One of those where you hike out of London and just want to keep on going.

I’ve not really prodded the possibilities of a great push to the west along the Thames Path, though I’ve completed everything from Erith to Hampton Court. I have of course thought about it before, in terms of doing the whole thing, but not in terms of what it is actually like. When I came to discussing this walk, with myself at first, I had the impression that it would be a bit scraggly and unloved. That is far from reality and I really have no clue how I got to that point.

Starting point: Hampton Court railway station, zone 6, trains to Waterloo and Clapham Junction

End point: Windsor Riverside railway station, trains to Waterloo and Clapham Junction

Length: 31.7 kilometres (19.7 miles)

Ordnance Survey Maps app route link here

Download the GPX file for this route here Hampton Court to Windsor

I coincided with Martyn at Clapham Junction and not long after that I was crossing the road outside Hampton Court station. The interesting second hand shop Moore’s Miscellanea on the left catching my eye with its windows brimming with all kinds of intriguing nonsense, and then my eyes being usurped as the main sensory organs by my skin, because it turned out that the morning was bloody cold. That’s because it was about to become February and I was wearing a t-shirt and a light rain coat. A little silly of me.

As I took some pictures of the bridge and the Palace I found the urgency of the cold rather distracting so I zipped myself up against the wind and slight drizzle and descended to the Thames. Ducks and geese sounded their outrage in no uncertain terms, and then plopped into the freezing water. A magnificent cormorant just glared sidelong at me instead.

Cormorant at Hampton Court

And then we were off westwards. The houses just up from the bridge were quite pretty and interesting but the house boats and the actual boats a little further on, between Hampton Court and Sunbury, were even more interesting. Smoke from their burners drifted towards us and we sucked it up, that alluring smell standing in stark contrast to the burnt diesel fumes from some other launches puttering along or tethered hazily.

Huge houseboats on the Thames west of Hampton Court

I couldn’t help it but I had to crack into some chorizo snack treats I’d been given in a Christmas stocking. I’d reserved them specifically for a walk and I was a bit impatient to get started on them.

Already I sensed that I was going to be completely wrong about today. The river was still wide, the sights evolved quickly and never bored at all, and there was a fair dash of eccentricity all around us with topiary and strange adornments to the boats.

Strange topiary along the Thames Path

Dolphin sculpture beside moored boats on the Thames

At the outlet to the Bessborough and Knight Reservoirs it was clear that the wall advertising the Metropolitan Water Board had just been stripped of ivy. Its stone gleamed warmly against the grey sky and spoke of the magnificence of some of those old Victorian infrastructure projects that delivered modern London to us. I do often forget that we’re rattling around on top of some very shaky Victorian bones and that we’re genuinely pushing our luck with quite a few things. Hence the megasuperubersewer being constructed I suppose!

Canoes on the Thames

The path is generally good all along here, even in winter. Puddles but nothing too dramatic in the mud stakes, even with cyclists gamely churning it up for us. You will make good time because your surroundings are great and your mood is high. Your arms swing and make every step a tiny bit longer than it normally would be. We talked about the advantages, and many disadvantages, of Martyn’s never ending quest to find the perfect walking shoes. He’s tried a lot. He’s modded a lot. He’s not there yet. But good luck to him! I’m lucky that I found my Berghaus boots to be damn near perfect years ago, and that I had an identical spare pair given to me for when these give up. Over a thousand miles and still going strong…

Just before Walton-on-Thames it was far too early to enjoy pleasant pubs like The Anglers that appear beside you. So I ate a peanut butter sandwich. I was getting quite peckish for some reason.

This strange house locked away on an ait is definitely some sort of secret entrance to a vast missile complex, or a nerve agent testing facility. Surely? The bridge is locked but not too locked so that you wouldn’t feel it’s hiding something.

Strange house on the Thames near Shepperton

I stopped in my tracks.

‘Uh-oh, we’ve taken a wrong turn and should have crossed the river over a mile back. Shit. Oh wait there’s a ferry marked on the map! Hmm which way is it? I can’t tell quite where we are. Oh look there’s a sign, it’s this way. Oh wait, there’s the ferry about 12 feet from where I’m standing and it’s ready to go’

Felt a little silly again.

The ferry is a marvellous thing. In general I mean. This one, the Shepperton Ferry, is nice too but there’s something ‘school trip’ about getting on one. It’s like nothing people usually do. I’ve said it before that I miss (having never experienced it because I’m not 200 years old) the days where the Thames was used as a thoroughfare with hundreds of ferrymen all up and down the length. Before bridges became cheaper and sturdier probably.

Anyone on the north bank of the Thames has no chance of missing the Shepperton Ferry because of these signs

P1000831On the north bank of the Thames, because it had been exclusively south bank til now, we headed ever west. A pleasant stretch of houses, some with nice terraces to enjoy the view. They don’t look too expensive here but I bet they are!

‘Gabion baskets. What’s a gabion basket?’ – me

Images in my head of some lobster type of creature being snagged in a lovely woven wicker basket. Nope. I looked it up. They are the big mesh wire cubes filled with rocks. Yawn.

Bridge on the Thames Path at Dumsey Meadow

We skirted Dumsey Meadow and popped under the bridge with its unusual and curvy floor, then a little further on found a strange comb cleaning a grate. Scooping twigs and other crap out of the gritted teeth of the drain.

Mechanical comb used to clean grating on water outlet on the Thames

Polar bear.

Polar bear on a balcony

By now the day had changed completely. The sun was beating down and we were stripping off coats and downing water. Penton Hook Lock seems to be a really great place to have a sunny time. Everything just seemed so cheerful. There’s a ham/uvula/punchpag-shaped island just south of the lock, I didn’t get a chance to explore it but from space it looks pleasing too.

We sipped a little whisky and downed some water. We were both suddenly a bit dehydrated and in need of a sit down. Benches provided that moral and physical support briefly before we set off again and discussed homebrewing at length. I’m a rank amateur in my brewing abilities and inexperience. Martyn has a lot of gear and the will to experiment until it’s really really good. Jealousy.

Staines approached us. Riverside housing remained very nice but became slightly more dense too. Residential towers with tight balconies but big windows. That sort of thing. The river looked great too with huge willows drizzling into the water and politely framing some of the more show-off yachts lounging out there.

The Thames near Staines

The actual edge of Staines is alright as well. Perhaps it’s just Staines being like stains that subconsciously ruined it for me. Perhaps I just never ‘got’ the Ali G joke about him being from Staines with a character like that. Yeah that’s probably right. A little slow sometimes, me.

Idiot.

Sunny day on the Thames Path near Staines

Anyway there was enough to enjoy just before we entered the river path through the town.

St Peter's Staines

And more while we were in the town.

Reflecting swans sculpture in Staines

And more than that too.

The Queen's Swan Master statue Staines

And then more.

Pigeon in Staines

So really Staines did itself quite proud. Well done Staines. Applause

As soon as we saw the pub The Swan Hotel across the river we yearned for it. We were hungry and thirsty. ‘Oh, a bridge! Yay!’

Across we went and settled down for fish and chips and a couple of ales. The Swan Hotel is a worthy place to split the day in two.

The Swan Hotel near Staines

After here it does start to feel a bit like some parts of the London Outer Orbital Path with some light industry sprinkled nearby. The path is less great but still perfectly passable. In constitution and ambience.

Modern Bridge over the Thames Path

We soon found where people tether their children whilst having their own pub lunches, and realised that we were on the loop back up towards Heathrow. It had been pretty strange watching planes taking off from what seemed like every single direction on the way here. Now they hung in the sky like bloated horseflies.

Distant jumbo jet from the Thames Path

Runnymead makes great play of its association to the signing of the Magna Carta. Murals and monuments fill this happy little valley with its handsome houses and quiet stretch of river.

Runnymead Magna Carta mural from the Thames Path

Including a scary one of Queen Elizabeth Mk.ii seemingly as a teenage boy.

Statue of Queen Elizabeth II near Runnymead

The sun was really starting to fall into the edge of earth. Shadows were lengthening and its light was being filtered through the trees on top of the low hills to the west. It also revealed the stark RAF monument and, in a minute, the absolutely huge-looking statue of George Mk.iii in Windsor Great Park.

Distant Statue in Windsor Great Park from the Thames Path

Dobby the owl, along the Thames PathOld Windsor is just up stream from here and as the gloom began to be palpable we edged through the town. A lovely caged Eagle Owl called Dobby hooted at us mournfully from right beside the path and we worried and wondered for it. At least (?) it gets to see the steamers full of old people chugging along the Thames, but what a life for a bird like that. Presumably it is injured, I ‘like’ to tell myself that anyway but the ‘Hatched’ date on the sign suggests that Dobby can fly but isn’t supposed or allowed to. Please do set me straight in the comments below!

At the Southlea Road bridge there is a sudden, quite unexpected, but excellent long view of Windsor Castle, though you’re still some distance away. It is a huge castle and I’ve still never been inside. I’m no monarchist, is it worthwhile going inside? Again, answers in the comments please…

Windsor Castle from the Thames Path

Watching the drip of planes coming into Heathrow in a neat dozen mile long queue is a strange experience. It definitely doesn’t have the thrill of standing right under the flight path, as you can on the LOOP near there, this is more just unidentified-lights-in-the-sky spooky.

Planes coming in to land at Heathrow

Datchet is a weird village. More a thoroughfare than a place to live, at least from the vantage point of the Thames Path. I wasn’t taken with its rushing traffic at all. Plus, by now, my over shoulder satchel was causing me real jip in my left hip. We were a matter of minutes from Windsor now so that didn’t bother me too much but in the night I awoke feeling like my leg was about to drop off. Agonising.

Dusk with the Thames and Windsor Castle

Due to the rapidly falling night we opted to avoid the final river curve from King Edward VII Avenue bridge to Windsor, which would have shown us Eton College from across the water, but it will be there next time. I won’t be truly missing it out forever. Promise.

Windsor Castle up close and personal

The castle continued to look magnificent as we plodded the final few hundred yards towards a pub, any pub. And the one we picked was a bad one. Nay, an abysmal one. Across the road from the Windsor & Eton Riverside station The Royal Oak looks promising from without but from within it is barren and soulless. It feels like it endures brawls every single night so all the life has been bashed out of it. We had one pint and crossed the river to Eton.

Here we found The Watermans Arms which is a tremendous pub! I would definitely come back here time and time again. The difference was so stark to be hilarious really. Board games, snugs, huge dogs, stained glass, nice staff, nothing to slight it at all.

We spent more time and money here than we were supposed to. Train after train departed from Windsor & Eton Riverside Station without either of us on board, until we determined that it really was high-time we each got out of the beer fug and went home for some food and a well-earned bath. Don’t forget to use a Gold Card, if you have one, when you buy an off-peak train ticket home.

This was a really great walk that I enjoyed a lot. It’s long, and for me it ended up being painful, but I’m tempted to walk or cycle it again if I’m honest, so there’s a mark of approval.