THIS is my final Riverwatch column.
After more than seven years and over 300 editions, this wonderful little newspaper is about to close and rather than cling on grimly until the last moment, I’ve decided to bow out gracefully ahead of time.
I’ve had a fantastic time writing about our stretch of the Thames and, in doing so, I’ve met some amazing people and some brilliant characters who all have one thing in common – a love for the most famous river in England.
I’d like this last Riverwatch to be a tribute to all of them because without their input and enthusiasm, I’d have had much less to write about.
I’ve covered traditional boatbuilding on the Thames with Mike Dennett and his team at Laleham Reach. A great group of guys who have rightly earned themselves a reputation for first class workmanship and a love of history by restoring and maintaining so many of the Dunkirk Little Ships.
I must also pay tribute to Jenny Beagle, from Bridge Marine where my brother and I kept our boats for so many years, who was always a source of great stories.
Another highlight has been focusing on the wildlife of the Thames – everything from kingfishers to herons and from salmon to champion pike.
Even writing about invasive species like the Chinese mitten crab, quagga mussels and the American freshwater shrimp has been interesting.
Delving into the history of the Thames through articles about the islands that can be found along the river from Molesey to Runnymede – Tagg’s, Pharoah’s, Lady May’s, Desborough, Grand Junction – all had stories to tell about the Thames’ past.
I particularly enjoyed revealing some of the wartime contributions made by those who lived and worked along the river – from building motor torpedo boats to testing amphibious tanks – along with the role of the Thames Patrol, the Home Guard on the river.
I’ve written about the bridges that span the river, the development of the lock and weir systems right up to the current day and the future plans to try to prevent a recurrence of the devastating floods that affected so many last winter.
I’ve been taken to task for not writing enough about fishing on the Thames (particularly by my old mate, Doug Millsom from Weybridge, who calls himself the ‘Ancient Angler’). It is, after all, still one of the biggest participant pastimes in the United Kingdom. Sorry Doug – I never did get round to a study of where all the fish have disappeared to!
Over the past seven years, I’ve written a lot about the Environment Agency’s role as guardians of the Thames and I have to say my attitude towards it has altered quite a lot over that time.
Starting from a view that the EA was failing to look after the Thames effectively, it has slowly dawned on me that the agency has been battling a series of massive cuts in its budget that would have defeated many other teams yet it has performed miracles with very limited resources. The fabric of the Thames – the locks, weirs and moorings – has probably never been in better condition than right now and no one should criticise the dedication of the people who wear the EA uniform.
I’d like to thank all the wonderful boat clubs I’ve covered in Riverwatch – from skiff and punt clubs to dragon boat racers to rowing clubs.
And especially our lovely sailing clubs – Desborough, Staines, Hampton, Arial and, of course, Weybridge SC who adopted me and proved what I’ve always believed – that sailors are among the most welcoming group of folk on the planet.
It’s been a long and eventful voyage writing Riverwatch and now that it’s coming to an end, I know I shall miss it terribly, but I will walk away with some lovely memories. And I’d like to thank everyone that I’ve not managed to mention by name here for their contributions.
To quote Douglas Adams, the author of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy ; ‘So long, and thanks for all the fish…’