2023 saw Clare Wadd start spending time on – and just occasionally in – the River Thames.
2023 has been a watery year. I live in southwest London, 10 minutes’ walk from the Thames, and upstream from Teddington Lock where tidal section stops. My nearly 30 years in London have all been within in striking distance of the river, and I’ve always felt the draw of it – the tranquillity, the nature on the towpath, and the sense of space, of escape, it offers. Since we moved to Kingston, I’ve walked its banks often, choosing The Thames Path for the walk to the supermarket and into town. Then, a few years ago I took up running, doing Couch to 5K and now my local Parkrun alongside it – so Saturday mornings start by The Thames where, at this time of year, wintery sunrises and melting sparkly hoar frosts help lift my spirits.
But 2023 is the year I started spending time on – and just occasionally in – the river. I joined a paddleboarding club, heading out in the evenings or early mornings with a friendly mixed ability group. Sometimes it’s been serene, calm and quiet – just us few silently gliding through the water with the ducks and swans for company, trying to spot fishing lines stretched out in the evening gloom. Other times it’s busy with rowers and canoeists, motorboats – jams, and occasional collisions, by the wind-out bridge where we emerge from the placid channel hidden the far side of Trowlock Island. Seeing my local stretch of river – that I thought I knew so well – from on, rather than beside the water, has made me think about the current and the wind, and the trees whose branches stretch far out into the channel. I’ve enjoyed early morning tranquillity, gorgeous sunsets over Teddington Lock, squally days, calm days, blackberrying, and tea and cake with my paddling pals.
As the year progressed, my skills improved as my vocabulary and kit expanded. I started out small with a waterproof phone case, a sunglasses strap and a dry-bag – and then got my own paddleboard, electric pump, life jacket, neoprene socks and leggings, yulux jacket, lights. With my own board, I nervously braved my first few solo paddles, cautiously hugging the bank, dropping to my knees with every backwash, careful not to fall in.
It’s been another swimming year too. I ticked some beautiful new-to-me lidos off my wish-list – the stately Cheltenham, the chill majestic art-deco Tineside in Plymouth and the geothermal delights of Penzance. And then there was the choppy, cold functional Walpole Bay, community pools in Moretonhampstead and Kingsteignton in Devon – and old favourites, the Serpentine and my local Hampton Pool in London, and Shoalstone Pool in Brixham. Time spent in Devon brought sea-swims too – I braved a dip from Breakwater Beach in Brixham in November for the first time, made a return visit to St Mary’s Bay further along the coast path, stumbled on Sugary Cove near Dartmouth Castle, and had a splendid walk and swim at Salcombe Regis with fellow CBTR contributor Alistair Fitchett and partner Carrie. I tried my first sea paddles at Broadsands Bay in Paignton, learning self-rescue in warm September waters and stupidly getting my fin stuck in some rocks when I ventured out of the bay.
You don’t get a t-shirt for your 150th Parkrun, but I was pleased to hit that milestone all the same. I never tire of our local course along the towpath here in Kingston, whilst enjoying trying new ones, where the welcome is always friendly. This year my partner and I had Friday night craft beer and Saturday morning runs in Chichester, on Marlborough Downs, in a lovely park in Havant and at Hereford’s racetrack, whilst I ventured solo to Exeter, tried the new hilly Sharpham Estate Parkrun at Totnes, enjoyed Margate and caught the last ever event on the airfield at Henstridge.
2023’s reading has been mostly women yet again. I finally tried Barbara Kingsolver, loving both Demon Copperfield and The Poisonwood Bible. Emma Donaghue is a firm favourite and I adored Frog Music, Slammerkin will stay with me, and I made it through Landing in French (Long Courrier), a novel that will resonate with anyone whose younger days included forming close relationships, or falling in love, through the post – in my case via fanzines and music. The ever-brilliant Ann Patchett published the Tom Lake, which lived up to all my expectations, and Kate Atkinson’s Shrines of Gaiety was every bit as good as you’d expect. I was delighted too to discover some new-to me authors, and highly recommend Tara Stringfellow’s, Memphis, Parini Shroff‘s The Bandit Queens, and Bonnie Garmus’ Lessons In Chemistry (televised on Netflix) to anyone who hasn’t come across them already.
Music-wise, well I got to hear the new Ducks Ltd album, to see reformed The Delgados and the always brilliant Stars again, and Spearmint made a new album and played live. And I saw Dexy’s launch The Feminine Divine in Kingston and it’s soundtracked my drives to and from Devon ridiculously often. I love a different venue, and new to me this year were The Sound Lounge in Sutton (Jasmine Minks), Balham Bedford (Jon Allen), Hoxton Hall (LYR), Ramsgate Music Hall (Romeo Stodart), The Essex Arms (Burr Island), and somewhere in the suburbs of Ghent (Turquoise).
I’m hoping 2024 will bring more time outdoors – walking, running, paddling and swimming – and, of course, more time curled up with a good book or out at a gig. So far I have tickets for The Winter Sprinter at the Lexington, Taylor Swift in Lyon and The Postal Service at All Points East – and I just heard The Umbrellas are coming to the UK again – so there’s much to look forward to.