Mansion House Tube, exit 1 | Map
Guided by Fiona H.
Q. Are you still doing your Thames Archaeology Tours?
A. Yes. Emphatically yes. But in a significantly different form. And with a significantly different title: The Secret Thames – the Archaeology Tour.
A flood tide of official regulations about foreshore activities has just come in. It's drowned and carried away Thames Beachcombing tours in their old form. We would never be other than fully compliant with PLA (Port of London Authority) rules and regulations. What they say goes. And of course the new rules and regulations apply to everyone, not just to London Walks. So I wouldn't cast about looking for "an alternative" – you don't want to be fined.
Anyway, the upshot is we've had to completely revamp that "walk." What we'll be doing from here on out will be just as good – some would say better – but very different.
Rather than confining ourselves to a single, relatively limited stretch of the foreshore Fiona will now range much further afield. She'll move along the Thames Path on both banks, north and south, and for hundreds of yards rather than sticking to that confined little stretch of foreshore in front of the Tate Modern. She'll point out and explain what's down there, ranging from structures to natural features to jetsam (the visible archaeological 'record' in that day's unique 'window on the past').
The walk is a moving museum. In every sense of the word. Moving because we move along the Thames Path, from point to point, on both banks. Moving because Fiona will bring along a substantial portion of her collection of finds and at various points on the walk one or more of them will come out of her hold-all to be looked at, explained, understood. And moving because a lot of those pieces will be passed around. You'll get to heft them, hold them. It's holding history. That moment, when you've got the thing in your hand, is sharp-intake-of-breath moving. To hold something that a mediaeval craftsman held hundreds of years ago – to hold a centuries' old tile with a thumbprint on it – or a flint axe that your fellow human being fashioned thousands of years ago – well, that makes a connection – connects you and them – in a way like no other. A completely different experience from reading something on a page. Or even looking it in a glass case.
And look, it's not illegal to go down on the foreshore. You're free to do so at the end of the walk. You'll have a much better appreciation of what's down there, what you'll see, etc. You'll be equipped in every sense. Including the safety sense – part of Fiona's talk will be about what you have to be careful about down there. You'll be going down there as a Lite version of Fiona H., the distinguished Intertidal Archaeologist. And that's no bad thing.
"the best thing I've done in London...the most exciting way to discover London that I've ever experienced" Award-winning travel writer Jason Cochran, www.frommers.com
*It all comes down to the guiding – but don't just take it from us.
Sunday, January 21 at 10 am
Saturday, February 3 at 10 am
Saturday, March 3 at 9.30 am
Saturday, April 21 at 11.30 am
Meeting point for all of them is just outside exit 1 of Mansion House Tube.
The Secret Thames Archaeology Tours take about two hours and end in front of the Tate Modern, just over the river from Mansion House Tube and Blackfriars Tube.
So, in sum, the now tweaked version of what used to be this walk's blurb
10,000 years of history just down there. And in your hand. In your hand while Fiona H. explains what it is you're holding. (Aside here: on no other walk does the New York Times dictum – "London Walks puts you in the hands of an expert on the particular area and topic of a tour" – carry more weight: Fiona H. is the Intertidal Archaeologist who's the world's leading expert on this stretch of the Thames.) Genuine London history* – ranging from mediaeval roof tiles to Elizabethan clay pipes to bits of Roman London to something a Mesolithic era man or woman fashioned to a present from Hermann Goering's Luftwaffe, etc. Pieces of London history you'll see and hold. Pieces of London history Fiona has spotted, picked up, saved over the course of working as the foremost archaeologist on this stretch of the Thames foreshore – "the most important archaeological site in Europe" – for some 25 years now. An archaeological site that changes every 12 hours (because the tide scours down twice a day) – which is the key to understanding it, makes for a great storyline and accounts in no little measure for its unending fascination.
Because of the new PLA regulations we've regrouped. And revamped. There's still a fascinating walk there. It just has to be done differently. Up on the esplanade – the Thames Path – looking down. And then if you want, at walk's end you can go down onto the foreshore as individuals (rather than a group) and explore to your heart's content, keeping in mind, of course, the sound advice and counsel Fiona gave you.