I had a think the other day and realised I’ve now been living back on the Isle of Wight for 18 years. I have always thought of the Island as my home, that’s probably because my Dad’s from here.
Eighteen years! That’s the longest I’ve been anywhere - having upped-sticks and moved several dozens of times in my life it seems I’ve now well and truly rooted! But, there’s something that will never budge – and that is, whilst my soul is entirely entwined with the nature of this beautiful Isle of Wight – there is a piece of my heart that will always remain in London.
Coming from a family (Mum’s side) born and bred in London that’s not too difficult to understand – and I spent years as a child living happily there with my Mum who ran pubs in Bayswater, so close to where she grew up - a stone's throw from the bustling Portobello Road market and next door to the legendary Stiff Records recording studio (they were No. 32, we were The Durham Castle at No.30).
I spent half my childhood in the heart of that bohemian progressive place, and the other here on the Isle of Wight, so loved for its laid back vibe and micro-climate – two wonderful places, but worlds apart.
As an adult I lived and worked in London, finally basing myself in Camden – until I came to my senses and found my way back home – here to the Island…and rooted!
But, it’s at this time of the year – and it happens every single autumn - I get a hankering for the city. I don’t know what it is about the ebbing summer that makes me yearn so much, but I long to see the Thames, walk the bridges and soak up the history again. It’s a primitive pull and jumping on the train to Waterloo for a day trip to quench my craving has historically done the trick – but this year of course, everything is different. I had to think of a more creative way to get my fix!
Enter the Thames garnets!
I’ve always loved the idea of mudlarking – collecting little snippets of times gone past, falling into the history of an object and losing yourself in thoughts of our forebears thrills my face off – and I’ve followed several Thames mudlarkers for quite some time, vicariously larking the river through their videos. I once got stuck in the mud on the Thames foreshore as a kid – right up to my knees, my friend gripping frantically on my sleeve to pull me out, and with each pull me sinking dangerously deeper and deeper. I worried how on earth I was going to tell my Mum that I’d lost my shoe and got my pink Pineapple tracksuit bottoms (I thought I looked like one of the kids from Fame) filthy dirty when I was supposed to be having a sleepover at my friend’s house in Chelsea. Those were different times, and me and my best friend at the time would run around London and all its museums like we owned the place! (Sorry Mumma) We were good kids, but we loved the freedom as we wound through the wonder of old London Town.
Through the Thames mudlarking videos, I learned about the Thames Garnets. Mysterious little wine-red nuggets that appear on the foreshore when the tide goes out! Garnets aren’t native to the Thames - the only thing we do know for sure about them is that someone put them there – either by accident or on purpose and they are found in an area which is a guarded (but not entirely elusive) secret to the larkers. These nuggets are one of the many mysteries That Old Father Thames keeps locked away – leaving us just the thrill of discovery, and maybe the ability to make some jewellery out of them…I of course, was all kinds of up for that! If I wasn’t able to go to London, I was going to have to bring a bit of it to me!
I messaged a couple of Larkers asking if there was any way I could buy some Thames garnets and got lucky! If truth be told, I paid more than I would ever pay for a garnet of the same size and quality from any of my usual stone sellers – but for me, these aren’t any old ordinary garnets, these have a story and were found by a real cor-blimey larker who respects and loves the river. They are a little part of London just for me, and just when I needed it! I’m so very looking forward to having the time to make something with these awkward little things!
London will always be a part of me - even though I was lonelier than I’ve ever been whilst living there in my 20s - my face never really fit no matter how hard I tried…maybe the Island was calling me back then, I just didn’t listen well enough. But the city itself, it holds the voices of my ancestors, its walls and monuments whisper their names, its history and stories never let me down, it always welcomed me with open arms, and let me breathe its wonderful secrets – and I find that just magic!
If you’re interested in larking, especially in London, I recommend following:
Nicola White - Tideline Art
Simon - Si_Finds, and
Lara Maiklem and her book: Mudlarking: Lost and Found on the River Thames
Outside of London, the loveliest mother and daughter team (apart from mine and Mumma Iceni’s of course!) and they’re metalsmiths too!
Gail & Alex - The Northern Mudlarkers
In order to Lark on the River Thames foreshore you need a permit from the Port of London Authority.