One day, Mole, fed up with spring cleaning, ditches his dust rag and heads out to the river bank. There, he encounters Water Rat, and they head out on their famous adventure. As Water Rat proclaims: “There is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats” (Grahame, 1908).
Kenneth Grahame, inspired by the English countryside, and particularly the riverbank of the River Thames, published his bestselling classic “Wind in the Willows” in 1908. Yesterday, my son happened to pick up my copy (beautifully illustrated by Robert Ingpen) off the shelf for me to read as a bedtime story.
….now for a detour across the pond….
My husband and I returned this week from a tour of the UK and Ireland. We were blown away by the beauty of the architecture, and heard the echoes of centuries and centuries of history in the stone walls. We visited castles, cathedrals, pubs, universities, ancient graveyards and museums. We listened to Scottish bagpipes, Irish whistles, and British accents, and loved every minute of it. Beautiful countries indeed, but I wish we had been able to spend more time in the countryside, and less in the big cities. For example, the part of the River Thames we saw was that which runs under the Tower Bridge, past new skyscrapers, and over to the parliament buildings and Big Ben (or maybe the reverse direction, I’m not sure). There were spectacular views, but the boat that took us through this stretch was crowded and noisy.
It can’t be compared in any way to Mole and Rat’s experience “messing about in boats” on the Thames. On the other hand, in Cambridge (UK), it was green and quiet, and there were dozens of students offering punting tours on the River Cam. I would have loved to go on one of those boats but we didn’t have time. They looked much more my speed though and were probably close to Grahame’s vision. (Unfortunately we didn’t get any good pictures there.)
…and back to Canada…
Today, I took my little ones on one of our favourite excursions. I grabbed my tour’s complimentary daypack, threw in 3 pairs of crocs, a few apples and water bottles, and we headed out to a small stream in a forest nearby.
“All was a-shake and a-shiver – glints and gleams and sparkles, rustle and swirl, chatter and bubble. The Mole was bewitched, entranced, fascinated” (Grahame, 1908).
We had a lovely time, splashing our way up and down the stream, slipping on rocks, dislodging ourselves from thick mud, and pointing out minnows and frogs. Then, I sat on the bank and watched the boys get entirely soaked, much to the amusement of passersby. I was told that not all parents allow their kids to do these things anymore. But, I feel very lucky to live in a place where it is still possible. No boat to mess about in this time though.
There is something very magical about moving water, isn’t there?
One day, I would love to return to the UK, take one of the punting tours in Cambridge, and really see the countryside and riverbanks that Grahame was writing about.
Grahame, K. (2007 edition, first published 1908). The Wind in the Willows. Blue Heron Books, Vancouver, B.C.