Caught by the River

Shadows and Reflections

Melissa Mouchemore | 28th December 2021

It’s time once again for the annual end-of-year musings we call Shadows and Reflections. Today Melissa Mouchemore looks back over the past 12 months.

This year – what to say?  I scroll through my tweets.  

January.  Frustration and near hallucinatory longings.

In a state of emergency I bury myself in 1950s jaunts on the Thames – punting, sailing, rowing.  Hampers, champers!  We might stop at Dexters *the home of super-fancies*. There will be biscuits and the sun will shine on the river.

February. No change so I carry on cruising down the Thames accompanied by guidebooks and my 8 year old diary.

No seventies boating holiday on England’s waterways (and I had a few) was complete without the Nicholson Guide.  They used to be narrow like the boats. 1/3

2/3  I could chart our adventure in the days before we left, when it all lay before us and the reality of locks, boat handling, moans and family arguments began.  Nicholson doesn’t mention storming off down the tow path.

3/3 Here is one page of the detailed Nicholson guide and in contrast my scant *ship’s log*. ‘Got to lock at Windsor. There was a large queue.’

March.  I am cheered by the updates from Thames twitter folk – extreme low and high tides, the Twickenham seal(!), the Arctic freeze.  Oh to be there IRL.   I carry on journeying down the Thames in books.

‘…she could see the Thames Valley lying below, with wooded hillsides and orchards, roof-tops, in the distance the gas holder of Staines …’.  Hadn’t realized how many glimpses of the #Thames run through this – an added delight.

April.  Mole-like I sniff the scent of possibility beyond the Thames to East Anglia although still mainly via Twitter, maps and plans.

Octavia is taking passengers to the Ness again.

Over 500 days since the last crossing.

Starting to think about a new piece and always first the map goes up.

May. The water lands of Norfolk open up to me via old photographs and oral history records.

Reading about the owner of this ferry who, in the 1953 floods, rowed right across the map.  Not along the river.  Over the ‘land’ to other villages further south.

Uncle Billy, Norwich ferryman and wherryman.  Had an ‘arrangement’ with the Dutch coasters bringing coal.  If the police came sniffing, the stash went overboard. Billy ‘dydled’ it out again from the concrete platform right under the boat.

June.  I wander the waterways and ports of East Anglia via pen and ink sketches. 

I love escaping into Andrew Dodds’ drawings and just at the moment it’s this one at Reedham on the Yare.  A low winter sun seems odd to be drawn to at summer solstice time, but I can hear those seagulls circling, feel the emptiness of the marshes.

July.  Release.  Some Caught by the Riverers get there first. @jonwoolcott pages me with a photo of a ferry sign.

Ferry correspondents out and about!

Then it’s my turn.

First I make a beeline for the places Andrew Dodds sketched so lovingly.  

Swing Bridge, Reedham, River Yare.  Edwardian signal box.   When I was little I wanted to be the signal ‘man’ from my brothers’ train books – aloft in a hut in charge of all the levers.  Tizer, buns, The Beezer,  Bunty, binoculars.  Health and safety gone mad.

And then…

Heading North


I am in the expansive North, the furthest I have been from home for so long.  My tweets can hardly contain themselves.

Ferry Land!

Exultation is the going

Of an inland soul to sea ..

E. Dickinson

September. The exultation is over.  

Dense fog has rolled in at Tilbury.

October.  Ditto.

Windermere ferry halted after ‘excessive rainfall’ in Lake District.

November.  Ditto.

Northlink Ferries. Advance warnings of disruptions – due to adverse weather conditions all sailings are currently under review.

December.  In a state of emergency I wrap myself once more in maps, photographs and archives.

‘Storm-stayed’ school children unable to ferry home, keeping warm by the schoolhouse stove, their bottles of cold tea brought from home, warming (and exploding) by the fire.  The school inspector not impressed. #FerryJourneys #InnerHebrides

Storm-stayed.   Probably the best we can hope for, for now.