The Thames Path pleases me. I have no idea how far it stretches — all the way to the headwaters? — but if I were to keep walking east from Richmond, I’m pretty sure I could go without interruption on from here to Southwark. (If I had the endurance.) The companion trail on the north bank is the part of the same route I travel on my first day of these trips, along the bank from Blackfriars to the Tower. In the City it’s pretty in a paved and urbanized way; out here it’s rutted gravel and untrimmed verdage. It’s easy to imagine myself back in the past, editing out the few modern notes that creep into my view.
I’m on the Thames Path because the prospect of walking a mile and a half from Richmond to the Stuart manor of Ham House does not so much as make me blink anymore. It’s just a nice stroll. I eat my orange saved from breakfast while sitting on a bench outside the house, waiting for my noon appointment, and life is good.
It’s appropriate that I should find it easy to mentally step back into the past; Ham House has been called “Sleeping Beauty,” for its near-unchanged appearance. Some alterations have happened, of course, but it’s almost entirely Stuart. My tour provides me not only with a sense of what aspects of life have changed since the Elizabethan era — carpets and glass mirrors are more common, frex — but with a possible character for the book! Elizabeth Dysart sounds remarkable indeed, smuggling coded letters out of England to the “Sealed Knot” of young noblemen trying to restore Charles II to the throne. (And that’s even before you get to the scurrilous rumour that her son was really fathered by Oliver Cromwell.) The gardens are remarkable, too — not just decorated with replica statuary, but planted with period species. For the first time, I begin to understand the seventeenth-century mania for tulips. I’m used to thinking of them as relatively boring cups — pretty enough, but not that exciting. The older cultivars are frilled. The petals have ragged, ruffled edges that give them a vibrancy and appeal the modern types simply lack. I might buy tulips, if I could buy these kinds.
Back along the Thames Path — past a dog rolling joyously in the thick meadow grass, blithely ignoring his master’s whistle; past a black bird sauntering along swinging his tail feathers as if to say, “yeah, I’m the man;” past a mallard duck that could care less that I’m a million times his size, he’s in no hurry to get out of my way — I pause for ice cream in Richmond, because it’s what this day needs. (I have been incredibly lucky in my weather this trip.)
And tonight — as promised in the title of the post — I have a social life! The inestimable fjm invited me to her house for dinner and conversation with the nine friends she could scrounge up on short notice, and only gave me a little hell for having neglected to tell her I was coming to London. After nights twiddling my thumbs in the hostel, it’s exactly what I need.
But now it is eleven-thirty and I need to be in bed. Last day tomorrow, and while it isn’t precisely a full one, I want my rest. If only because I have to get up at four-thirty the morning after . . . .