Uninspiring prospect, I thought, but get down to it and there is plenty to enjoy on this walk.

Any walker in London can be forgiven for neglecting the north bank of the Thames Path anywhere east of Chelsea and west of Blackfriars. There is a lot of road walking and a lot of traffic. In general the north bank is far more under developed than the south bank. It takes more diversions inland, there are more protuberances from riverside property or jetties, the signage is less obvious amongst the urban clutter, and it is far less famous. With that in mind I wasn’t too sure what to think of the map on my screen showing the Thames Path north bank, in London, actually goes as far as Teddington Lock. The wiggle of the route onto roads did not inspire me but the very fact that I simply didn’t know what it was like there propelled me after work one day.

Starting point: Teddington Lock. Reachable by R68 bus from Richmond station (Zone 4), which has District Line Tubes, and rail services to Waterloo.

Finishing point: Kew Bridge railway station, for trains to Waterloo and Clapham Junction (Zone 3).

Length: 8.18 miles (13.2 kilometres).

Ordnance Survey Maps app link here

Download the GPX file for this route here Teddington Lock to Kew Bridge

In the rush hour traffic it took me an age to get to Teddington Lock by bus, but there isn’t really any other way. This was one of the first after-work walks I ever bothered to undertake so I was dubious how much I would enjoy it on top of the daily graft. The weather was impeccable though.

Teddington Lock bridge

The Yarmouth Belle paddle boat, from Teddington Lock bridgeTeddington Lock bus stop is within sight of the footbridge so you can’t get lost here. I strolled up to the river and, in that delicious early evening sunset light everything looked like heaven. The pub was still quiet but the pints on the wooden tables outside glowed amber. The river shimmered as rivers have wont to do. Ducks waddled and quacked at each other. In the distance a huge jet plane lugubriously swung westwards towards Heathrow and managed to look like it was both about to drop out the sky and float away at the same time. A paddle boat chugged quietly underneath me as I wandered across to the south bank. It was one of those evenings where the sunset makes everything feel just right.

A jet heading to Heathrow, from Teddington Lock Bridge

At this point I was merely connecting this day’s walk to the last time I wandered through this glorious part of London. I stood above the Capital Ring signpost and retraced my steps back across to the north bank to start the route properly.

Teddington Lock marks the supposed end of the tidal Thames, hence why it makes a neat finale for anyone walking the north bank. You become prepared to accept a bit of road walking so long as you are following the bit of the river that counts. Of course there is nothing stopping you carrying on south beyond Teddington, following the river for a bit longer from behind the river-front houses – but then you would have to convince yourself that there was a point. As with most of these walks there isn’t really a point. You could draw any old squiggle on a map of London and find endless fascination. I walk these routes because so far I haven’t gotten around to concocting my own ones beyond mild tinkering with what already exists, but if someone is going to the bother of defining a walking route then Teddington is as good an end point as you’re likely to find.

That initial scintilating magic was slightly tarnished when I started the long walk up Twickenham Road. It’s not unpleasant exactly, just uninspiring. Perhaps that is why I was so happy to find myself entering Radnor Gardens? It is just a small park with a playground, ice cream kiosk, bowling green, war memorial, and a bushy riverside aspect, but in that light I keep banging on about it became something special. To say it harks back to my childhood wouldn’t be an understatement because it really strongly reminds me of South Norwood Lake. I think a lot of people born in the 70s or 80s would confirm that this little slice of south-west London feels trapped in a time warp. It is heartening to see that capsules like this still exist. I watched the lawn bowls players briefly before heading on and even considered asking the fishermen how their days were going. But then I realised that ‘I don’t do that kind of thing…’ and I don’t know why I don’t.

Bowls players in Radnor Gardens along the Thames Path north bank

Rejoin Twickenham Road all the way to the high street area with its pollution and busy bus stops. I was surprised how much like a little town centre it was, having always assumed it would be no more than a hamlet. Wharf Lane takes you down to the river again. This esplanade is full of woozy alcoholics and ‘normal’ people strolling in the sun. It still feels perfectly nice. My ‘I am surprised’ metre dinged again when I saw the foot traffic tooing and froing over the bridge to Eel Pie Island. Google Earth makes it seem like a small residential enclave, with a few workshops dotted about but obviously something is going on on there. I didn’t take the time to find out what.

The bridge to Eel Pie Island

Carry on to a road called Riverside. Technically you are supposed to follow this for the next few hundred metres but I opted to explore a mysterious arched gateway I had spotted from further back along the path. Climb the steps into Champions Wharf and admire the simple modern sculptures against the river backdrop. Then go through the arch into York House Gardens.

A sign on the gate warned against damaging ‘the statues’, and I paid heed to the teens sitting drinking beer but they looked happy enough. I was quite dazzled by this overblown but pretty set-piece on the inside though:

The statues in York House Gardens

 

Statues in York House Gardens

I strolled to the east side of the gardens but there’s no exit there so I back tracked along the north edge, no open exits there either. Use the arched stone bridge to cross Riverside and you have York House sitting right in front of you. To be honest I wasn’t sure I should be in here at all. I felt like I was trespassing but I wasn’t. I turned right and right again over a wooden bridge. Through the trees then north again in an arc taking me out an exit next to the tennis courts, and onto Sion Road.

This road is full of nice old town houses but the best thing about it was the air itself which was thick with the scent of flowers. The wall into York House Gardens was almost drooping under the weight of fragrant white blossoms and most of the houses on the left were speckled with colour too. A lovely bit of the walk for sure.

At the bottom of Sion Road rejoin Riverside and actually follow it for a change. You pass all manner of flood defences and undulating paths designed to lift you above raised water levels. Yet another pub here called to me to sit down but today I wasn’t going to get sucked in like that. Compared to the walk I finished a couple of weeks ago I couldn’t have been in any more different a mood. I was loving this.

Part of Orleans HouseOrlean Gardens lies on your left as you follow the Thames Path onto a reach of the river that starts to display the hills above Richmond. Until now I never considered that there are hills there. Even though I’ve walked them. Strange. As a motorboat puttered pleasingly by I watched the waves it created slosh against my shore. The paddle boat from earlier passed in the opposite direction. The calm was broken only by a series of playful dogs tumbling around after a tennis ball, growling at each other.

Marble Hill House from the Thames PathThe Royal Star & Garter Home, a charity nursing home for ex-Services folk, squatted imperiously on top of the hill. This is one of several rather impressive houses dotting this landscape. Marble Hill House is off to the left, in plain and obvious sight, while Ham House lurks in trees on the south bank, just beyond where the Ham Ferry delivers people.

Looking north from the Thames Path north bank, at Meadowbank

That ferry fascinates me. I’ve yet to see it in operation but it feels like an enormous throwback to a time we’ve all lost or forgotten. William Morris’s utopian fantasy ‘News From Nowhere’ uses the Thames as its main plot current, excuse the pun, and frequently references the ferries. Once upon a time there were a great many staging points all through London but now there are just two that I can think of – at Ham, and at Woolwich. The Thames Clipper doesn’t qualify as a ferry, ferries just serve two distinct points, right? I do wish there were more in existence. They have a certain romance about them.

The Petersham Hotel seen from the north bank Thames Path near Richmond

A child capsized his canoe near Glover's Island on the ThamesWhen I reached Glover’s Island, next to Meadowbank, I heard children racing their kayaks. Two of them absolutely streaking ahead of a couple more, those with red-flushed faces. I admired how fast they were able to go but turned my head away just in time to miss one of them capsize. Cue a cacophony of laughter and insults. It was very funny but the woman who arrived on the scene after the flushed teens was much less impressed and chided them all for ‘showing off’. Fair play to the teens, I thought – make the most of it!

Royal Star & Garter House at Richmond, from the Thames Path north bank

The Thames arcs back towards the west. On the opposite bank you have the people of Richmond lounging willy-nilly. A lone amateur singer spreading his talents with an amp, the sound just about able to reach me. At Richmond Bridge you jut inland and cross Richmond Road at traffic lights. Then Ducks Walk leads you laser-straight for several hundred metres. This is a quiet residential back alley but well-used and inoffensive. It isn’t quite the riverbank but it’ll do.

Under Twickenham Bridge you go, a couple in front of me nearly jumped out their skins at the sound of a skateboarder’s running footfall echoing loudly under the arch, but there was never any threat. Now you follow the river closely for quite a long time. Richmond Lock footbridge always looks pretty and in the setting sun I would venture to say it might hit its peak, the south façade being backlit prettily. From here you coincide with the Capital Ring until the north side of Syon Park.

Ranelagh Drive runs beside you, on the left, when it curves away from the river just continue straight on, past the sign for the River Crane Walk. There were a load of fishermen congregated here so I couldn’t get to the sign to read it. The path starts to become less populated now, the attraction of Richmond itself doesn’t seem to extend as far north as it does south. At Railshead Road you leave the Thames for a while, crossing the River Crane by road.

Soon enough you rejoin the river using Lion Wharf Road and find yourself looking over Isleworth Ait. Nobody lives on the Ait but there are a lot of barges and small craft moored along it. I’m not sure if people live on them but it did appear so. Apparently the old boatyard has been bought and will be renovated and put back into its intended use. Which has to be quite unusual in these property boom times.

Heading ever northwards you use the decking of the Town Wharf pub to cross its property and just keep going until the Duke of Northumberland’s River, which I’ve never heard of until this exact second. Poncy.

Follow the road as it in turn follows the river. You reach another of those alcoholic paradises with a churchyard and a waterfront area to lounge in. The London Apprentice pub is another one waiting for a pub crawl. This part of the river looks better from the other side, it is very picturesque that way but not really when you’re actually walking through it.

Moments later you are at the entrance to Syon Park. Last time I was here I found a meadow of wild flowers begging to be photographed, and here they were again – in better fettle than last time and with the bonus of being backlit.

Backlit wild flower meadow in Syon Park

The walk through Syon Park isn’t very interesting. Yes there’s greenery but it’s bisected by roads and fences. Oh and a garden centre. Syon House is dull and its gatehouses ugly in the extreme. It’s not very regal here. You leave the carpark to the garden centre by a curving wall-lined road which joins you to the A315. It’s a sad road but you have to follow it until you cross the River Brent, something I only recently realised the scale of – it curves around almost half of north London!

‘Sketchy’ describes the following 15-20 minutes. Follow ‘The Ham’ past workshops and isolated housing blocks, under a bridge, past more alcoholics in a secluded side alley, and past run-down narrowboats. Cross the Brent by footbridge and immediately double back but down the stairs next to the bridge. You now follow a short stretch of towpath to the Thames Lock with the backdrop of dry-docks sitting intriguing and rusty off to one side. There are very few people here and I can imagine some walkers might be unnerved by this part of town because of its isolation, but persevere if you can and you get to peek into the large dry-dock and guess at what goes on here. To be honest it looked pretty run down but I love looking at rusty old infrastructure and wondering at its heyday.

MSO Marine at Brentford, seen from the Thames Path

Rejoin the A315 for a minute, then turn right before a ‘Heidelberg’ signed building. The footpath reveals the backside of the dry-dock and then follows a line of narrowboats all the way until a promenade. This weird fishy sculpture shines at you happily from its promontory:

Fishy sculpture at the confluence with the River Brent and Thames

Half-finished residential blocks crowd this area, many with ground floor properties which look unlikely to ever sell, their windows being enormous and exactly at head height from the pavement. Privacy?

'One Love' graffiti along the River Brent near Kew

The Thames Path passing through a construction site near BrentfordGoat Wharf leads you back to the road again, until you see the Thames Path blaze pointing you down a dingy corridor, currently swallowed by construction hoardings. Halfway down there’s a doorway on the left, you need to go through here and follow the building around to the river, even though it looks like you probably shouldn’t. A stairwell takes you up the walkway on the roof and you proceed through a cloud of curry fumes – it smelled amazing.

The path descends to a more recognisable public path through the long strip of Watermans Park. On the right are more houseboats, varying to amazing degrees and full of character. I am always interested in these things. So many have lovely little touches and appear to be so homely, but at the same time the neighbour might appear run-down and on the verge of sinking. I suspect there is a bit of a dividing line between those who chose this lifestyle and those who fell into it through necessity, but I can only imagine these lives and have to subdue my first impressions regularly…

Walk past The Musical Museum, a place devoted to the likes of Miss Saigon and Phantom of the Opera I presume, rather than a jauntily plinky music box of a building? After O’Riordans pub turn right and feel your ears pop due to the rapid descent. The Thames Path struggles through a slightly overgrown and fenced-in stretch of waterfront, with people chatting from their houseboat decks far above you. Eventually you emerge at Kew Bridge with the sun starting to fail for the day.

Kew Bridge from the Thames Path north bank

I jogged up to Kew Bridge Station so that I wouldn’t miss the next train, and collected thoughts on the platform. Which smelled very strongly of farmyard poo.

Against my expectations this was a worthwhile walk. The seed of a desire to walk it was planted by the fact it existed at all, so it had seemed onerous. Teddington Lock is always worth a look but there were plenty of parts where it feels joyous to wander along this route, even when it is punctuated by annoying sections of road. I hope that one day there will be a drive to open up the north bank of the Thames in the same way as the south bank but for now this certainly isn’t the worst way to spend a lovely June evening.