I woke up early. Far too early even for a normal working day. The sun was just inching its way into the day. Through the kitchen window, the Magnolia tree I can normally see clearly was shrouded in fog. With plenty of time to spare, I grabbed my camera and headed outside for a walk down to the river Thames. I thought I’d stand at the bottom of Prince Albert Bridge, a five-minute walk, and take a few photos.
But I was mesmerized by the way the thick fog obscured the view most everything. Even the park on the other side of the bride was a mystery. London mornings are often faded by fog, but most days it lifts before I leave the house. That day, it was thick and persistent.
Charles Dickens writes in Bleak House:
Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. …Fog lying out on the yards, and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little ’prentice boy on deck. Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a balloon, and hanging in the misty clouds.
It was like that, in a modern way, buses barely seen crawling over bridges until they were just moments from you, runners in the park revealed only paces away, bursting through the particles of a cloud.
I crossed the bridge to Battersea Park and wandered slowly along the river. The tide was out and washed up on the banks, half-buried in sand, was an abandoned bike, a tyre from a car and a wide array of other lost objects.
The Peace Pagoda was enveloped in fog. You could barely see as far as halfway across the river where boats slipped slowly past. The lamps and trees lining the pathway revealed themselves one by one as I walked on toward Chelsea Bridge.
More than an hour later, I headed home, joining the morning rush of bodies and cars scurrying along the King’s Road, stopping for a tea, feeling creative and refreshed and thinking I could go for that walk every morning. Even then, around 8:30am, the fog was barely breaking.
It was a scene from the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson:
The fog still slept on the wing above the drowned city…and through the muffle and smother of these fallen clouds, the procession of the town’s life was still rolling in through the great arteries with a sound as of a mighty wind.
The fog of London has featured prominently in literature, especially in the days of Sherlock Holmes and Jack the Ripper. Artists like Monet, who painted a foggy London were inspired by it too.
It’s a different fog now than it was back when coal fires were used in many homes and mixed with the fog to create a thick smog (which was less pleasant and actually killed about 4,000 people over five days during the Great Smog of 1952.
But back to a positive note – it was a real treat to wake up with time for a leisurely walk on such a stunning morning. If you every wake up in London and the fog hasn’t lifted yet, get yourself to the river asap!