Thames Run: Source to Sea is a live artwork and durational run / performance to be undertaken  for the Associated Programme of the large scale Estuary 21 arts festival. #AssocProg2021

The journey will navigate the approx. 240 mile length of the River Thames, and take place from Monday, 31st May to Sunday, 13th June 2021 inclusive. Starting at Thames Head, in Kemble, Gloucestershire, it will end at The Isle of Grain on the south side of the River, as it meets the sea.  The route will be split into 14 daily sections, starting at 10am each day.

The use of mobile and Internet technologies will be at the heart of the work and key to the dissemination of the artwork as a live event. Audiences will be able to track the artist’s movements online using GPS tracking, live streaming and social media. In addition, this blog will act as a live journal and daily account of the project as it is taking place.

For more info and links go to:

https://www.estuaryfestival.com/event/detail/thames-run-source-to-sea.html

http://www.veroniquechance.com/work/thames-run-source-to-sea

The Blog Posts will start the night before the start of the run on Sunday 30th May 2021.

Key Dates of Thames Run: Source to Sea:

  1. Mon. 31st May: Day 1: Kemble to Castle Eaton approx.16.65 miles;
  2. Tues. 1st June: Day 2: Castle Eaton to Tadpole Bridge, approx. 16.5 miles;
  3. Weds. 2nd June: Day 3: Tadpole Bridge to Oxford, approx. 20 miles;
  4. Thurs.3rd June: Day 4: Oxford to Clifton Hampden, approx.. 15.18 miles;
  5. Fri. 4th June : Day 5: Clifton Hampden to Goring-Upon-Thames (Streatley), approx. 16.12 miles;
  6. Sat. 5th June: Day 6: Goring-Upon-Thames to Henley, approx.. 20 miles;
  7. Sun. 6th June: Day 7: Henley to Cookham, approx.13.5 miles;
  8. Mon.7th June: Day 8: Cookham to Laleham approx. 20.7 miles;
  9. Tues. 8th June; Day 9: Laleham to Richmond, approx.. 18 miles;
  10. Weds. 9th June: Day 10: Richmond to Waterloo, approx. 15.9 miles;
  11. Thurs. 10th June: Day 11: Waterloo to Belvedere, approx.. 18.65miles;
  12. Fri. 11th June; Day 12: Belvedere to Northfleet, approx.19.6 miles;
  13. Sat. 12th June: Day 13: Northfleet to All Hallows approx..19.1 miles;
  14. Sun. 13th June: Day 14: All Hallows to Isle of Grain, approx.5 miles

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I could have stopped at Allhallows, but it didn’t seem to be quite all the way. I wanted the sense of reaching somewhere where I could go no further and that place seemed to be the Isle of Grain. It was a much shorter run, but a very welcome one to finish with, especially since today I think was the hottest day of the 14 days.

I’m writing this having completed my journey and to mark this day, but the main write up will be tomorrow, because I’m exhausted. Even though though today’s run was short, the 14 days of physical and mental energy have caught up with me. I’m amazed that my body has held itself toegther so well with not much more than a niggle in my right heel, a bit of inevitable chafing and a few scratches and bites  here and there.

I started the run where I had finished the day before, at the corner of the riverfront right outside Allhallows Haven Holiday Park. This is some place-it’s huge! Part cultish, part ‘Stepford Wives’, these almost identical static holiday homes stretch out across the estuary coastline for almost a mile and the public footpath goes right through it (the campsite I stayed in last night was somewhat more modest). I felt a bit out of place as I ran through, though being a Sunday morning it was relatively quiet. It was already quite hot, with only a very light breeze, so I was pleased that this would only be a short run of about 6 or 7 miles.

The path out of the holiday park, veered left directly onto the edge of the coastline. It was grassy and soft underfoot and I really had the sensation here more than ever, that I was heading to the end of the estuary, out to the sea or to the end of the world.  It was quiet and there didn’t seem to be anybody else about. The tide was right out and it felt open and free on this slightly undulating path, that didn’t change too much for a couple of miles. I knew that soon, I would have to head inland at Yantlet Creek to actually get to the Isle of Grain. The marker for this was The London Stone, that I spotted in the distance, as I approached. This granite obelisk-shaped stone dating back to 1856, marks the eastern boundary of the City of London’s conservancy jurisdiction on the south bank of the river. I guess you could say it is this that marks the boundary where the river meets the sea. Unfortunately I couldn’t get close to it as it was on the mud-flat on the other side of the creek, but it was good to have spotted it. There is similar stone on the opposite side of the river at Leigh on Sea, called the Crow Stone, which I have managed to see close up. I noticed there was someone on the beach opposite, but I couldn’t see how he had got there. Although the water level was low at Yantlet Creek, it wouldn’t have been possible to cross it due to the marshy instability of the riverbed mudflats.

I carried on down the path by the Creek. This historically separated the isle of Grain from the mainland, hence the name, but it silted up and it now drains the area of the Isle of Grain and Allhallows marshes. Although I was heading inland, it was pretty spectacular. Again, even though I kind of knew where I was heading, I had a bit of a sense of the unknown for a couple of miles. I would have liked to have carried on up the other side of the Creek, back up to the coastline, but, I was met with very clear private, no entry signs. Shortly afterwards, there was a large danger sign behind a high wire fence warning that the area was a former military firing range and of possible unexploded debris. I continued on the path inland, through some fields that would then lead me into the village and to the coastline at the end.

As I approached, the distinctive refinery and power-station were very visible to my right. It wasn’t too long before I reached the road into the village. After passing a small farm, I thought that I would be able to access a footpath through to a higher point on the coastline, but I couldn’t find it and I ended up keeping to the most direct path on the road. This took me into a small high-street, where I passed a cop-op, pub and a church, where there were two possible ways though to the coastline. My partner Richard, appeared behind me, to confirm the way through. It did indeed feel when I came to the end, that I had come to the edge of the sea, and as I continued left up the path I was met with a barrier, which I thought was just as good a place as any to stop. The tide was still well out and the panoramic view was amazing. What a way to end this epic journey.

It has been an amazing adventure and one I couldn’t have done without the support of my partner, Richard Allen, who saw me off each morning and came to meet me at the end of my run each day. In between, he drove the campervan to places we stayed, checked out the locations and facilities, bought provisions, took me on recuperating walks, calmed me down when emotionally exhausted and when challenged by technology and gave me foot massages when needed. This was a great experience to share and I couldn’t have done it without you, nor our trusted hired campervan Nolan.

Thanks too, to the Estuary Festival Associated Programme and the team at Metal Southend for the support and also to ARU (Anglia Ruskin University), for supporting this financially as valid artistic research.


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This was a tough day at around 19+ miles and I wasn’t sure I would have the energy to write a post tonight, plus I was very compromised by technology playing up, which meant some big delays. However, I this it’s important to keep up the momentum and I will remember more tonight (I hope), than tomorrow, when I would be playing catch up, so here goes..

The day didn’t look too bad weather-wise to begin with: it was cloudy, almost overcast, with a light breeze. It was not set to hit 25 degrees until later in the afternoon. This was a good start- I knew I had far to go and although the route was more uncertain, particularly further out on the estuary, I had worked out where I thought there might be difficulties or detours (or so I thought). The first of these was not long after I had started, where the road I would be taking was going round industrial sites and works. I hadn’t quite realised the extent of this and what I thought would be a short detour to get to Gravesend, turned out to be much longer. I found myself heading towards a works no go area and had started to turn back to find another route, when I man approached me to say i shouldn’t be there. I told him that I realised that and that’s why i had turned back. I added that I had not gone anywhere I shouldn’t have and that I had lost the footpath, partly due to the fact that it was being taken away by the construction of the development. I don’t think he liked that but it needed saying. Anyway, this was not a good start, as I tried to work out a route into Gravesend that I had not planned. I saw a couple of guys ahead of me who sent me in the right direction and I was on my way, up some steps to the top of a hill, past an estate, down and a left round; it seemed quite a detour.

When I finally got the the riverside again, there was an interesting wooden walkway past some flats, that led into the town and kept to the riverfront. As I carried on , I passed the ferry terminal, where you can take a ferry to Tilbury on the otherside of the river, the statue of Pochahontas and the distinctive bright red LV21, which is an old lighthouse vessel, converted into an art space. I had to detour slighty down the Royal Pier Road that winds its way round the back of the Port of London Authority building, up and down another road, but it wasn’t too long before l wound down past the rowing club and onto the Promenade. However, this didn’t last too long before I had to weave my way through some industrial units, where I got a little disoriented, before finding a narrow path that would lead back to the riverside via the Ship and Lobster pub. I couldn’t see too much for a while due to the river wall, but soon I was out on the grassy ridge by the Eastcourt marshes, looking out at the Estuary. This section is beautifully green and rugged for about 2 or 3 miles and passes some interesting sites, including  a rifle range (part of a former police training centre) and an old ruined fort. Further on I ran into some beautiful piebald ponies and their foals, who were grazing on the land (actually I didn’t run this bit as i didn’t want to startle them).

This path, which is the Saxon Shore Way and Hoo Peninsula Path carried on fairly straight forwardly and it felt  privilege to be out, more or less on my own in this vast green and rugged landscape. It was amazingly quiet, except for the wildlife. The path was a little uneven at times, but not too bad for running on. I tried to keep as close to the river, where I could for a while and at one point found myself very close to what I thought was still the river, on slightly more precarious land, but which must have been one of the larger Pools at Cliffe. It was here that I must have taken a wrong turning and instead of continuing on the path around the edge of the river towards Cliffe Fort, I somehow followed another path inland past an aggregates site and then onto a roadwith afew houses. I realised I had made an error, but it was too far to turn back and for a moment I thought I was lost. I don’t know how, but I found my way to another part of the Cliffe pools, but had to work out how to find the path back to the river. Luckily there were people about and it was a mixture of asking different people and instinct that put me on the right track. I regretted making this mistake as although these pools at Cliffe are worth a visit, I had missed out a whole section of the Thames Coastal path. I decided against turning back as I needed to press on as there were still quite some miles to go.

Once I had finally found my way again, I started to follow a path next to quite a high river wall. This was presumably a flood defence, since the landscape is marshy. Although this followed the edge of the river very closely, the wall was high and the footpath much lower, so I couldn’t look over at the view of the estuary for much of the time. There was a grass verge, but it was quite steep and overgrown, so impossible to run or even walk on easily. There were occassional metal ladders that I could climb to take a look at the view over, but that wasn’t the same. At some point, a narrow path did appear in the grass at the top for a while right next to the wall, but then dropped further below. Eventually, there was a more consistent path on a kind of ridge that gave a more open view, which was much more satisfactory.

It was an amazing view on both sides, with the estuary on one side and the marshy landscape on the other, with its network of rivulets and open farmland. Although it wasn’t too hard to run on and was beautifully barren, it was also relentless. It was great to be alone within this, but after a while, in the heat of the sun and with only a slight breeze, it felt endless. I wasn’t lost, but I somehow lost all sense of place. Also, being alone out here, there were almost no other passers by. Anything could happen to me and no-one would know.

I started to get very eager to reach my destination, but there were no real landmarks to work out how far I really had to go, other than what the tracking app on my mobile phone was telling me. I expected to continue on the edge of the river, but at some point, around mile 13, the coastal path diverted inland onto a dry stony path where there was even less breeze. I’m not sure of the reason for this, but looking at this section on ‘Google earth’ subsequently, it looks like the terrain on the edge of the river might have been too precarious underfoot. At the time, without knowing this, it felt harsh, but it was probably necessary.

Once back up at the river’s edge, the last five miles were more consistent and worth the pain. The view out to the estuary was spectacular and starting to look more sea and less river-like, with the odd sandy beach appearing every now and then, wooden groynes and collections of seaweed. There were other interesting plants, including a kind of rose, that I think could only grow in this landscape. The ground was mainly soft and grassy, so not too hard-going, but still a struggle, as I was starting to fatigue and reach my limit. This section seemed more popular as a few more people started appearing, making the most of the weather.

Eventually, I saw my destination, which was the caravan park at Allhallows, appear in the distance. However, I could tell that this distance was still another 2 or 3 miles. It seemed as if I was never going to get there, but it was worth the agony for the experience of being right on the edge of this everwidening river, as it really starts to meet the sea- a hybrid of both. Just as I was nearing, the route diverted in again, due to some marshland, but it wasn’t long before I started to pass row upon row of static caravans on my right, before reaching the entrance of the caravan park, where there were tables and an outside bar. I was a bit distoriented, as I looked to see where I should go and realised I had missed the small path to the river-front. I spotted my partner Richard, in the distance, waiting for me and turned back to take the small path to meet him on the corner.

This was the stopping point I had planned and where I would resume my journey tomorrow. What I hadn’t realised was that this was not the campsite I thought I had booked, which was about another mile and half away.


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I’m feeling pretty exhausted again, after what was in the end, not a bad day. This is probably because I’m reaching the end of this accumulative journey and it’s probably taking its toll. I’m surprised I’ve got this far with only a few niggles and no major injuries (fingers crossed). I carry a first aid kit in my bag and an emergency ‘phone ,just in case. The weather was warm, but overcast with a light breeze, so this was the best I could hope for.

I regretted ending last night’s section just before the Sewage Treatment Plant at Belvedere, which was not a good thing to contend with first thing. Apart from the aesthetics of the old brick pump-house museum at the start, the smell soon became unbearable as I passed the functioning site and I had to hold my breath until I had passed. I suppose at least it was out of the way. The route continued towards Erith. To begin with the river wall was so hight you couldn’t see much over it, but as it continued it was possible to see ove the increasingly widening Estuary. It was quite bleak and desolate, with little greenery and increasingly industrial. The overcast sky and dramatic clouds also helped give it a dramatic edge and i’m sure it made for good photography. It was interesting to be able to see over to the other side, where  have also run and to see it from another perspective.

I was heading towards Crayford Ness, which is apparently one of the few salt marshes in Great Britain. It is also where the Thames path exension, as far as  could see, ends. The path through is a bit away from the edge of the river, due to the marsh, but beautiful for its rugged grassiness. The path was a bit stony, but what could you expect? I knew the path would lead to an extended diversion at around 5 and a half miles. The approach was marked by a huge metal recycling plant that leads you to the tributary river Darent, with the imposing Dartford Creek flood barrier, leading south. Since there is no bridge, there is no choice but to divert down and back up the other side, which is what I did, all 3 and a half miles down and 3 and a half miles back.

I’m all for lovely country strolls along a river and through nature reserves and this is great for a slow drifting walk, where you have all the tie in the world, but here, it was frustrating in the heat of the day and added quie a number of miles to the journey. Also, whilst the path along this river itself is pleasantly dramatic, the industrial estate, busy dual carriage-way and bridge you have to cross to get to the other side is not. However, knowing I would be approaching mile 11 at the top spurred me on, as this would be more than half way of what I had calculated to about an 18 mile journey.

It was also not too far to the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge, the high bridge that takes cars one way to the south of the river, about a mile and a half further on. It was quite breath-taking to pass below it, where I decided to take a breather and some nourishment to keep me going. I noticed a small makeshift memorial under the bridge near to the riverside, with 3 Tee-shirts held down at their corners with rocks, a few candles in jars and some photographs. Presumably this was in memory to 3 small boys, who had perhaps drowned?

The route beyond leading to Greenhithe was quite bare and stony, but it gave a good open view of the widening river. it lead to another diversion, which I knew about, around more riverside industies and a huge Asda. I was momentarily disoriented, but remembered from the map I had consulted numberous times, that I would need to take a left along Manor Road for about half a mile before rejoining the river. It wasn’t very pleasant in the dry, dusty heat of the day and I was also starting to tire. The route back onto the river was a bit confusing, with a few dead ends and private no-access areas, but it wasn’t for too long.

Here was the path that would lead to another salt Marsh at Broadness, north of Swanscombe and close to my destination at Northfleet. To begin with the path ran close to the river , but then just as I was looking forward to reaching the tip, evry path that coul have led there was preceded with agressive red ‘no entry’ ‘private land’ signs. I’m not sure why; they didn’t seem to indicate danger, but since I’m not expert and I didn’t want to be stopped, I did what I was told. The path cut off quite a chunk of what are Swanscombe Marshes, but which is a nature reserve in itself. However, it led me directly to a huge industrial site, where there was no access and the only way was to go round it. I got a little lost and asked a truck driver how I would get back to the river. he told me that I was already very close to Northfleet, but that if I continued round and turn left at a set of traffic lights I could get back to the water’s edge.

This was quite a detour and I didn’t really know where I was going, but I was reassured that I was close to the end of my journey. The path wound its way round to another , more open dusty construction site, which strangely had a pedestrian footpath right going through it. Sadly, after checking with a cyclist going the other way that I was going in the right direction, I found out that this footpath’s days are numbered and will no longer exist once the development is built. I can’t believe that has been allowed to go through.

You could just about see the river through all the dusty work and detritus as I continued along this strange footpath. My journey ended today at a very short section back at the water’s edge, ironically called the Shore.  This is where I will start again tomorrow. As I walked down the path leading to where I am staying tonight, I noticed that I would need to take yet another diversion…


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Today continued on familiar territory and on a route I had managed to test beforehand, so I was pretty confident about what lay ahead. I was also well-rested, having spent the night at home in my own bed. As I live stone’s throw from where I was due to start, it also meant being able to get up slightly later. I was nervous about the weather, as the route was much more exposed, but as it turned out, the sky was overcast for much of the day and there was a cool breeze. I don’t know whether also being close to the river as it widens out also made a difference, but i would say these were almost ideal running conditions, despite the temperature still being in the low 20s and rising.

The first part kept close to the river past familar sites, including the OXO Tower, Tate Modern and The Globe Theatre until Clink Street, just before London Bridge, where it continues to divert around Southwark Cathedral until past London Bridge Station, where it is possible to cut in just before Hays Galleria, and rejoin the river on the section that leads to Tower Bridge, also passing the Mayoral Office and through to Butler’s wharf. At this time of the day, it was still too early for there to be too many tourists, so there was plenty of space.

The path then got more fiddly around Bermondsey and Rotherhithe especially, which weave in and out of short sections close to the river and others where access is closed off. This is sometimes to do with the nature of the building, but in other cases it was new developments. There was a short section back on the riverside, before the approach Deptford, where I passed the very lovely Surrey Dock Farm, before the route went inland again a couple of times, then almost a mile before I had to make a more extended diversion at Pepys Park through Deptford for a good mile or so before I could rejoin the riverside close to Greenwich.

The new section linking the other side of Deptford to Greenwich is much more accessible and from there to the Thames Barrier is very straight-forward. It keeps very close to the river, past the beautiful old naval college (now Trinity school of Music and Greenwich University) and later the Millenium Dome and village and Greenwich Peninsula developemnt, including the new site for Ravensbourne University and the Emirates cable car crossing.

There are only small detours around the back of the Trafalgar pub, a mixed concrete site towards mile 9 and later round the back of Greenwich yacht club, just before mile 11. It’s around this time that I usually start to flag, but it didn’t feel too bad today. It was good to know that I was well past the half way mark. There was a short section back on the river and then another detour around the back of some small industries and the Hope & Anchor pub, after which it was a straight run to the Thames Barrier. The approach to this is quite something and is visible in the distance, at least a mile ahead. This, at 12 miles also marked a significant point meaning only about 5 miles to go. A short path took me down some steps and back next to the river, before i had to detour past the cafe and cut through the Thameside studio complex that also includes London Sculpture Workshop and Thameside Print Studio, amongst other enterprises. This is a great complex that I wish I didn’t live so far from.

Whilst the detour is still a bit of a nuisance, it’s much shorter and better than it used to be. The path through the studio complex cuts out a whole section of the horrible A206 you used to have to take to get back down to the river; now a new section of path has opened up just round the corner from the studios. This takes you straight through to Woolwich and it should have been straight path along the to the Woolwich Ferry Terminal, except for another detour due to a new developent. Luckily this wasn’t too long, though it did take me momentarily back on the A206. Back on the riverside, it was then a more or less uninterrupted path to my destination. This section through Woolwich and then to the other side where the river widens and really begins to look like the estuary, is my favourite part of the journey and is the part of the new Thame Path extension. It looks quite rugged and desolate, but well maintained and includes green areas such as Plumstead Marshes alongside houses and parks. It is also a popuar area for anglers. As I passed through I was starting to struggle as I normally do over the last few miles, but it helped to be in such an amazing part of outer London. My journey ended at the site of the old pumping station, just before the Crossness sewage Treatment Works at Belvedere. This wasn’t so much by design than for practicality, as the Ridgeway path exit was the easiest way out and will be thee asiest way back in tomorrow.

This will be back on uncharted territory and I am midly apprehensive, but also looking forward to it.

 


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I’m SO pleased to be back at home for the night- I live in Waterloo, so it seemed crazy not to factor a night at home in all of this, since I live a stone’s throw from the river, and it saves on campsite fees (not that there are any campsites round here anyway). It does feel strange though to be here whilst I’m doing this work. It was good to have a bath, almost immediately I got here, first ice-cold (only lasted a few seconds), and then hot.

The 15 miles I thought the run was going to be, turned out to be more like 17, which on the hottest day of the year so far was a struggle by the time I reached the last few miles. However, all things considered, it wasn’t a bad run- much of it was along shaded paths, as far as Barnes Bridge and there was also a slight breeze, which always helps. These first few miles felt steady and I enjoyed the leafy coolness of the trees. I passed the Deer Park at Richmond and the Gardens at Kew, though I couldn’t actually see into them. I caught glimpses of rowers training in the river and also passed rowing clubs every now and then. The path rose gradually to a much higher level which gave an interesting viewpoint looking down and I could see various feathered friends and their chicks, which have been such a feature of this trip.

One of my students had said she might come out and cheer me on near Kew, and i was half looking out for her, but didn’t really expect her to turn out on such a hot day. Sometime after I passed the loop of the river towards Mortlake, I heard a voice behind me and it was her on her bike! It was so nice to see her (thanks Ayeshah!), not only for the support and encouragement, but also because due to Covid, I had not seen her recently other than on screen. She cycled behind me as I continued running and we chatted for a bit until I reached Barnes Bridge, where we went our separate ways. I was very touched by this gesture and it distracted me for a while from the more difficult aspects of running. At around 5 miles I was still not too far into the run at this point and things were still relatively comfortable, though running along the open wall edging the river, through Barnes, I felt the heat of the day.

Luckily this didn’t last too long and the path was soon along shaded trees again, as it wound its way round another loop of the river towards Hammersmith Bridge and London Wetlands. From there it wasn’t too far to Putney, where you come out onto a line of rowing clubs, and into Putney itself. This was about the half way point and I knew this was where there would be some potential diversions. I was right but they were not quite as bad or for as long as I remembered. I was initially diverted round a church and back onto the riverside briefly, and then around some new riverside developments. It wasn’t too long before I was back alongside the river, heading towards Wandsworth Bridge. From here it was out in the open sun, running mainly past riverside developments, until Battersea Park, which was a welcome relief.

Since I moved to Waterloo, this is a regular run for me, and I knew that from this point it would be only 4 miles to Waterloo. These last few miles were a real struggle- by then, I think that the heat of the day had got to me. I decided to stay on the south side of the river, despite the diversion at Battersea Power Station. Even though I’m not a fan of this new development and I think that the Power Station could have been put to better use than luxury flats, much of the path near to the river has opened up and will continue to do so, as more of the development is completed. I believe Ken Livingstone, when he was mayor, fought for a ruling that says that new developments have to leave public access to the river, so thanks Ken (although I’m not sure that happens everywhere, sadly).

Back on the river it was then only a short stretch to Vauxhall Bridge, where there has been a short diversion blocking the river path at the bridge end on the south side, I’m not sure why. It could be the London Tideway super sewer, that is blocking off so may parts of the Thames path at the moment. Reaching the walkway opposite the Houses of Parliament, outside St Thomas’ Hospital and I knew I only had about a mile and half to go. I was dreading having to weave my way through tourists and people around the London Eye and the South Bank, but it wasn’t quite as bad as I thought. The trees along the walkway by the National Theatre provided some welcome shade. Perhaps it was also the thought of finishing that made it all the more pleasurable.

I am pretty exhausted tonight and writing this was a real struggle, I hope tomorrow will bring with it a cooler experience.


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