WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD! Is it? Breaking away for a moment after a busy time moving house and in the wake of the recent bombings, fire tragedies and attacks worldwide, a welcome meander along the river was like a breath of fresh air to me.
PICTURE THIS: The suns rays and a river scene complete with friends and family, young and old, taking full advantage of the glorious sunshine, basking in its warmth.
As I walked, alone, along the length of the river in the heart of Surrey’s green hills and fields I was so blessed by my day that I wanted to share it. So in my best not-yet-polished-way I attempt to describe what I saw and hopefully take your breath away too? (Do let me know – your thoughts as always appreciated, dear reader).
Along the river bank boats were moored and I noticed a lone middle-aged sunbather slapping on suncream, legs raised on a barge deck chair. On the path regular walkers took full advantage of the welcome sunshine as if it hadn’t shone in a while and may just cease (as if it would!); from time to time the ting of a bicycle bell broke the silence resulting in everyone shooting to one side of the path along the river bank to avoid collision. Not everyone walked with company. A silver grey-topped man plodded hunchbacked along, carrier bag in hand, perhaps I thought, returning from or heading for his allotment. He nodded politely “Good evening” I nodded and smiled back. A teenager engrossed in the sounds emanating from his earphones, the next to traverse this path, remained engrossed and engaged with all this meant to him trundled purposefully. I did wonder what would happen if a fast-moving bike invaded his space – catastrophe? I hope not.
Previously while perched on a bench, I noticed a family of four throwing bird seed out to ducks. ‘How quaint and sensible,’ I thought. ‘Not bread but bird seed.’ A little boy, aged about three threw a tantrum. “MY TURN!” His sister was hogging his father’s attention, clearly. Under the bridge a fair distance away another boy scout wannabe was wading out a little far for comfort scooping up water in a plastic bottle, tossing it away again. “COME BACK HERE!” the jist of his mother’s yell! Was he scooping fish or tadpoles? He was about aged ten and another boy of a similar age played alongside perched under the bridge arch pretended to have his own den or personal space… imagining as they do. Took me back as I reminisced of days gone by when my own son planned, built and designed from one adventure to another.
Crossing the bridge I chanced a photo shot up river, taking in the scene before me: Families picnicking, cyclists resting, swans and cygnet gliding, spectators at the lock gawking, lovers embracing, children running and climbing, a couple posing, a lone runner, a purposeful canoe. The list goes on and so does my walk and meander down the river. Coming to a weir I happened to confront a deafening sound, the water as it cascaded over the weir crashing and foaming, it flowed dangerously downstream. Pausing – this for me an ideal opportunity to pause and reflect. Not long and thoughts turned again to a group on the opposite side of the river bank, picnicking at tables in full conversation, the babble of voices and laughter barely audible above the sound of rushing water below. Another bridge to cross and more bends and dips before heading on to the quiet of the path ahead. Overwhelmed by the tranquility, blazing sunshine and shimmering river reflections, I burst into song (not audibly, you’ll be pleased to hear!), enjoying the moment.
Further down stream an elderly couple sat in the shade of a large oak tree. Prompted to speak, I did. Boldly smiling and chatting overcoming my instinct to ‘hush, don’t speak. What would people think’.
“Enjoying the sunshine? Nice spot in the shade?”
“Yes it is,” they agreed, responding too with broad smiles and I noticed Northern accents too.
“Good bench that, perfect spot!”
“We spotted it while we were walking past, ” they replied warmly “and we hoped that it would still be free when we came back!”
We went on to talk about the lovely sunshine and the day I’d had and they’d had. Finally I said my goodbyes as did they. A thought shadowed my mind, these were strangers and ordinarily it’s frowned upon to engage in conversation at all, especially a woman on her own and why would you? ‘NONSENSE!’ I argued with myself.
Not far around another bend on this path and widening river, another bridge higher and more substantial than the previous one. This one arched across the extent of the river at a height and had stairs leading to it on either side. I noticed the sign on the edge of the path, near the steps in white bold print on a red board. DO NOT JUMP OR DIVE OFF THIS BRIDGE. Another sign, less threatening but equally bold writing on a white board, strung across the river where it parted: KEEP CLEAR. Then a short distance on the other side of the bridge a family happily played at the river’s edge, a little girl of about seven or eight swam well in the shallows keenly watched by her mother, also in a costume wrestling with a five-year old. I smiled, engaged in eye contact and she grinned back. To her child: “Warned you, didn’t I?” Overhead I was distracted by the sounds of two teenage boys climbing the bridge steps, in swimming costumes. The next minute they were jumping off the bridge and making big splashes as they took turns to plunge into the water below. Two middle-aged men with their wives observed from the river bank and took in the scene before them. Again I engaged in conversation, remarking at the refreshing freedom that these youth were enjoying the sunshine and water on an unusually hot day. Neither of the men, or women, tutted. Each reflected their experiences of a time in the 70’s when this would be acceptable behaviour, allowed and not frowned upon. One of the red-faced grey-haired men observed “There’s probably a sign somewhere saying ‘DON’T JUMP OFF THE BRIDGE’ but clearly they are enjoying themselves.”
So, my walk continued, leaving behind me the families picnicking close to town, the boats and barges moored, the family in swim-mode and not to forget the elderly couple resting too on the stone built bench conveniently placed.
Out into the country more sights: a vast field of cut grass with trees sparsely dotted throughout and a flock of sheep grazing blissfully heads down. Close by black cattle grazed half-in half-out of the river. Breaking the silence some swooping noisy crows, the wispy leafed branches of willows swishing in the breeze, a haven for small birds and the distant sound of a dog yapping. These bursts of sound blended in with my own footsteps, my sandals on the path, river sand between my toes tossed to and fro. Suddenly a train not far away giving its input, distinctly sounding out its own tune, drowning out any other with a ‘clickety clack, clickety clack’ …
Another family came on the scene, consisting of four adults of various ages with dogs in tow, one a poodle type, a sausage dog and a basset hound all walked freely without leash. They happily chatted and laughed as one dog chased after a boy and another family coming towards them. The boy tossed a rugby ball in the air. Clearly this fluffy poodle-type dog wanted to assert his authority! “NOT HAVING THAT!” he yapped.
All too soon the time was over…back to reality and the journey home, an ice cream, replenished supply of cold water and thoughts to the evening ahead. A quiet one, embracing the solitude and all the time wishing, hoping for the chance to share, as I do now Dear Reader with you.
SOME SIGNS, I reflect that our modern-day society necessitate:
DON’T JUMP OR DIVE OFF THE BRIDGE
KEEP YOUR DOGS ON LEADS
Welcome your thoughts on all of the above?