A goodly number of Polyramblers met at Kew Gardens station, including new member Maria and her labrador guide dog Bella who was wagging her tail and cosying up to the walkers. We were ready for a soothing stroll along the Thames Path but fearing forecast strong winds and rain. There was too much traffic to let Bella off the lead, even while some of the group peeped into St. Anne’s Church at Kew Green, but when we got to the towpath Bella was keen to explore. I described to Maria that on our left there was a narrow road leading to Kew Gardens car park and on the right was the river. Maria said later she imagined the river bank would be the same as at Putney, gently leading down to the water. Before I could explain that there was a 10ft vertical wall covered in bright green moss, Bella was off the lead and skiing down the wall to the narrow strip of shingle beach, splashing delightedly in the shallows until she realised that there was no obvious way back up. The group carried on along the towpath, unaware of the dilemma. To cut a long story short and save the reader the palpitations experienced by Maria and me, not to mention Bella, two men in a little motor boat, coaching some rowers, saw our problem, and diverted their attention to Bella. They steered their boat to the narrow shingle beach and one man jumped out. With Maria calling, cajoling and whistling and this angel in yellow oilskins coaxing and pulling, Bella was manoeuvred towards the iron-runged ladder on the wall and pushed upwards towards us. Bella desperately hooked her paws over the rungs. When she scrambled to the top, Maria rewarded her with her favourite treat and put her firmly back on the lead. The two guardian angels buzzed away in their motor boat, with us calling out our profuse thanks to them.
Disaster averted, we three strode off briskly along the towpath parallel to the boundary of Kew Gardens to try and rejoin the group. We caught up with them by the Isleworth lock and followed them to the London Apprentice pub for a welcome sit down, food and refreshment. The staff were very helpful and friendly and the food was tasty. Outside it was rather dark grey and a cold wind was getting up. Suitably restored, joined at last by Valeria, we returned to Kew by the Thames Path along the north bank of the river, in and out, up and down steps, alongside houseboats and semi-derelict warehouses, with Bella eyeing the murky water of the Grand Union Canal. She was at least able to gambol about in Syon Park and then later in Waterman’s Park where she was prevented from another aquatic adventure by a fence and protected from the traffic by a wall. When we got to Kew Bridge station Danny accompanied Maria and Bella to the train. Some of the party had already hopped on a bus. The rest of us made our way back to Kew Gardens tube station and our evening entertainment, before the threatened wind and rain made an appearance down south. Up north the storm Desmond was wreaking havoc. Apart from the yellow-oilskinned dog rescuers, our thanks go also to Danny and Geoffrey for staying in mobile phone contact and trying to help, offering support and advice. What would normally be an uneventful stroll along by the river turned into quite an emotional adventure and could have had tragic consequences. I learned to be aware that friendly, calm and well-trained guide dogs wagging their tails adorably, can suddenly experience a change of character when they are let off the lead and catch sight of water!