Category Archives: The Thames Path

THE THAMES PATH – Day 20. To finish at the Barrier.

Rotherhithe to The Barrier,

Back at Rotherhithe I had time to look round St. Mary’s Church where Christopher Jones, the captain of The Mayflower, is buried. There is a commemorative statue to him. The Mayflower set sail from Rotherhithe on its voyage to America with the Pilgrim settlers in 1620 and returned the following year. The Mayflower Pub, one of the oldest on the Thames, is near the departure point. The day started off well alongside the river by converted warehouses and new builds, old wharves still existed and views across the river to Wapping and Limehouse highlighted more development some better than others.

There was a lot of weaving around new apartment blocks. In places marinas have been created in the old wharves. At one point I found myself walking through a riverside hotel.The tide was out with a lot of mud exposed, a display mentioned the 19th century children who would scour the river bed for anything salvageable for a few pence – ‘mudlarks’.

Canary Wharf on the north bank is a glistening financial area rising phoenix like from the wastelands.

The naughty bit –

I was being diverted more and more into the streets away from the river which was frustrating. I was thinking to myself it would have been easier to have hired one of those Boris Bikes but I didn’t have the app. Round the next corner was parked one of those bikes, I was looking at it out of interest and realised it hadn’t been locked, there was no one in sight [honest I double checked] it had been abandoned. So for the next couple of miles I rode the rather unwieldy beast through the streets of Deptford towards Greenwich. A curiosity along the way was a reference to Peter The Great of Russia who in January 1698 came to Deptford to study shipbuilding. A rather odd statue at Deptford Creek marks his visit as well as an old mulberry tree he may have planted. The latter is receiving some care and attention at the moment. 
I cycled on to Cutty Sark, the famous clipper, where I locked up the bike which will be located by satellite. Greenwich was a tourist trap and there was too much to visit on my short transit. I’ve marked it down for a future visit. A former royal palace Greenwich developed as a naval college and is notable for the Meridian 0° longitude.  It is here that the footway under the Thames resurfaces in a small dome – another place to explore.

There was a pleasant cafe in the Old Brewery where I relaxed before the final stage around Blackwall Point and the Millennium Dome [the O2 arena]An area of Georgian Streets was a pleasant interlude before some awful walking. The way forward was blocked by building sites and you end up walking down a busy road towards The Blackwall Tunnel. An effort to get the path back to the river is down a fenced in lane and even when reunited high wire fences separate you from endless development. All fairly depressing.

Blocked path.

Not the best walking.

Even worse.

 

One building site after another.

Fenced in.

The O2 arena is being swamped by high rise apartments each tempting you to riverside luxury living.The river itself is busy with high speed ‘taxis’ plying between various quays. The far bank is all high rise banks above dockside buildings, so this is where our money goes. Above us the Emirates Cable Cars go back and forth from here to the Royal Victoria Dock on the north side. In the water at this quay is a Gormley installation ‘Quantum Cloud’.  Meanwhile there are fairly regular planes taking off from London City Airport.

Cable Cars, Quantum Cloud and plane.

 

The barrier comes into view around the bend and a further dreary mile, including a gravel extraction plant full of noise and dust, is accomplished to be alongside it. The high tech Thames Barrier can protect London being flooded from high tides and storm surges from the North Sea. I am happy to finish The Thames Path here although I believe there is now an extension 10 miles downstream to  Crayford Ness but I’ve had enough industrial landscape for now. It is debatable where the Thames actually finishes before becoming part of the North Sea.  Where I am now seems a long long way from the Thames Source trickling out into a field in the Cotswolds.

*****

THE THAMES PATH – Day 19. The South Bank and much much more.

Wandsworth to Rotherhithe.

There is a long list of sights today as the Thames Path weaves in and out of central London so it could make for slow progress and a long post. Iconic bridges cross the Thames at frequent intervals and new developments are everywhere.

The tide was out as I left Wandsworth Bridge this morning, all seemed peaceful and the streets were virtually empty of joggers and cyclists.  The new apartment developments on Brixton Reach took some navigating, signage was out of date and the river could be accessed more than was first obvious. One hopes that eventually it will be complete and that the developers don’t create ‘private’ frontages. Have planning controls been put in place and is anybody watching? In the middle of all this I found a Georgian Church, St. Mary’s. Inside a small choir were practicing and along with the organ filled the church with uplifting music.

The graceful Battersea Bridge is on a sharp bend and has been the scene of many nautical collisions. After Albert Bridge… …Battersea Park was an oasis of green and joggers, cyclists and dogs reappeared from nowhere. Good to see all the children cycling in this large traffic free area. My pit stop was at Pier Point Cafe next to the cycle hire depot.

I thought things were going well when I could continue under the railway bridge into land of the old Battersea power station but I didn’t get far before diversions around it had me in a maze of new apartments and cranes. It was a mile or so before I saw the river again on the Tideway Walk, even this had diversions in place. This is BIG development and I spent a lot of time looking up. Across the river was the more stately Chelsea, I might have been better crossing over to the North bank for a change.

Elegant Chelsea.

Once past the new ‘unfinished’ American Embassy [eat your heart out Mr Trump] access is improved and after Vauxhall Bridge the Albert Embankment can be enjoyed with its Dolphin [actually sturgeons] lampposts.  You squeeze past the austere MI 6 building and then see the headquarters of the International Maritime Organisation which has the bow of a ship bursting out of its frontage – a dramatic piece of art. The big open-top bus stops at Lambeth Palace. Historic St. Thomas’s Hospital brings back many memories and now I’m at Westminster Bridge with the Abbey, Parliament and Big Ben [still under scaffolding] across the water.  I used to cycle over here every morning on my way to college. A lot of this walk is now becoming a trip down memory lane so please forgive any indulgence.

The London Eye looms ahead and distant views down river reveal the changing skyline of London. Tourists have replaced joggers, the pavement is packed and hardly a word of English is heard. I keep bumping into people fixated on their phones. The Eye is extremely popular this morning but what have they done to the adjacent County Hall?  MacDonald’s, Shrek, Horror Dungeon and other paltry amusements – commercialism gone mad since the GLC moved out. Surely some better use could have been found for this stately building.

County Hall in 2005.  Adrian Pingstone

The next bridge Hungerford leading to Charing Cross now  looks spectacular with adjacent cantilevered footbridges.

By Waterloo Bridge is the concrete jungle of Royal Festival Hall, the National Theatre and National Film Theatre.The latter was almost a daily pilgrimage for me to view the old and new classics of cinema. I wonder if they still show ‘allnighters’   Colourful skate boarding has taken over the under belly of the area. ITV’s London Television Centre was new to me and the nearby Art Deco OXO Tower seems to be more difficult to see amongst all the new development, in fact I can’t find my photo of it. The Millennium Footbridge brings hoard of tourists over from the city and St. Pauls and deposits them on the doorstep of Tate Modern. Do you remember shortly after the bridge opened Health and Safety had a fit with its swaying. Popping into the Tate I only had time for a brief look in the great Turbine Hall which was exhibition-less – where is Louise Bourgeois’ Giant Spider?

The out of place Globe Theatre was thronged with visitors. The underground world of streets, tunnels and warehouses near the original Clink are still atmospheric, try them at night. The Anchor [from Shakespeare’s time] was a favourite lunchtime drinking venue of ours but that was in the days when the dockers and market workers still visited it. We used to have a good knees up there in the evenings. Just doesn’t look the same today and I couldn’t even get in the crowded door.Looking up there is a new kid on the block – The Shard – a  95-storey skyscraper designed by the Italian architect Renzo Piano. 309.7 metres (1,016 ft) high, the Shard is at present the tallest in the country.

I’ve never been enthused by the replica – yes it is only a replica dear tourists – of The Golden Hind sat in an old dock on Bankside.  The original Golden Hind galleon was sailed by Sir Francis Drake, sponsored by Queen Elizabeth 1st, around the globe between 1577 and 1580. Actually to give it its due the replica has achieved a similar modern voyage. Passing past Southwark Cathedral and Market onto Borough High Street. forgive me for diverting up St. Thomas Street to look into Guy’s Medical School. What a disappointment, there was construction work in the courtyard, even the statue of the founder Sir Thomas Guy has been removed. I walked in here most mornings for 6 years, I suppose I didn’t tell them I was coming today.  Inside the colonnades a statue of John Keats has been installed and I was able to sit alongside him. The alcove he sits in was from the Old London Bridge demolished in 1831. Keats trained at Guy’s  in that early 19th century period. There is a blue plaque for him but I couldn’t find mine.

The whole of the hospital is now dominated by the Shard.

Escaping through London Bridge Station and Tooley Street I was back besides the Thames wharves and warehouses but they have all been gentrified, mostly successfully, into apartments and coffee shops.

In

Hay’s Wharf where the tea clippers docked.

In the Pool of London HMS Belfast has been a fixture since the 70’s. one of our Naval Cruisers serving from 1938. In the background is Tower Bridge, yet another iconic sight.

The new City Hall has taken over from County Hall as headquarters for GLA. Designed by Norman Foster, former mayor Ken Livingstone referred to it as a “glass testicle” – but he had a grudge to bear.What was Bermondsy, an area of east end dockers, is now mainly converted warehouse apartments – I wonder whether the legendary camaraderie still exists across the balconies. The local pubs will have disappeared and I didn’t see many corner shops, plenty of coffee shops though.  On the other side of the river were more wharves looking like they’ve also been apartmentalised.

Rotherhithe has kept a more local atmosphere within its housing community and the locals are very friendly.

There is a museum, housed in the pumping house, dedicated to  Brunel who helped to create the first tunnel under the Thames which today is still used by the rail network. Further exploration will have to wait until tomorrow.

 

*****

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE THAMES PATH – Day 18. The world and his dog.

Teddington to Wandsworth. 

As I looked out of my window I spotted a fox skulking through the hotel flower beds. The sun was already strong and it was going to be a beautiful day.

I gave the expensive breakfast a miss but strolled down through the hotel gardens to the river to watch the water gushing out of the weir. Apparently last week the water almost reached the dining room but today was a couple of feet lower.

Recrossing the bridge I became tangled up in the Park Run which used the towpath. This towpath is very muddy but is being upgraded, fortunately no work at the weekend, and further on has been resurfaced as a broad lane. Not particularly sympathetic to the surroundings but no doubt necessary due to the heavy use by foot and cycle. Even after the Park Runners had turned back there was a constant stream of walkers, joggers and cyclists – this was to continue for the rest of the day – we are definitely in London now.

The river curves round towards Richmond and The Star and Garter Home is prominent on the hill, once a luxurious hotel, latterly a care home but recently sold for apartment development.   The beautiful Palladian Marble Hill house was built for Henrietta Howard mistress of King George II when he was Prince of Wales, arcadian life for the royals in the 18th century.

Morning coffee was taken at The Tide Tables cafe under Richmond Bridge, just under £3 and only average but a pleasant place to sit under the plane trees next to the river. The cafe had a relaxed feel to it. Plane trees are common in London and I had already passed the tallest this morning.

Richmond Weir was constructed to form a barrage to keep the water high upriver, Sluice gates hang down from the footbridge to control the flow. There is an adjacent lock which is the last on the river which from now on is at the mercy of the tides.

I am now  beside Richmond Old Deer Park but don’t see much of it. More interesting is Syon House on the opposite bank the last ducal (Northumberland) residence in London.

Kew Gardens came alongside reminding me of regular visits when I was a student in London, must have been free entry or something.

The constant stream of humanity continued and by now the sunshine and warm weather was putting everyone in a good mood. Chiswick Bridge meant I was now following in reverse the loop of the 4mile and 374yd Boat Race course as far as Putney Bridge.  There did seem to be more rowing crews out on the water on this stretch.

At Mortlake the riverside pubs were packed so I ventured up a side street and found the ideal Orange Pekoe cafe for a salad lunch with a large pot of tea amongst friendly people.The impressive display of expensive cars passing by with unnecessary revving emphasises the apparent affluence of the area.

More leafy path and I was under the impressive metal Hammersmith Bridge and Putney Bridge was soon seen round the next curve. The bridges over the Thames become markers on the walk as you pass from one to the next, Each one unique and becoming more iconic as I continue, I could write a blog on the bridges alone.

Hammersmith Bridge.

Craven Cottage football ground on the far bank was hosting a derby match later in the day and nearby was Fulham Palace, home to the Bishops of London from the 11th century until 1973, where are they now?

Following the crowds I was soon in Putney popular with oarsmen, several college boathouses lining the road with lots of activity. Crews who had been training on the river were coming ashore. Some had taken an earlier exit.

The crowds increased and sound levels rocketed dramatically around the pubs. The heavy police presence informed me of the local derby match between Fulham and Brentford this evening. I didn’t linger. There was a small park and then a maze of modern apartments to Wandsworth. The nondescript bridge here was erected in 1940 and painted blue as camouflage against air raids, it still is. As I’d a hotel booked in Putney I caught the train back when things had quietened down.,

*****

 

 

 

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.

*****