We got our Oyster cards for riding the Tube (subway) with the help of a particularly nice agent at the Kennington station just around the corner from our house. With that, we were ready for one of my principal goals of this visit: to go mudlarking, beachcombing along the Thames at low tide. I checked the tides and chose a spot. When low tide is early and late, we’ll visit museums and parks, but this week it’s just right for a leisurely visit during the day.

We rode the tube for a few stops and decided to walk across London Bridge. It was a gorgeous day and we could see that on a rare sunny Sunday afternoon in mid-October, everyone with a Foreshore Permit seemed to be out. We climbed down a set of stairs to the river’s edge.

At low tide, there is a broad, gravelly margin along the water, full of rocks and things that have been discarded in the water. Fortunately for us, there was almost no plastic waste like we often see on beaches. The gravel includes a lot of flint fragments and nodules. Some of this was brought in as ballast in ships, and dumped in the river to make space for cargo. Rock isn’t used for ballast today, but tons of it still wash up and down the river. There is a lot of glass, not as tumbled as on the seashore, though neither of us could resist picking up a few larger pieces. There was a lot of bone, and I picked up bone awls made from deer as well as domesticated animals, a knucklebone (often used like dice in the past), metal bits, and a lot of glazed pottery. Erosion uncovers new items all the time, and when you realize that people have been living along this stretch of the Thames in a crowded city for two thousand years, you can understand where all the waterside junk comes from. One man’s trash, as they say, is another man’s treasure, and I happily collected my treasure of the day. Perhaps my most interesting find was a small piece of clay pipe that had an initial on either side of the heel (the part that kept the pipe from tipping over). W on one side, I on the other.

Seeing London from the riverside is a beautiful, alternate view of the city, dominated by bridges and tall buildings. We went by The Shard, a relatively recent addition to the London skyline, as we walked across London Bridge, quicker than riding the tube, and with more gorgeous views.

Returned home, washed hands thoroughly–the Thames may not be a completely clean river–and admired my loot. I’m looking forward to more tomorrow.

There’s one tiny inconvenience to mudlarking. Everything is on the ground. After about two hours, either my knees hurt, or my back does, or both. By this point, the tide is usually coming in, and I’m amenable to being chased away. We get home, have a bite of lunch and then I lie down to rest my back and read for a while. Do I ever fall asleep? Maybe.


Published by winifredcreamer

I am a retired archaeologist and I like to travel, especially to places where you can walk along the shore or watch birds. My husband Jonathan and I travel for more than half the year every year, seeing all the places that we haven't gotten to yet.

2 thoughts on “Mudlarks!

  1. The pipe piece I found is most likely 19th century. The letters are stamped neatly. People really used clay pipes as disposable and chucked them in the river when the stem broke off short or when the pipe clogged. The quantity of pieces that are still around is amazing. I’m glad they are not all cigarette butts!


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