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Rolling along the main rivers of my life
An English Rose in Georgia
Lesley Francis - SBF
Lesley Francis grew up in London, England, and made Georgia her home in 2009. - photo by File photo

Last weekend, I attended the annual meeting of Ogeechee Riverkeeper, a nonprofit organization that was celebrating its 10th anniversary.
One reason we chose to live in this beautiful part of the United States is its natural beauty — in particular, the Ogeechee River.

Rivers always have been incredibly important to me. I have never failed to be soothed, re-energized and inspired by the beauty of waterways. Of course, when I lived in England, I was never far away from the famous River Thames (pronounced “tems”), and I have many fond memories of this river as a backdrop to my life. From crossing over one of the many bridges in central London to get to some meeting and just taking a moment to enjoy its majesty; to special times of walking by the river with my future husband in Old Windsor; enjoying a beverage in a riverside beer garden with friends during the short British summer; to being entertained with my colleagues at the Henley Regatta (rowing crews) by gracious hosts, the River Thames was always there.  

As a dedicated reader throughout my life, the Thames also entranced me in literature — for example, in “Three Men in a Boat,” “Alice in Wonderland,” “The Wind in the Willows” and various works by Charles Dickens, in whose novels the Thames is a depressing, stinking, sinister place where filth and murders take place. That was all too true in the London of the 1800s, when sewage was pumped directly into the river and criminals disposed of bodies in its depths.

It has become apparent to me that many people in America are not familiar with the geography and history of England’s most famous river, so I thought I would share a few interesting facts with you (there is much more information at www.thamesrivers ):

• The River Thames is England’s longest river at 215 miles in length from source to sea, becoming wider the farther downstream you go as more tributaries join the river, adding their water to it.

• It flows east through 16 cities and towns from the rural Cotswolds’ Hills in the west of England, where it is non-tidal, then famously travels through London, where it becomes tidal, and ends in the Atlantic Ocean off the east coast.

• The Thames has been an important trade route throughout its history, and it is believed that the Romans were influenced by the Thames when they were choosing where to build London.

• The Thames has been frozen over at various times, the earliest recorded occasion being 1150 AD. In pre-19th century London, cold winter weather would sometimes freeze the Thames and “frost fairs” would be held on the ice, with Londoners enjoying dancing and drinking. The last fair was in 1814, and it appears unlikely there will ever be another one because the river now flows too fast for the water to freeze.

• During World War II, the protection of the Thames was critical to the defense of Britain; the river was used by the planes to navigate at night during the Blitz.

• There are many different fish species in the Thames as well as otters and water voles and, of course, eels, which led to the development of a traditional east-London dish of jellied eels in the 18th century.  Personally, I would not recommend this meal of chopped eels, boiled in stock and allowed to cool and set into a cold jelly dish.

I am fortunate that if I ever miss the River Thames, I can be on or alongside the wonderful Ogeechee within minutes. I am grateful to Ogeechee Riverkeeper, who helps protect, preserve and improve the water quality of the Ogeechee River basin in which I now live.

I will leave you with a short quote from English historian John Burns: “The Thames is liquid history.”

God bless America (and Lord, please keep the Thames in mind as well)!

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