Category Archives: Long Distance Walks.

THE THAMES PATH – Day 17. The Barge Walk and more.

Shepperton to Teddington.

Hampton Court Palace.

The Barge Walk is the towpath from Hampton Court Bridge to Kingston Bridge around the grounds of Hampton Court, It has been part of the estate for 500 years. Until the late 18th century the easiest way for royal parties to reach the Palace was by elegant state barges. When the palace was opened to the public Queen Victoria and guests arrived by boat. Into the 19th century and till this day this stretch of the Thames has been popular with boaters, walkers, cyclists and fishermen.

This morning I couldn’t resist retracing my footsteps to use the ferry across the Thames. You ring a bell and the boatman appears from the chandlers. Apparently children use it to get to a school on the Weybridge side, a school ferry rather than a bus.The water is still high but landing was no problem although last week the ferry was cancelled as the river was well above the landing stage.

I was pleased I’d come this way as it gave a pleasant walk by the river to Walton rather than road walking through Shepperton. Jays, Parakeets and Cormorants were a strange combination for the river bank, there were no boats on the water and I just realised that I haven’t seen a single fisherman, maybe out of season. I took the opportunity to get out of the cold with a coffee in The Anglers Inn on the old wharf at Walton.

A short distance further was Sunbury lock. A small boat coming upstream, despite the warnings of strong currents, moored up to access the lock. This gave me chance to chat to the two men sailing it as they tried to get the lock to open with no power. They had sailed from Essex into the Thames mouth and were heading for the Kennet and Avon to go to Bristol and hence to Wales, it sounded ambitious to me. Their boat looked very cosy for two, I wished them bon voyage.

A stroll past islands, interesting houses and lots of moored boats brought me into Hurst Park and suddenly hoards of people mainly with children and dogs, it is still school holidays here.

I was recommended several kiosks for lunch but wanted to be inside so I chose the ‘Thyme by the River Cafe’ upstairs in the Molesey rowing club. According to the walls this club has had several Olympic Gold Medal athletes in recent times. The cafe was full of noisy infants, even my waitress seemed stressed by them, so I ended up outside after all. Fortunately  they had a balcony with a view over the Thames. The excess of dogs here was preferable to the noise level inside.

The busy road at Hampton Court Bridge took me by surprise after all the rural walking. People were streaming into Hampton Court Palace but the historic Barge Walk was a pleasant peaceful stroll to Kingston Bridge. A couple of cyclists turned out to be French and were cycling to John o’Groats, they had just started in Brighton this day. They looked a little unprepared for what lay ahead.

A barge moored on the Barge Walk.

Chestnut trees lined the towpath to Kingston Bridge which was heaving with cars, bikes and people. London’s Red buses even made an appearance.

A trip into Waitrose for provisions proved a disaster, too much choice, too high prices and an abominable queue to pay and get out. Fortunately pleasant riverside parks led all the way  to Teddington Lock where pedestrian bridges crossed into the town itself. Teddington Lock is the lowest on the Thames so from now on the river is tidal.

My choice of hotel for the night turned out to be the four star Lensbury complex whose mission statement is “to grow a sustainable leisure and hospitality business, enriched by an exceptional customer service culture delivering Exceptional Experiences”  Feeling like a fish out of The Thames I booked in, explained I was walking The Thames Path only to be asked for my car registration number!

http://www.lensbury.com/

*****

THE THAMES PATH – Day 16. Walking through history.


Old Windsor to Shepperton.

Runnymede – the meadow by the Thames where King John sealed the Magna Carta on the 15th June 1215, the birthplace of democracy?  Runnymede’s associations with democracy, limitation of power, equality and freedom under law attracts a lot of curious visitors aided by the recent 800years anniversary celebrations

Was it the dull weather that dulled my early morning navigation? I seemed to struggle to find the Thames out of  Old Windsor. Once on the muddy path I was soon in Runnymede. Strangely the car parks were empty with only the occasional dog walker for company. I was here last summer. visiting the Commonwealth Air Forces Memorial and indulging in the Sunday Buffet at the Runnymede Hotel.  So today I wanted to see some of the other memorials relating to Magna Carta and its 800th anniversary but unfortunately the fields were flooded making access impossible. They are water meadows after all.

The flood ringed Magna Carta Memorial.

I did get to see The Jurors an art installation by Hew Locke, 12 bronze chairs decorated with images reflecting struggles for freedom and equal rights throughout the world in the past and ongoing. There was much to experience in textures, images and history. I was alone in my exploration as cars sped by on the main road. For more detail look here . I’ve just realised I didn’t actually sit on any of the chairs, I think I was overawed by the whole experience.

Conversely I was soon walking through the nearby slightly incongruous ‘pleasure grounds’ – not much pleasure in today’s cold and damp conditions. However there was an interesting statue of a young looking, Queen with adjacent time lines through history since the Magna Carta 800 years ago.

 

I couldn’t resist a morning coffee in the Runnymede Hotel, £4.50 is the highest so far but it was worth it for the relaxing sofa and the chatty young staff. Everyone else was in business meetings.

The path ducks under the M25 and as always the underbelly of bridges is fascinating.

As I’ve said the Thames was high, with flood alerts, and I only just got through on the towpath in places. Many of the riverside houses are built or rebuilt raised up to try and alleviate the problems of the inevitable floods.

The next stretch past Staines was not particularly interesting, suburbia by the river. I think it was made worse by nothing moving on the river due to  the strong currents. However to make things more interesting there was a bronze statue by Diana Thomson – The Swanmaster, related to the crowns right of ownership of Mute Swans. And nearby The London Stone marking the once upstream limit of the cities authority on the Thames.

I must have speeded up without realising and was at Chertsey Bridge in fast time. I’d not stopped or eaten so was tempted into The Kingfisher by the bridge where I was able to relax and kill time over a beer and sandwich. A friendly couple talked of the river and showed me pictures of their raised  house on an island I will pass tomorrow.  They have sailed the Thames many times but seemed intrigued with the notion of walking it. Three blokes were walking the path in stages one day a week when the weather allows.

Chertsey Bridge.

A riverside meadow was overrun by dog lovers. There followed an area of houseboats some of them quite creative in design. The strange thing is you never see anybody on these ‘boats’ presumably the owners are working up in the city. Then I was at the ferry over to the far bank where the path continues alongside the river through to Walton.

But I’d booked a night in Shepperton, in retrospect perhaps unwisely, so had to follow the ‘inland’ alternative. The 400 year-old Anchor Inn next to the church in the old part of town turned out to be a good choice.   http://www.anchorhotel.co.uk/

*****

 

 

THE THAMES PATH – day 15. An afternoon stroll.

Windsor to Old Windsor.

I’m back in Windsor. The train from Waterloo took about an hour, that represents about 4 days walking back down the Thames Path!

For this late afternoon I’d planned a short walk to Old Windsor. A coffee from the Eliza Coffee Co at the station set me on my way at the cost of £2,50. I’m going to check out prices, high and low as I move into London.

There seems to have been a lot of rain since I was last here. The river is running full and the path turned to mud again. The familiar, once a minute,  planes coming into land are still overhead somewhere in the mist.  On the map there seemed to be a good path all the way on the south bank through Home Park, how innocent I was – this is royal Windsor and security is discrete but high. As I found out us commoners must stick to the roads.

A lane leads past old water works into a small part of Home Park given to the people of Windsor by Queen  Victoria. There are views across the misty meadows to the Castle where preparations are being made for a Royal Wedding next month. In today’s paper it is announced that politicians won’t automatically be invited and money to charity rather than presents from well wishers. Harry and Meghan are trying to appear less ‘Royal ‘ but the cost is still over £30m and how those charities would love to get their hands on that. Windsor Castle – the largest and oldest occupied castle in Europe, protector of the Thames and Royal residence to this day. No wonder the tourists flock here but there were none in the mud with me today.

Victoria’s charity doesn’t go far as at the next bridge (Victoria) further access along this side of the river is blocked.

Victoria Bridge.

The forbidden path, notice the mistletoe in the trees.

 

Across the road bridge a muddy path follows the Thames for a short distance until forced onto a busy road through Datchet. At least I was making quicker progress than the rush hour traffic along side me. I wouldn’t want to travel that road every night. What a shame that the path through the Royal Castle gardens couldn’t have been used, memo to Harry and Meghan. Security would never allow it with republicans like me about.

Of note since my last foray higher up the Thames is the absence of any Red Kites today and presumably from here on. Also in the intervening time more flowers are in bloom particularly Camellia and Magnolia in people’s gardens.

Another bridge (Albert- spot the theme) took me into Old Windsor and a perfect B and B which bizarrely was situated in the middle of a roundabout but turned out to be excellent, characterful old house in extensive gardens. The hosts being keen walkers helped.                    http://www.manorcottagewindsor.co.uk

Albert Bridge.

                                                                             *****

 

 

 

THE THAMES PATH – Day 14. A morning stroll.

Maidenhead to Windsor.

Today I was going to see Mel who should, if not for his health problems, have been walking with me. I’m hoping to get to Woking from Windsor by train although the service is poor on a Sunday.

Never heard a thing of the live music in the night, bird song woke me. The best breakfast of the trip in the simplest hotel, why can’t those starred hotels do better. Well done the Thames Hotel.

I crossed the road bridge and onto the towpath which then ducked under a railway bridge, not just any railway bridge. The bridge was designed in 1838 by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. The railway is carried across the river on two elliptical brick arches which were the widest and flattest in the world. Where I came through is known as the Sounding Arch, because of its echos.

Being Sunday morning many oarsmen were out on the river, here and further on. This seems a popular stretch for rowing clubs.

Across the river at Bray in amongst the luxurious houses are the renowned restaurants of Heston Blumenthal. They are booked up for months. The Fat Duck was recently closed temporarily following an outbreak of norovirus – if you must eat oysters then this is the risk. Visible is The Waterside Inn another top restaurant, this one run by Alain Roux.

For a while the path was quite rural with cherry and blackthorn trees flowering. Peace was interrupted by the M4 roaring overhead but the arches were quite photogenic.Another road bridge later on had some splendid graffiti/murals. These turn out to have an interesting background. Painted for the 2012 Olympics by Cosmo Sarson “Talking Heads”, apparently if you download an app to your phone and point it at the various faces they ‘talk’ back to you.

Further along an adventure centre was training a group of stand up paddleboarders, this looks a curious unnecessary sport but I liked the guy with the dog.

On my landward side a running race with lots of participants  was progressing around a track adjoining the Eton Rowing Course. This was the basin built for the London Olympics 2012. Across the way was bust Windsor Marina and Windsor horse racing course though no activity today.

This was the largest boat I’ve seen on the Thames…

Suddenly a little church appeared – a flint built structure with a timber tower.St. Mary Magdalene.  Inside the wooden frames of the tower are prominent. The pews look ancient. The base of the church is 12th century the tower being added in the 15th century. It served bargemen on the Thames but now seems a little isolated. A beautiful site nonetheless.

Ahead were the ramparts of Windsor Castle. The whole area whether you live in a ridiculously expensive residence or are purely a tourist is destroyed by the noise of aircraft heading into Heathrow. I timed one every minute. And they are getting lower and lower as they cruise in over the castle. If they are thinking of moving the homeless out of Windsor for a forthcoming wedding will they be rescheduling flights?

I pushed my way past the Japanese tourists to reach the station. Windsor and Eton will have to wait for further exploration. Would you believe it railworks have diverted all main line trains through Staines so I was in Woking within half an hour. Met Mel at the Lightbox to look round the Picasso exhibition. An afternoon of catching up and an evening of indulgence lay ahead. Then I’ll have to return and continue to the Barrier.

*****

 

THE THAMES PATH – day 13. Mainly mud.

Hurley – Marlow – Maidenhead.

It had rained in the night. I skipped breakfast and bought a sandwich in the little village shop. A bus was leaving for Maidenhead, it would be there in 10mins! Only about 5miles direct whereas I would be doing over 10. One of those beautiful wooden arched bridges took me over to an island at Hurley Lock. There seemed to be channels everywhere with boatyards tucked down side inlets. A boat passing through was heading to the Kennet and Avon. It was good to see more boats moving now the river was calmer. After the next lock, Temple, the path became a quagmire and I was glad of my poles for balance. It continued like this into Marlow. Bisham Abbey and Church looked impressive on the south bank, apparently the buildings and grounds are now used as a National sports training facility. There were oarsmen on the river this morning. The approach into Marlow was stunning and I saw more people out walking by the river than I’d seen all week. 

Marlow was busy with Saturday morning shoppers and I struggled to get a table in Burgers for my morning coffee and croissant. Before leaving I pottered about in the churchyard of All Saints by the bridge where I came across a memorial to T S Eliot who had briefly lived here. The quote from the poem  Burnt Norton, one of his Quartets,  struck a note with me.

A Time past and time future.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.

A curious walled path, must be an ancient way, twisted and turned through town and then the way by the river was closed for flood prevention measures. One tends to forget how badly some of these Thames towns have been flooded in the last decade. The diversion was badly signed and I ended up climbing over barriers and in even worse mud. Eventually parkland opened up with a popular path running through. The adjacent rugby pitches seemed to have a tournament in progress. The muddy paths continued all the way to Bourne End which was a haven for boaters. People were out tinkering ready for the spring launch. The path was often squeezed between fencing, private houses and gardens to the left and private river frontage to the right.

A footbridge attached to the railway took me to the opposite bank where I had been recommended a diversion to the characterful Bounty Pub. To be honest I was disappointed, it was rather scruffy with unfriendly bar-staff. Obviously for the well healed boaters its quirkiness  must be something out of the ordinary. They did serve the local Marlow Rebellion beer and their terrace must be a great spot to watch the river activity in summer, but can you imagine the crowds.

The next muddy stretch through meadows to Cookham was busy with families. Pretty Cookham is one of the richest villages in Britain with many houses well over a million pounds. Artist Stanley Spencer has a gallery here and author Kenneth Grahame lived here when young deriving inspiration for Wind in the Willows. Ignoring the posh shops and gastropubs I popped into the quaint Teapot Tea Shop, they don’t make them like this any more.

The next couple of miles once back on the river were surprisingly rural. I was amazed at how wide the Thames had become in the last few days. A few more house spotting opportunities and then road takes over into Maidenhead with a flurry of interest at Boulters Lock.

My hotel for the night, right on route, was of course ‘The Thames’, and very good it seems. It took me some time to get the mud off my boots before entering. They are advertising live music every Saturday night so it will be interesting how much noise there is.

*****

 

THE THAMES PATH – day 12. Posh and posher.

Sonning – Henley – Hurley.

High expectations of a scenic day and the forecast was good, it always seems to be down here.

Over the lovely brick bridge and onto a muddy path along the north side of the Thames. Hand painted signs add a little character to the route. Nothing much happened until Shiplake where there was one of those exclusive schools charging £10,000 a term basic fees. They had rowing facilities on the river naturally. The village itself seemed doomed to mass development with building proceeding everywhere. There was a great corner shop selling coffee and pastries, perfect for elevenses. Posh houses kept the path away from the river for awhile. One particular grand house had a miniature railway through the gardens. Lots of gates and cameras – who lives here?

Back on the river the area around Marsh Lock was fascinating. Wooden bridges weaved in amongst the lock and weirs. Volunteers were busy painting the lock fixtures ready for the season. Marsh and Mill Meadows had popular paths leading into Henley. Rich houses abounded with their boat houses and moored cruisers. No barges here, the size of your house determines the size of your boat. I don’t understand why you would need an ocean going yacht to potter up the Thames. The marina as you enter Henley is full of tourist boats offering river trips  all seemingly run by one organisation – Hobbs of Henley.

I found a basic cafe riverside, Chocolate Cafe, for the usual fillip. It seemed popular with cyclists, maybe the cheapest in town. The town itself was busy with shoppers and all the usual shops – best avoided. There are classic riverside properties. I did peep into the churchyard at Dusty Springfield’s simple grave.

On the other side of the river my onward journey took me past lots of rowing clubs, the Leander is one of the oldest in the world, 1818. The Remenham had a smart clubhouse.This is the site of the annual Henley Royal Regatta races downstream over a virtually straight 2000m course from Temple Island. I assume champagne takes as much importance as rowing. Anyhow I could see the Temple over 1mile ahead of me for the next up river section. Exclusive houses lined the route. At the bend before Hambleden Lock was Greenlands Mansion  once owned by W H Smith of newsagent fame, it is now  the business faculty of Reading University and very nice too. There is a plaque on the lock commemorating the first ever boar race in 1829.

I was diverted, yet again, away from the river into the little village of Aston and then into the Culham Estate. I don’t know what goes on here but they don’t really want you there, lots of officious signs and cameras in trees, woe betide if you step off the path – I expect you would be shot. There is a big house in the grounds and something that looks like a mausoleum on the hill. The deer seem to be white. The sky is full of free flying kites.

Eventually back on the river I escape from the estate and conversely walk through a humble caravan site. Above on the opposite escarpment is a large ostentatious white building, Danesfield House, now a hotel I could have stayed in for £300.

I walk into the quiet village of Hurley to my more modest evening in the 800yr old The Olde Bell, still costing an arm and a leg. The church had been a priory and the whole village has a monastic feel to it. One of the quietest and most delightful villages on the Thames so far.

*****

THE THAMES PATH – day 11. Round Reading.

Pangbourne – Reading – Sonning.

I was a little apprehensive about today as the map showed mainly the city of Reading. The morning was also rather dull but I was soon on my way along the meadows by the river, a popular promenade for the Pangbourne dog walkers. Out into the flat countryside the railway was still very close and regular GWR trains flashed by, this continued all day. The trees being leafless showed up the balls of parasitic mistletoe which grows well in the south.

The latest craze of children painting stones and leaving them to be found has reached the Thames.

 

 

 

 

Hardwick House across the river is thought to have been an inspiration for the illustrations to Wind in the Willows. Mapledurham is a picturesque hamlet inaccessible on the far bank further on. The weir here, as others, has a fish ladder incorporated surprisingly only since the late 20th century. According to plaques they seemed to have been installed with the aid of local sponsors. Before the locks were constructed boats were hauled up basic weirs and took their chances floating down.

A curious walk through the streets of Purley eventually came back to the river and railway at Tilehurst. People are living on boats moored up along the next stretch as they can cycle the towpath, I was disappointed by the amount of rubbish some of them left.

A promenade led towards the outskirts of Reading. At Caversham Bridge I braved the traffic to reach a great little ‘transport’ cafe I’d been recommended, The Gorge. It was worth it for the usual tea and teacake. More of the same promenade continued through parks with varied architecture on view. The junction with the River Kennet was crossed on a horse shoe bridge. That route gives a link into the Kennet and Avon canal system. I passed a Tescos just as a couple appeared with their shopping bags and climbed into a small boat to motor back to their marina base, brilliant. Benches along the way had Thames related poems and stories inscribed.

Tesco shopping at its best.

The suburbs were left and rural walking resumed. Passing by the extensive  grounds of Reading Bluecoat School there was this poignant gate in memory of a drowned master. Sonning was a pretty village, lots of old cottages and an interesting church. Flint is used a lot in the walls. Next to the church is a Lutyens house with a Gertrude Jekyll garden but unfortunately hidden by high walls.

Staying at a The Great House tonight. The accommodation was superb but the dining arrangements poor. One big noisy party room full of pretentious diners and out on the terrace were plastic igloos for some sort of experience, I think food comes second here, who in their right mind would sit in a plastic dome all evening?

*****