This length of the Thames Path was nothing like I expected, making it a brilliant few hours’ stroll in mid-summer.
The Thames Path in this part of London changes massively from one mile to the next. I’d expected something akin to a tow path all the way from Kew to Hampton Court, but the reality is quite different. It ranges from muddy track to green tunnels of foliage, from small town promenade replete with sunny pub gardens to riverside park with shaded benches, from mud slurry last seen in the Somme to imperious stone bridges. The river itself is full of interest with sluggish stretches punctuated by roaring weirs and dangerously strong currents.
Starting point: Kew Bridge, closest to Kew Bridge train station but not far from Kew Gardens Underground station.
Finishing point: Hampton Court Bridge, beside Hampton Court Palace, across the river from Hampton Court train station.
Length: 11 miles.
Kristina was heading out to Berkshire to meet some friends so I hitched a ride to Kew Bridge, looking forward to a leisurely and easy walk all the way to Hampton Court – somewhere I’ve not visited since I could barely walk. I was dropped off by the Rose & Crown pub on the north side of Kew Green and quickly nipped down a side alley to reach the riverside. Kew Bridge is one of those great stone bridges that looks like it will be there forever. The odd smear of mould here and there, a discolouration in the brass lettering of ‘Kew Bridge’, but otherwise a solid lump of pre-twentieth century engineering. I watched the eight-strong amateur crew of a racing boat being yelled at through a megaphone by a woman trailing in a motorboat. Perhaps these were a future Oxbridge boat race team? They were headed upstream though so I think they need help. A metal detective cared not one jot for this cacophony and happily probed the silt in silence. Joggers pounded the clay-like path around me and the odd cycle whizzed past, spraying mud up their own backs. This is clearly a much-loved section of the Thames.
The Thames Path skirts the outside edge of Kew Gardens for about a mile and you can glimpse greenhouse structures and exotic plants through the undergrowth. If you haven’t been to Kew Gardens before then please do – you can easily clock 4 or 5 miles of walking around the diverse habitats they represent in there. You will always be accompanied by the howl of airliners coming to land at Heathrow Airport but, actually, I do kinda like seeing the planes like this!
I understand that the noise must be upsetting for people who live under this busy flightpath but I have little sympathy for them. Unless they’ve lived there since before it was developed in the 1940s. If there’s one certainty about city life it’s that transport infrastructure will ALWAYS expand as the population/importance increases. The people that moved in during the 1980s and now wonder why their sleep is so disturbed have only their short-sightedness to blame. But, give it 20-30 years and I’m sure planes will be quieter and cleaner than ever, house prices around Heathrow will rocket and those who’ve suffered for so long will be quids in. I hope.
Back on the Thames Path I spied on the lovely riverside houses dotted all over the area and took in several very pretty vistas of the water. The frequency of joggers seemed to increase and I regularly had to watch my back as cyclists and pedestrians almost collided. No headphone music today.
The path between Kew Gardens and Richmond Lock swings between mud or gravel track, open to the elements, to completely covered light-dappled track. Sometimes you lose the Thames completely behind a foliage wall. But never for long.
This area is an important intersection for the two halves of the Capital Ring trail. The Thames path absorbs the Ring for a small while and leads walkers to the bridge over Richmond Lock. From here it’s a long 35 miles anti-clockwise to the start of the trail at Woolwich or it’s an even longer 43 clockwise miles around to the start of the trail, at Woolwich. I’ve completed most of the southern part and heartily recommend it as a great way to explore the polka dot pattern of urban Sarf London parks.
Soon you pop out of the green tunnels at Twickenham Bridge, which is a concrete monster, before you reach beautiful Richmond. The path opens into one of those promenades full of drinkers and children. A British summer postcard. The sun was getting quite hot now despite the regular clouds piling overhead, and the ice cream van was waiting lustfully. Dogs were plopping into the water as irate owners tried to call them back to the boat slips. Paddle boarders stood stiff as planks, like eerie herons before a strike, only rarely stroking through the water. It doesn’t look like the most riveting of sports.
I contemplated stopping for a break here but thought it too busy and hectic. I wanted a brief but quiet rest. Once you’re past Richmond you get just that along the edge of Petersham Meadows as there are benches there allowing you to look downstream at Richmond. On this day the weather looked potentially horrific, but it sure did make a pretty picture!
I stuck to my own recently and painfully learned lesson that even if you don’t feel thirsty on a walk you still have to drink. So I necked a quarter of a litre of water before heading on to what I deemed as ‘Stage 2′ of this walk, the Thames Path to Kingston.
The green tunnels instantly resumed but these seem to have been less well supplied with gravel. The resultant slurry of mud was formidable to all the walkers and even the cyclists were trying to skirt them wherever possible. All the dogs were having a lovely time. Unsurprisingly.
This bulge of path on the edge of Ham took me longer than any other section purely because I was meandering around the troughs of mud all the time. It was hard work and required a fair bit of concentration, something I hadn’t expected to need at all today. I had seen a sign for Teddington Lock saying it was something like 1.5 miles away but after almost an hour I was still nowhere near that landmark (rivermark?). Then, to make this bit even more fun the broody clouds decided to chuck it down. I had forgotten my umbrella. I nipped off of the path left and right to try and find a sheltered spot but the wind had risen to drive the water into all areas. I avoided a hypodermic syringe in the woods and squatted under broad leaves for ten minutes.
There are a lot of moored narrowboats along this part of the Thames Path and while some are livable others look downright dangerous. The idea of living on a boat like that interests me but it must be a nightmare for so many things ranging from utilities to basic maintenance. Sheesh, I think I’ve talked myself out of that potential life choice.
I didn’t really enjoy the walk from Teddington Locks to Kingston-upon-Thames. It’s all a bit overgrown on the path next to the water, rather than the tarmac path higher up to avoid flooding. Cyclists seemed be driven into a rage by low hanging branches and ignored blind spots so that other walkers only narrowly avoided a vicious tangle. It was all a bit unfinished, a bit barbarian.
When you get to the Lower Ham Road you have to walk on the road as the ‘pavement’ has been decimated by some sort of utility work. I squeezed myself as close to the bramble wall as possible as a perversely huge Bentley rolled past me. Horrible, hateful things. By the time you get to the Kingston Rowing Club you can’t wait to get away from vehicles.
I sat down for another few moments around here and hydrated again. The final section of this walk would take me across Kingston bridge and around Hampton Park – the latter I expected to be in strong sunlight by then.
Kingston was much of a muchness. It seems ok. Nothing special. The bridge is very white though, pretty. I almost forgot to cross over to the north bank at this point. You have to leave the south bank as the Thames Path does not connect to Hampton Court along that side. Instead there are expensive riverfront houses and plenty of abandoned barges. Crossing the bridge here is also integral to the London Outer Orbital Path (LOOP), yet another future walk to complete. As with the Ring I’ve completed a nice wedge but nowhere near the whole of the southern half.
The north bank Thames Path skirts the outside of Hampton Court Park (Home Park) for about 3 miles. It was nothing like I expected. I foresaw treeless paths beside the Thames against a backdrop of long lawns reaching southwest to Hampton Court Palace. I hoped for a distant view of the many chimneys that adorn the roof there. Instead it was a nice partly shaded walk that splits into two paths. One for cyclists and one for pedestrians. Whoop! It felt like a long walk along this strip of park because I was largely by myself. I hardly saw another walker for at least 2 miles. I did get to see several interesting boats churning the Thames into a rippled sloshing that send the reeds into a hissing sound.
I was starting to feel just a little bit sunkissed by the time I finally reached Hampton Court Palace. The side gate was open so I could pop out the front of the lovely old building and admire its grandeur. It was strangely empty of visitors, I’m not sure why.
As I reached Hampton Court Bridge, the proposed end of my walk, I perused the signpost that told me it was only a few more miles to the next significant section of the Thames. But I checked myself. I had completed what I set out to do and there was no easy public transport from this next section. I only have to walk the Thames Path from Putney to Kew to have completed the entire stretch inside London.
No, I crossed the bridge happy and mounted the train back to town so that I could race home and watch England bomb out of the European Championships.
Kind of wish I had walked that extra stretch now.