A narrow alleyway, an iron gate, a flight of stone steps... Even if the buildings alongside are now modern flats, it's easy for a moment to imagine oneself back in Victorian Wapping. At the bottom of the stairs is a broad, sandy beach with views across Docklands. However, buckets and spades are definitely not allowed - there's a strict 'no digging' rule - and anyway, the threatening rain made playing in the sand a less inviting prospect.
Instead, I was here with a group led by Jane of Jane's London, creator of the wonderful Amelia Parker jewellery using Thames clay pipes. We were exploring this beach which only exists at low tide, looking for the historical treasure which the river casts up.
My favourite find was this seventeenth-century pipe bowl. Despite a few hundred years in the Thames, its interior is still smoke-darkened and the decorative line round its rim still sharp. It would have been made by one of over a hundred London pipe factories, all producing disposable pipes in that pre-cigarette era. (Tobacco pipes had been introduced to the city in the 1670s, while the cigarette didn't become popular until well into the nineteenth century.) The cheap, moulded pipes soon clogged with the less-refined tobacco, and would simply be thrown away - often into the river. Today, their rubbish has become our treasure: there's something very special about the opportunity to happen across an everyday item from three centuries ago.
If you'd like to join Jane's next 'Forage on the Foreshore', it's on 5 January 2014.