Caught by the River

A Collection of Words on the Wandle

20th July 2015

Wandle final_sr_edited-4
Illustration: John Richardson at Two Terriers Press

Reading regular contributor Melissa Harrison‘s latest blog post about her walk along the River Wandle this week, we were prompted to revisit Roy Wilkinson‘s piece on the selfsame subject. Roy’s ‘The River Wandle’ can be read in full in our first book, A Collection of Words on Water, originally published in 2009 – and available as a paperback the Caught by the River shop. For now, here’s an extract.

The Wandle Trust organises monthly river clean-ups. I go to one of these mass river-sprucings, on a stretch of the Wandle a little to the east of Wimbledon Common. Perhaps Tomsk and Tobermory and the other forward-thinking greens in the Womble burrow were looking on approvingly.

If environmental action can sometimes suggest mind-numbing labour, this Wandle clean-up isn’t like that. There’s excellent organisation, some tea and cake and the chance of an invigorating encounters with eel and vole. Around 40 people materialise by a bridge in South London. Here the water is deeper, sometimes over head-height. There are waders for everyone who wants them – bringing the great pleasure that comes when cool water flows over your still-dry thigh. There’s also the satisfaction of dragging a lot of stuff up out of the water.

Previous clean-ups along the Wandle have turned up a complete fitted kitchen, a selection of bronze antiquities and a wrought-iron spiral staircase. Today the accent is on two-wheeled transport. We pull out two scooters, a bike and the remains of two motorbikes. One of the scooters is a modern Vespa with space-age silver curves, its manufacture overseen from the company’s HQ in the Tuscan town of Pontedera. The scooter is nearly new, seemingly ready to respond to a kick-start once it’s drained off a bit. It’s clearly been nicked, used for a brief joyride and then launched into the river.

It sometimes seems a river can draw in anyone or anything. Eels have pulled themselves away from the great vortex of the Sargasso Sea, swimming here from their birthplace out by Bermuda. A Vespa has come splashing in from Italy, brought here by petty criminality and the water’s concealing depths.

Roy will be joining us at Port Eliot Festival (30 July-2 August), sharing M.C. duties with John Andrews over the weekend, and presenting his annual music-and-nature quiz on Thursday 30 July at 5pm. He will also be appearing at The Good Life Experience, 18-20 September.

Roy Wilkinson on Caught by the River