and bikers with the river somewhere at the center. I even have a video of a duck fight I witnessed on my way home from my tutorial! Although the Thames is about a 15-minute walk from City Centre, it could not be more central to Oxford. Everyone and everything seems able to find respite in the calm water. From permanent narrowboat dwellers to rowing coaches cycling up and down on the Thames Path as their rowers passed by the boat houses, the Thames was always lively and beautiful every time I got to enjoy it. I also loved how the colors of the river would change each day —sometimes a gray-blue or just very gray and, other times, a bright blue. My tutor says the river has a mood unique to it — separate from the sky. 

When I visited London my very first time, I was by the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and the London Eye when I stopped and realized I was by the Thames — it looked so different than the one I had come to know and love in Oxford! I swear, I stayed at the peak of the bridge for 30 minutes to watch it in awe (with the melodious tunes of a kilted man playing the bagpipes in the background). I was so impressed by its breadth in London and took many videos to document this. Unlike the Thames in Oxford, Westminster’s Thames seemed to be very commercial. Big ships were anchored to the sides and others were passing by very slowly. I appreciated it nonetheless, but it made me a bit sad to think that Londoners couldn’t enjoy the water in the same way that those in Oxfordshire can. 

I think that it’s incredible how different one river can be at its various points. The Thames was very different in Oxford compared to London, but imagine how small and narrow and shallow it is at its source near the Cotswolds! Or how deep and expansive it might be by the North Sea! Or even how different it was along the Thames Path by my accommodation and Christchurch Meadows compared to Portmeadow or University Parks! It’s the same river, but it would be unfortunate to think of it as always having the same characteristics throughout its duration.  

Nature is more complex than we could ever understand in its entirety, and I believe that it’s important to accept and appreciate. Part of the beauty too, though, is how simple and natural it is, innate to this planet. Remember: we have our very own Thames here in Appleton. Use it like a British person or bird might and take a moment to watch the eagles and seagulls and sometimes even pelicans, flying overhead. Know that you are not a cog in a machine. Lawrence is not all that you are. Appreciate the nature around you. 

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