Island Life

imageimageimageimageFor  the last 8 years I have lived on a little island on the river Thames.

Water, as I’ve mentioned before, has always been my element, and I had promised myself many years ago that one day, I would live on or beside it.

I first saw my house when idly browsing one day on a website specialising in waterside homes.
Coming from a very large Edwardian house, I took one look at it and thought it was not big enough.

And then I adjusted my perspective and began to think again.

Compact and much smaller than I had been used to, yes, but right on the river in a peaceful and beautiful backwater, with my own mooring and a south-westerly view, which meant that we would get the sun all day right through until sunset.
On one of the quirky little islands that dot this stretch of the Thames like tiny jewels, yet with the best pub in the area just the other side of the bridge and only 15 minutes into London from our railway station.

All this, and with one wall entirely window, filling the house with light and a large decking wrapping around for barbecues and evening cocktails.

Best of all, somewhere of my own to sit right at the water’s edge and dip my toes and reflect.
I would have been mad to turn it down, it had my name all over it.

I went to see it, walking over the large iron bridge and down the winding footpath that runs through the centre.
That was it- love at first sight!

A week later, I signed the deeds and it was mine. I’ve always been decisive when it comes to something ( or someone ) I love.

So we moved in, Freddie, Molly and I, one rainy March day.
By boat, because it was an island after all.

The removal men dropped in the river and smashed, one of my antique Victorian wash-stands and our cat was shell-shocked at the sight of so much water, but we were in.
We had to sell the piano!

When I tell people I live on an island, I hear one of four reactions:

‘ Oh, so where do you park?’
‘ But what do you do when you have to carry all your shopping?’
‘Do you ever get flooded?’

Or lastly, and much more rarely : ‘ How amazing and lucky, I’d love to live on the river!’

I always know that the person who says any one of the first three sentences will never live anywhere like this.
You need to have a certain adventurous spirit to live somewhere unusual and parking is not usually uppermost in that kind of mind.

To think of such banalities as parking and shopping when there is outstanding natural beauty to be had so close to the centre of London is to completely miss the point!

For this is one of the most glorious and unspoilt stretches of water, in the first real village outside London.

Shaped like a canoe and with only 49 houses, each one different, this is one of the smallest of the islands on The Thames.

One of the first things people notice is that we have our own post- box, which is rather quaint and stands there like something out of Beatrix Potter.

One of the houses is called The Chalet, and is an original from when the Island was first developed as a place to live by people from London who wanted summer homes on the water.

We now live here all year round!

We are opposite Hampton Court Palace, and our tiny hamlet is filled with history.
Henry VIII, whose magnificent residence is ours to enjoy just across the river, acquired a cottage in Thames Ditton for his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves after their divorce – although she never actually lived there.
The miniscule doors and windows that I pass every day are testament to how small the Tudors were in stature, if not in deed.

Every season is a changing feast for the eyes and senses.

In winter, the glow from the moon reflects upon the water like a silver disc, illuminating the sleeping ducks like a still life.
The boat yard is closed for the season and there is a quiet ‘ off peak’ feel, though our cosy pub, Ye Olde Swan is always buzzing, with roaring log fires and laughter over local pints.

Before I lived here, I hadn’t understood the words in the song ‘ These Are A Few Of My Favourite Things’, but now I’ve actually seen ‘ wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings’.

When the spring arrives suddenly, as it always seems to, there is a flurry of boating activity.
People remove the covers from their little vessels and start to think about the first jaunt upstream.
The Olympic rowing team appear too on their practice runs, the shouts of the cox often being the first thing I awake to.

The cygnets, goslings and ducklings bob past, their proud parents in front.
Friends and neighbours sit out on their porches for the first time, their faces turned towards the weak spring sunshine and there is the promise of long days and nights to come.

Oh, but in the summer!
Lazy boats drift by all day, and everybody is laughing and waving.
As I said to my daughter one day, this has to be the happiest house we’ve ever lived in, for every single face that goes past wears a smile.
Boating on the river has that effect.

And now, the wild life is fully grown and swans glide by, no longer cygnets, their beauty and purity in contrast to the blue skies and colourful clothes of the day trippers.

To sit at the water’s edge at sunset is my favourite thing to do in summer.
Made even more perfect if family or friends are there too, sharing it with me.
And I never seem to be short of willing volunteers in this season!

Chilled rose wine or a beer in hand, the sun glinting off the river, shouts of nearby children and the merry barking of a dog.
These are the delights of an English summer on the Thames.

How could you ever leave?
Or think of parking issues?

I sometimes contemplate how it will be when I live elsewhere, because I know I won’t be here forever on this little slice of heaven so close to London.
That’s why I take as many photographs as I do, plus it is so picturesque.

If there is one thing I’ve learnt, it is that nothing lasts, everything changes. We can only hope to recognise moments of happiness,peace and tranquillity as they arise, and be thankful for them.

For this island living gives me just that ; calm and quiet and a place to reflect and write.

In my working life, I am in central London at least twice a week, sometimes more. Evenings too.
And my love for London is never in doubt, as I wrote in my last post.
In fact, another thing that really thrills me is that the very same river that runs past the Houses of Parliament, also runs past my house.
As I wander along on my way home from a business event or social gathering and gaze out over the lights on The Thames, I have the satisfying thought that very soon, I shall be on my own porch, a nightcap in hand, looking out on my own little sparkling stretch of the very same famous river.

The Island is a wonderful counterpoint to days spent amongst so many people.
Nature has its own power to soothe the soul like no other, and as I walk over the bridge after a day in town, I feel all my cares and tensions melt away and flow downstream.
The quiet of the night here, with no car alarms or traffic, the clarity of the stars because we have only old – fashioned gas lamps lighting our path.
These things restore balance to the weary spirit.

It isn’t perfect, life never is, anywhere.

I think my parents sometimes worry about me living here.
But I went to a boarding school that encouraged outdoor living and robust character, so I find I’m quite resourceful and up to the challenge!

Our power sometimes fails for no apparent reason and water pressure can be a challenge as we share one pump.
And don’t even think of flushing anything down the sink or elsewhere, you have to treat life as though you were on board a boat, but I love sailing so I’m used to this.

These small trials can, if you let them, make you feel annoyed.
But instead, you can allow them to bring out the Robinson Crusoe in you ( or in my case Girl Friday ) and feel satisfied that you’ve dealt successfully with the practical challenge.

Sometimes, when I have to park miles away on a drizzly winter’s day and carry heavy shopping over the bridge like a pack-horse in the trenches, I think ‘ what on earth am I doing living here?’

And returning late at night from a party, the footpath leading to my house can seem like the longest and darkest path in the world.
And yes, sometimes the footpath does flood and I have to don my waders.

But the treasures far outweigh the small tribulations.

Where else but on the river does your view change every single day?

Last week, my son stopped me as we were coming over the bridge to point out a kingfisher darting across the water.
A heron stood at the edge under the willows and ducks were laughing ( they do, believe me ) as they enjoyed the first of their early spring baths.

It’s enough to make a poet out of almost anyone.

So if you’re passing our little island on the Thames this summer, in a boat or perhaps on foot, give us a wave.

We will wave back, safe in the knowledge that you will wish, for at least that moment, that you were sitting here in your very own river-side seat with us.

Amanda

Copyright Amanda Hills Feb 2015 All rights reserved
All images, Amanda Hills
‘ My Favorite Things’ by Rodgers and Hammerstein

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