1st January 2021 – colour and smiles on the greyest of midwinter days

The Thames is sketched in greyscale this morning. At Blackfriars Bridge, the low-tide rocks and gunge whiff of hydrogen sulphide and even the fairground paint of Southwark Bridge is muted. Despite the gloomy prospect I’m on a mission to find colour.

Today, the first one of the year, is special for botanists. All over the British Isles, they’ll be looking for flowering wild and naturalised plants for the New Year Plant Hunt, recording what they see in three hours. This will be my first year. I’d been hoping to go with a group but with the restrictions in place it’s going to be a solo expedition. Ever adventurous, my plan is to beat the bounds of the Southwark section of the Thames path from the boundary with Lambeth in the west to Greenwich in the east. 

Between Blackfriars and London Bridge the path is bleakly tidy and weed-free and I have some doubts about my choice of route. Approaching Tower Bridge things start looking up and I spot lush green annual mercury and mealy fat hen in a planter as well as the cheery daisy flowers of Mexican fleabane perched on the river wall.

The concrete crevices continue to provide rich pickings with gallant soldier, Canadian fleabane and the rich yellow of narrow-leaved ragwort. Crimson shaggy stems of pellitory of the wall scramble over lichen-daubed wharf steps. Approaching Rotherhithe I’m delighted to see the residents here are less enthusiastic about weeding planters and red deadnettle, the blue starry flowers of green alkanet and black nightshade are growing between last-night’s empties.

The path has been steadily busy this morning with walkers, joggers and cyclists and I try not to be too annoying when I kneel down or hang over the river wall in Rotherhithe to photograph flowers. But along with Christmas this is one of the few days when Londoners seem comfortable greeting strangers and I revel in the smiles and well-wishes exchanged.

After three hours of colour and smiles, I find that the greyscale background has receded. Even on the bleakest of midwinter days in the city there are highlights of red, yellow and blue here if you take the time to find them. 

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