Category Archives: Walking.

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.

                                                                             *****

 

 

 

A SOUTHERN CIRCUIT ON LONGRIDGE FELL.


I’ve been up Longridge Fell three times this week, all from different directions. This lack of originality is partially based on my reluctance to drive far, partly on the weather [torrential rain on alternate days put boggy Fairsnape out of the question] and mainly on my slow re-acquaintance with hilly country. Anyhow it is a great little fell, the most southerly named fell in the UK with the easy to remember 350m height.

Today, Thursday 5th April, was fantastic, you couldn’t have wished for a better Spring like day. Blue skies, no wind and warmish sun [that’s that round yellow thing in the sky]. Of course the paths were still muddy and slippy but that’s par for the course at this time of year in Lancashire. A few groups were out on longer rambles and the dog strollers were making the best of the day.

I parked at Higher Hodder Bridge and  tackled the steep Birdy Brow road head on, One gains height quickly and just past Kemple End the forest track leaves the road zigzagging into the trees. I was already sweating as the morning warmed up. The forest track on a day like this reminded me of walking through Southern Spain on the GR 7 where there is much forest. I was going to say ‘wish I was there now’ but on a day like this you can’t  beat Lancashire. A hidden little path through the trees brings one out at a lovely open viewpoint with the Bowland Fells full on, the frosty Yorkshire peaks off to the East and Chipping Vale at your feet,

Higher on the fell I came across forest workers hand planting thousands of spruce saplings in rough ground that had been felled a couple of years ago. These are disease resistant ones and I will watch their growth over coming years.

Knowing that the track was blocked ahead with fallen trees I again took to smaller paths through the trees some of which are old Scots Pines, an enchanting place. I’ve been known to bivy in this secret place with the bonus of deer wandering past in the night. Further on is the ‘wall path’ leading towards the summit.  Years ago this path was hardly visible but has become more used and hence more boggy, most of the wall that ran alongside it has been now used as infill for the path.

Once out in the open the white trig point was clearly seen ahead with more stunning views of Chipping Vale and the Bowland Hills. If I had kept walking down the ridge I would have been home in an hour but I had a circuit to complete so headed south on forest roads, with Pendle Hill dominant ahead above the Ribble Valley, to come out at the road above Crowshaw Quarry where I had a bite to eat in the sunshine.

The bridle way down past Green Gore to Hurst Green is very familiar but I realised I nearly always walk it in the opposite direction. One of my favourite places is Dean Brook as it descends off the fell and through old mill placements at Hurst Green. The bridge there is a great launching pad for poo sticks.

I came out at the Almshouses which somehow were brought down from Kemple End. The Bayley Arms pub seems to be closed so I carried straight across on Smithy Lane through muddy fields and into the grounds of Stoneyhurst College.

I took the private road to Hodder Court where I picked up the popular footpath alongside the Hodder river. This is a roller coaster of a path in the trees above the river as I headed back to  Higher Hodder Bridge. A delight with the fast flowing Hodder below, emerging Wild Garlic under my feet and expectant bird song in the air.

That was 5 hours of my life well spent.

*****

 

What is happening up on Longridge Fell?

Another of my ‘whats happening?’ posts.

The day had not started well,  I’d set my alarm early, for me, so I’d get to my eagerly awaited dental appointment at 9am. I awoke feeling strange. Putting my hand out to the radio nothing happened. Pressing the light switch nothing happened. Checking my mobile twice or even thrice the time said 9.30.  9.30 where was I?  It dawned on me in the middle of an electricity cut. Not even my land line worked.  Reconnected later in the morning apologies to the dentist were due. I didn’t come round till lunchtime. By then my phone was ringing, the sun was shining and I’d arranged a walk up Longridge Fell.

Mike was recovering from a hip operation and I was keen to try my legs on rougher terrain. Mid afternoon we were parked up on the rough ground above Crowshaw Quarry.  I won’t bore you with our usual route on the forest tracks to the trig point and back.

A few things were different today…

Access onto the open fell from the forest was always by a through stile in the wall just below the trig point. Somebody, presumably, Lancashire County Council, has become disheartened by damage to the said wall and installed a metal kissing gate. Not really in keeping with a fell top but maybe more enduring.

It was wet on the way to the trig point. But we were soon at the top and greeted by a young Patterdale Terrier full of energy and inquisitiveness.

A little further on was the wooden gate which has breached the wall for years but suddenly seems to have been chewed to bits. The type of chewing seen round horse enclosures. No horses up here so we wondered deer, wild boar, beavers, yeti…  We walked on keeping a close eye behind us on the woods.

Arriving, without being chewed or worse, onto the forest road below we couldn’t believe the amount of damage from the storm a month ago. Our onward route at one point was completely obstructed by fallen trees.  I’d seen the same on Beacon Fell  a couple of weeks ago but for some reason hadn’t expected it here. Some of the trees were leaning ominously across the track but most had been completely uprooted or snapped. It will take some time with a chain saw to clear things. A way round was found.

A little further on and what is happening here …

 

We had walked through sun, rain and sleet, the road and car reached.

Nothing stays the same.

Some deep unconscious spark made me think of…

 

*****

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.

*****