Eel Pie Island

I really love Twickenham. It’s a great mix of so many things, part of London yet too very much its own self, wrapped around a bend in the Thames.

One of its most magical spots is Eel Pie Island, a boho boatyard and hippietopia of sorts on an eyot (small island) in the river. No cars, just a footbridge, and a history going back to Henry VIII, who apparently stopped here for an eel pie on his way upriver to Hampton Court after seeing his mistress in Kew.

For a potted (and colourful) history, listen to this feature broadcast by NPR back in August: From A British King To Rock ‘N’ Roll: The Slippery History Of Eel Pie Island (that link has the recipe for eel pie, but this link from the producers has more pictures). I never knew Anjelica Huston had a connection to Twickenham.

The golden era of squats and skiffle and art students and trad jazz has passed, but some of the spirit lives on in the studios of the Eel Pie Island Artists. The yard where they are based is mostly closed off to the public, but it opens twice a year for the open studios weekends. Last Christmas I bought my mom a gorgeous glass robin there. And back in June, my friend Antonia and I sipped punch in the pop-up pop & punch bar assembled around heaps of boaty junk (items I don’t know the words for, but they were made of iron and peeling paint, and there was also a very rusty trampoline – I imagine it enjoys part of that colourful history).

And then we snuck through a gap in some bambooish thicketry, and wandered through the watery green of a nature reserve of sorts – tall and slender tree trunks, a high canopy of leaves, and the song of robins and blackbirds and our local squawky parrots. Were we in London?

Here are some other related links:

* Eel Pie Island Hotel & Dancehall – pictures, words, and links

* Eel Pie Dharma – a super haibun/memoir by Chris Faiers

* The Eel Pie Club – the current ‘home of Richmond & Twickenham Rhthym & Blues’, at the Cabbage Patch

* Come Hell Or High WaterSunday Times feature by Richard Johnson

* Exploring Eel Pie Island – from the Little London Observationist

* Twickerati’s feature on the open studios in 2011

* Suburban Hymn – a walk around Twickenham from Simon Hoggart (from 2001 – not much needs updating; guess the burbs are pretty timeless in their charms, if not hipsterish, though we can brag about Noah and the Whale now)

And here are some snaps of my own, taken at various points during the last year.