Thursday, 8 March 2012

Streets Ahead (And Beaches Too)

Streets Ahead is the occasional column from London Walks' Pen David Tucker





The Beachcombing Walks.

Let me try and underline for you how special the experience is. Why they’re the only London Walks in the programme that I would go on every single time if I could. (Which all by itself is about as 24-carat as recommendations come.)

For starters, I’d estimate that something like 75,000 people a day move along there and idly glance at that stretch of the “beach”. None of them will see what we see – even though they’re looking at the very same chunk of foreshore we "probe".

And since I like seeing things that other people don’t get to see…

Then there’s the “killer app” reason I’d go on every single one if I could. The K.A. reason is that every Beachcombing outing is different. They’re different because the foreshore changes every day. So you always find new stuff. See new stuff. Learn new stuff.

Find new stuff indeed. I’m thinking of the one that left me green with envy for weeks afterward. One of the walkers – a chap from New Zealand – found the finest clay pipe I've ever seen. Beautifully decorated the bowl was, with Prince of Wales feathers. And what's extremely rare – it had practically a full stem. It was pristine. The Londoner who puffed away on it 400 years ago would have recognised it as "hey, that's my pipe". Stemmed. Pristine. Perfectly preserved. As opposed to what you usually find down there – which is a pretty good "fragment" of a pipe. If you're lucky a perfectly preserved bowl and maybe a bit of stem. But to have a beautiful bowl with several inches of stem attached to it – well, that's just so special. Absolutely good enough to be in the Museum of London's collection.

That was the time we had two archaeologists along. A gal who studied with Fiona pitched up. Her specialty, though, is terra firma – as opposed to the "inter-tidal" regions that Fiona "makes her own". By that last pair of inverted commas I mean, boy does she know her stuff. It's a revelation from first to last. Bone that's been sawed and is rough from the saw cut – as opposed to smooth – what that tells you. Or pottery that was "finished" by having salt flung at it. And of course when she calls your attention to the "granules", yes, sure enough, there they are. Or the chalk marks from the barge beds. Or the story of her Roman roof tile – the one with the puppy prints across it. A Roman puppy who trotted across that tile when it was still soft out of the oven. Trotted across it some 1800 years ago.

Just fascinating...

Fiona’s the real deal. Ph.D. on the prehistory of rivers. Been on digs in Jordan, Turkey, Oman, Syria, Egypt, Barbados, Slovakia, Scotland, southern England and, of course, in London on both dryland sites and the Thames foreshore.




The Beachcombing Walks schedule has just been added to www.walks.com (see Latest News column).


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