A Thames Fit To Swim

An urban hike on the banks of the Thames, with PatagoniaProper Magazine and London Waterkeeper.

A Thames Fit To Swim


“In a bed, in a bed
by the waterside I will lay my head
Listen to the river sing sweet songs
to rock my soul”

Living on the banks of the Lea, rivers are close to my heart, and I see daily how polluted London’s rivers are. This first hand experience inspired me to become a founding-trustee of London Waterkeeper – an independent charity set up by  campaigner, Theo Thomas, to challenge polluters and defend rivers in the capital. We’re a member of Waterkeeper Alliance – the fastest-growing environmental movement for water in the world.

Last year we successfully applied to become a Patagonia environmental grantee, and they supported our Riversides campaign. This year we applied again, this time for our A Thames Fit To Swim campaign, and I’m excited to say that we’ve just been awarded the maximum grant of $10,000 USD. The good folks at Patagonia are not only funding us, but they’re also helping spread the word about the campaign.

The aim of A Thames Fit To Swim is for people to be able to safely swim in the Thames in London. It might seem like a dream to think that the general public could safely bathe in the Thames for recreation, but it’s been done in Copenhagen and we can do it here!

We want to see live bathing water quality updates, and swim zones between Putney Bridge and Hampton Court. There are times when the Thames is clean enough to swim in, and others when it’s not, but no one knows when they are. Without this knowledge, people who swim there are putting their health at risk. Raw sewage is still discharged into the Thames when our sewers overflow, and we have a right to know when this happens.

We met up with Patagonia and the guys from Proper Magazine to go on a Thames-side urban hike, so Theo could tell everyone more about the campaign. Our route took us past Richmond Park and Kew Gardens, and it was incredible to see how rural the scenery can be in the heart of the capital.

A Thames Fit To Swim
Theo collecting water samples. The froth (christened “crap-puccino” by Proper Mag Neil) could be sewage. We also saw sanitary products and other evidence of sewage.

A Thames Fit To Swim
Our Jake and Proper Mag Neil admiring the view.

Proper Mag’s photographer, Mark, has he spotted some rare wildlife?

Theo telling us about the history of Old Deer Park,  it takes its name from the hunting park created by James I in 1604.

A Thames Fit To Swim

No hike is complete without a pint and a burger at the end. The Express Tavern at Kew Bridge definitely ticks all the boxes and keeps you in that bucolic bubble for a wee while longer. I was especially happy with my bramble cider 🙂

Sign up to London Waterkeeper’s petition to ask Thames Water to tell us when its sewers overflow. 

One Tree Hill

Yes, it’s really called that. (Said tree pictured above!)

It’s pretty easy to miss One Tree Hill, even though the one tree is the namesake for a whole area (Honor Oak Park). It’s called this because Queen Elizabeth I allegedly once picnicked under the tree. It’s fairly hidden from both sides

You can get to the hill from both Brenchley Gardens in Brockley (keep going past Camberwell New Cemetery and you’ll find a small path leading up into the park on the left), and from Honor Oak Park itself. It’s got one of, if not the, best view of the city in South London. (In fact, John Betjeman once said the view is “better than that from Parliament Hill”.)

There are various paths that run around the hill. My favourite route is to start off from Brenchley Gardens and explore the wilder side of the park (on the other side is St Augustine Church and Honor Oak Park Station- the best station to reach the park from if you’re coming from further afield; it’s on the eastern Overground line). It’s probably one of the quietest wild bits South London has to offer; this time I bumped into literally one guy and his dog the whole time I was there. Having said that, the top viewpoint is super popular as it’s a gorgeous place to watch the sunset from.


If you continue up the hill, you reach a grassy plateau area, which you can see the church from- up ahead is a signpost; continue past it and you’ll reach the main viewpoint which is by far the most popular bit of the park.

Another interesting point about the hill is the gun platform at the top, left over from the First World War; One Tree Hill was an important lookout post due to its amazing view over the city.

Next time I’ll be back for more exploring in the same area; Ladywell Fields, which is the other side of Honor Oak Park.

Rhi x


A Brief Interlude: Dunwich Forest (Suffolk)

Hey again!

As I’ve been at my parents’ house in north Suffolk this week, I thought I’d go off-course and take advantage of some of the beautiful countryside I grew up around, and talk a bit about the history of it. One of my favourite places ever is Dunwich Forest (and Dunwich itself, due to the slightly spooky story behind the place). Me and mum went for a lovely walk through it.

Dunwich used to be (a very very long time ago) one of the biggest port cities in the UK- until it started slipping into the sea. As early as the 11th century, the city started to fall into the sea. By the 17th century it was a quarter of its original size. In the early 1900s, All Saints church went over the cliff, and today the final gravestone from the churchyard is at the edge.

Various objects and relics have washed up on Dunwich’s shore (among them have been a piano, a wardrobe and human skulls from the old graveyard).

The village still has the ruins of Greyfriars Abbey; although they’re getting perilously close to the edge now too.

As I say, my favourite part is the forest. It’s mainly coniferous woodland, and is currently undergoing “rewilding”; trying to re-establish elements of the environment that have declined. This has previously involved bringing konik and exmoor ponies in to keep the undergrowth under control (sadly we didn’t see any this time so no pictures…).

The part of the forest me & mum walked through was also full of dens… (the one below was probably the most impressive!)

I’ve always found Dunwich Forest to be super atmospheric and a bit spooky… at some point I very much want to come and get lost in the forest with a notebook and just write all day!

Later this week I’ll be back exploring Southeast London’s wild areas (although there’ll definitely be more Suffolk stuff to come in future… watch this space! :3 )

Rhi x

THE OTHER SIDE (#2: Lesnes Abbey & Bostall Woods)

Hey again! This week I’ve been to another one of my favourite places in the Southeast. Lesnes Abbey is easy to get to from Abbey Wood station, about a ten minute walk. (Trains run every 10 minutes or so from Deptford/ Lewisham, or if you’re from up North then Charing Cross/ Cannon Street.) Coming up on it from the footbridge that leads out of the Abbey Wood estate, you can see the ruins of the Abbey.


However you feel about Brutalist architecture, the contrast between the blocks of Thamesmead and the Abbey is pretty impressive (and, I think, a bit magical). When the Abbey was founded in 1178, this entire area would have been marshland- and in fact a lot of it was until the 1970s, when the Thamesmead estate you can see in the background was built (mildly interesting fact: the estate is a popular filming location; scenes from A Clockwork Orange and Misfits are set there, amongst others).

A Green Chain Walk runs through the Abbey grounds and into the woods behind (this woodland eventually turns into Bostall Woods, which is pretty much the closest you can get to being in the countryside within the bounds of London). If you take the gravel path leading up behind the Abbey into the woodland, you end up somewhere a bit like this:


Follow the Green Chain walk signs until you come to a road, then cross it and you’re in Bostall Woods. This time when I went, the weather was pretty grey and humid, so it was all very vivid green and slightly drippy. Keep going up the hill into the woods and you’ll see a fence ahead of you. This is the perimeter of a small lake; lots of waterfowl nesting and, when I was there, a very enthusiastic spaniel… I find it super peaceful to just sit and watch the lake for a bit.


The walk itself extends pretty much forever, judging by the sign (Crystal Palace Park 15.6 miles!) If you keep going through Bostall Woods, and fancy a longer walk, Oxlea Woods is just beyond. The walk continues around the lake.


Next week I’ll be in Maryon Park in Charlton! 🙂

Rhi x


Love the Lea


The Brokedown Palace is on the banks of the River Lea in Hackney Wick, London. The Lea and the Lea Valley were the original inspiration for The Brokedown Palace, and continue to inspire us everyday. Parts of the Lee Valley Park are a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) as there are many rare species of plants and wildlife here. It’s amazing to have such a space in the heart of the city, and we feel it’s very important to protect it.

Sadly the River Lea and its tributaries are the most polluted in Britain – sewage, chemicals and oil wash into them every day. This is an issue close to our hearts, so when we heard that Theo Thomas from Thames 21 Charity had set up the Love the Lea campaign we contacted him to see if we could get involved. He suggested that we could form part of a water testers group he was setting up – Citizen Scientists who would regularly test the water at different points along the river. This data could be used to form an early warning system, and build up a clearer picture of the Lea’s health.

We formed a  team and Theo came round to give us our testing kits to show us how it’s done.

River Lea
Adam getting some river water for us to test

River Lea
Filling our test tubes with river water

Adam and Rosie putting the tablets in the test tubes

Theo explains how to get the results

Phosphate level was 2, the blue looks pretty but it’s bad news for the Lea.

A Phosphate level of 1 is considered ‘bad’ by the EU Water Framework Directive. We can all help reduce river Phosphate levels by buying Phosphate free cleaning products, dishwasher tablets and detergents.

Nitrate level was 20. This indicates sewage and chemicals in the water.

Not surprising with Deephams sewage works up river at Tottenham regularly (legally) discharging raw sewage into the Lea.  Also the many domestic misconnected pipes which are sending sewage into the river. Excessive amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus can cause reduced dissolved oxygen levels in the water, depriving other organisms of oxygen. Increased levels of these nutrients have also been known to cause toxic algal blooms, it also encourages duckweed. The Lea in summertime is covered in duckweed. Excess duckweed is bad for the river because it means that natural oxygen transfer from the atmosphere is greatly reduced, which is very damaging to fish.

The Ph was 8 which is within the normal range.

We’ll continue to test the water every two weeks and keep you up to date with the results.


  • If you see anything in your local area that looks like pollution ring the Environment Agency incident hotline on 0800 80 70 60. They will investigate it.
  • Pledge to LOVE THE LEA with Thames 21
  • Use Phosphate-free household products – most supermarkets do a range or try Ecover
  • Download this handy LOVE THE LEA information leaflet and share with friends and family
  • Check your household connections – most people whose pipes are misconnected have no idea they are discharging sewage and waste water into our rivers. More information on connectright.org.uk
  • Like LOVE THE LEA on Facebook
  • Follow @TheoJThomas on Twitter and hashtags #lovethelea and #leatest to keep up-to-date with the LOVE THE LEA campaign

For more information contact Theo Thomas: theo.thomas@thames21.org.uk  020 7093 6385