A HOUSE BY THE THAMES
In 1996 my husband Rob and I bought a holiday house on an 18th century estate called Harleyford, by the banks of the River Thames in Buckinghamshire. For the next fifteen years we divided our time between England and Australia.
Originally we were considering properties in the regenerated docklands area of London, but were seduced by Harleyford’s quintessentially English setting. There was even an 18th century manor house, which we overlooked from our deck.
My imagination was captured by the estate’s bluebell wood, ‘secret’ tunnel, and folly.
As a writer, I was also enchanted by the area’s literary associations. The manor is said to have been the inspiration for Toad Hall in Kenneth Graeme’s Wind in the Willows, and one of the holes on the adjoining golf course is whimsically named Ratty’s Retreat.
A path across the old sheep paddock leads to Marlow, where Mary Shelley created Frankenstein. Nearby at Bourne End is Old Thatch, where Enid Blyton wrote many of her children’s stories. The books may have appalled literary critics and librarians, but children all over the world loved them , including me.
A fellow Tasmanian, the author Peter Conrad , wrote;
‘Once I began to read, I discovered somewhere else to live; the Noddyland……..or secret garden of English books.’ ….. ‘Thus I became unassuageably homesick for a place I had never seen which existed only in writing. That fantasy was my home.’
I could certainly relate to Conrad. Harleyford was my ‘secret garden’. I remain convinced that the magic faraway tree still grows somewhere in the surrounding beech woods.
A wooden footbridge crosses the Thames on the downriver boundary of the estate.
It was built as the final link on the Thames Path, replacing a long vanished ferry. The daily sight of that bridge inspired Rob and I to walk the Path, beginning at the river’s source in a Gloucestershire field and ending at the Thames estuary, where the river flows into the North Sea.
I guess it was inevitable that my journey would result in a book. It was published in London in 2013 as All Along the River; Tales From the Thames. It is intended as a companion volume to more formal Thames Path guides. To my great pleasure the book was launched at Marlow Library by the town’s delightful mayor, Suzanne Brown. She certainly dressed for the occasion, complete with her chain of office and that spectacular hat!
WHAT ARE YOUR EXPERIENCES OF THE THAMES? FEEL FREE TO LEAVE A COMMENT IN THE BOX BELOW.