Image: Duncan Soar
November 28 2010
Five and half miles as the cormorant flies from the FT’s editorial offices in Southwark, there’s a river.
It’s not the Thames, although their waters meet in the Tideway just upstream of Wandsworth bridge. But the clue’s in that Saxon place-name, and the river is the Wandle: once a powerhouse of the industrial revolution, and now a best-of-British example of how local environmentalism can sometimes prevail, time can be forced to flow backwards, and decades of wanton industrial damage and decay can slowly be undone.
In its Victorian heyday, the Wandle was the prototypical glass-clear chalkstream, probably the cradle of dry-fly fishing, profiled by envious writers such as Francis Francis and William Senior who couldn’t get near those exclusive waters even at £1 a yard.
By the 1970s it had hit rock bottom, cast in a concrete corset as south London’s biggest open sewer and storm drain, running with sewage, dye, and every other toxin that industry and over-population could devise to kill a river.
Today, with the help of a group of tireless (and yes, sometimes bloody-minded) volunteers from the Wandle Trust and other organisations, and some major sponsorship from our friendly neighbourhood water company, the river is coming back to life.
When I’m not working as a copywriter, I’m one of those volunteers, and I’m proud to say that about a month ago I caught my own very first native brown trout from the Wandle. Those of you who fish will already feel the visceral thrill of knowing that such a wild, pollution-sensitive indicator species is alive, even spawning again, among the culverts and concrete car parks of Wandsworth, Merton and Sutton.
About the same time, the deputy editor of How To Spend It got in touch to ask if I’d like to write about fishing as a south London urban angling blogger and all-round river restorationist.
What could I answer but yes?
The Wandle is just one of many post-industrial urban rivers, but its fate is the perfect symbol of our (frankly awesome) power to destroy or remake the world on our very own doorsteps.
Don’t go anywhere. I’ll see you on the river.