A blustery switcheroo of a walk
This week was National Eye Health Week, and I was determined to try and fit a walk in. Sometimes, though things don’t go to plan. I had originally planned this route to be Walk 18 or 19 when I would need to be mindful of finishing in the dark. However, the start point for my original planned route for this week was subject to complex road closures and diversions so I decided to switch walk 17 for walk 18.
That wasn’t the end of the switches – work challenges and weather forecasts meant a late switch of days, and then even more switches to start times to make sure we made connections for the journey home. We were meeting two friends along the route so each change meant a cascade of recalculations and tweaks to meeting points and timings. This could end up a logistical disaster.
Friday morning arrived and so did the weather we were planning to avoid. We headed to the station with numerous layers and spare clothes – well I did, not so sure about Neil, for once his backpack was smaller and lighter than mine. It was raining heavily, cold and a strong north wind blowing. Autumn was here.
Our planned route saw us following part of the Thames Path again. This time we would start at Hampton Court Palace and walk into London, the 20 mile marker being roughly Albert Bridge.
We made our connection at Waterloo and arrived at Hampton Court Station at 10.45, where we met our friend, Simon, just over the bridge.
Simon was joining us for part of the route down to Richmond , and a few miles later, at Kew Bridge, we would be joined by another friend we hadn’t seen for a ridiculous amount of time, Sarah. After some technology juggling this morning Sarah was tracking our approach, but we had estimated we should be with her at 2.30.
We started the walk on the North Bank and followed the Thames Path towards Kingston. Straight away you are at the gates of Hampton Court Palace and in the grounds was a trumpet player being filmed. I have no idea why, but I will see it as a fanfare to the start of this walk..
We hadn’t seen Simon since early February, so the first few miles were spent catching up with each other. The river was speckled with swans and houseboats and the north bank here is dominated by the impressive grounds of Hampton Court Palace.
I’ve discovered through this challenge that I love a river walk. Life seems to unfold around you as you walk along the banks and there is generally a sense of peace and calm. It would be interesting to see how this went as we approached the finish and headed into the bustle of central London.
We don’t usually bring Ruby on a City walk as she much prefers to be off lead and away from tarmac paths. I had dipped in to parts of this walk at various times over the last 5 years – just a mile here and there, and I was fairly confident there would be opportunities for her to be off lead. It turned out she rarely needed to be on the lead at all – probably just half an hour in total for the whole walk.
The path here is wide and there is also an extra path that cyclists use, so plenty of space to enjoy the view as we pass along the route. The first village was Thames Ditton – somewhere Neil used to work in the early nineties, so we spent some time trying to spot his old haunts there.
We soon arrived at Kingston , where we crossed the bridge to resume our walk on the South bank from here.
From here we were walking towards Teddington Lock, Ham and Ham House. In researching this route I’d spotted a potential diversion by Ham House into Richmond Park to a spot that had the only legally protected view in England. If time allowed we might try and include this.
We were back out into open space again very quickly. This route, was really very pretty and apart from skirting Kingston town centre, it felt as though we were in the heart of the countryside.
Its around here we started getting the signs of the many boat clubs we were going to see along this bank now – right until we passed Putney. The boat houses along the river, with the boats all racked up outside.
Ruby appreciated the launch slopes though – a good opportunity to grab a quick dip !
I dropped back for a while to see if I could pull up the details of that detour. As you will now know, juggling the right glasses for navigation is never straightforward and as the sun was peaking out I decided to consult Simon and see if he knew how to head to that viewpoint.
Simon knew this area well. He knew the spot I was describing and also knew how to get there. We were now at Teddington Lock. A generational reference here, but instantly I started playing that Thames TV theme in my head.
The weir here was very hypnotic – in fact I almost missed the locks and forgot to snap any pictures. Without google to hand we started discussing weirs, their purpose and why this one was here. Luckily we had our local guide on hand for this stretch and ‘Simon says’ was now to become a feature. Teddington Lock is the point where the non tidal Thames stops. Simon also says that the name Teddington came from “tide end town, but sorry Simon I can’t confirm that on google.. You lose a point.
Its probably worth a mention that Simon and Ian are close friends. Ian you will remember was our guide on walk 15 through London. We teased Simon that we would be scoring his guiding skills on this walk..
We started a diversion around old Ham – it was a lovely area with a real mix of architecture. However time was a bit tight for us to make it to that viewpoint so we decided to save it for another time and turned towards Ham House and the river.
We soon came to the entrance of Ham House – where we paused to let a lady lead a horse out of the driveway and try our hardest to get a view over the wall of the adjacent manor house. We were speculating again about some of the buildings around here and Simon was telling us about some of the schools in the area. Particularly the German School. I had never heard of this before – a school that follows the German academic curriculum so students can slot back into the German education system.
We arrived back at the river, right by the ferry crossing point to Twickenham. It is a very very small ferry and a very very short crossing point. We were walking now opposite Marble Hill House (unfortunately bedecked in scaffolding) towards Petersham meadows and Richmond. Simon started racking up the guiding points here with his history. Simon says: Ham House and Marble Hill House are said to be built opposite so sweethearts could look across the river at each other
Along the path here you get a beautiful view of the houses at top of Richmond Hill- where, Simon says, Mick Jagger has a house and also you can see Star & Garter House. Its here that the Royal Legion poppies used to be made. Now its luxury flats.
We arrived at Richmond Bridge at quarter past one, and it was here we said goodbye to Simon. We were 3 miles from Kew Bridge, roughly an hours walk. So decided to stop for 10 minutes and grab a snack before moving on.
This area had a lovely buzz about it. The buildings here were lovely and the river seemed to be a real focal point. Its also the site of the largest plane tree in London – a new fact for Simon’s repertoire
So just Neil, Ruby and I for a few miles now. We were walking alongside Richmond Old Deer Park towards Kew Gardens. This was an old training ground for me. Five years ago I was training for the Moon Walk, and my friend Maureen lived along this stretch of the river then. I used to meet her after work and we would walk from Kew Bridge to the footbridge and lock at Twickenham and back on the North bank via Syon House. It seemed strange suddenly finding myself back on this path.
You definitely knew you were on the tidal stretch of the river now – the tide was definitely out. We glimpsed the view through to the big glass houses along this stretch as well as a number of other classic vistas. It was a real reminder that this part of the river with all its historic houses and palaces once was the main route for the ornate Royal barges transporting Royalty and nobility in and out of London.
Time was ticking on – it was almost 2.30 and we had Kew Bridge in sight. A quick check of the phone and we could see Sarah was heading to the bridge from the station. This walk was expected to be a trail of logistical dramas – but so far it was all going smoothly. Worth noting that the ‘Find My’ app is brilliant in these scenarios! We climbed the steps to the bridge and there was Sarah walking towards us. We were also exactly at the half way point.
We headed down the steps on the otherside of the Bridge and picked up the path and conversation with Sarah. Such a lovely way to catch up walking and talking. This conversation started with a whole raft of coincidences with Sarah. From discovering we are reading the same book to the fact that she grew up in a town Neil had been planning to visit earlier this week.
It was still incredibly leafy along this stretch and yet around the paths we were definitely sensing more buildings behind those trees as the river widened around here. We broke through those trees and then we came out into an urban landscape.
We had arrived in Barnes. Boat race territory. There would be no mistaking this for the next 4 or so miles. The river soon gave way to the numerous boat houses attached to public schools and universities.
Whenever someone joins us along the route with fresh legs, time and miles fly by. Sarah had travelled from Hertfordshire to meet us to walk these 6 and a bit miles with us and it seemed no time at all before we were at Putney Bridge where Sarah would be leaving us to head home.
We decided it was time for a proper stop. We had well under 4 miles left and our journey was due to end at a Thames Clipper stop so we could take a swift trip down the River to the Embankment and our train at Charing Cross station. It was 4.30 and the first boat from our stop was at 6.35 pm. So we stopped outside a pub for a much needed refreshment.
I haven’t mentioned much about the weather since we set off from hme. We had been really lucky that we had avoided the rain since we started walking and the skies were clearing. The wind however was getting stronger (and colder) with each mile. We chose to sit outside by the river and it was definitely (well by our guess and the weather app) gale force now. All the layers were on and that 30 minute pause, however welcomed was a blustery one. We set off towards the railway bridge where Sarah would leave us and Ruby’s ears were being blown all over the place!
There was no mistaking now that we were in London. The Shard could be glimpsed (but not photographed) on the horizon and the path was now lined with new housing developments as we approached Battersea Reach. One last piece of green space for Ruby at Wandsworth – the paths still secure enough for her to walk off lead too.
The light was shifting now, and I realised how walking with the sun behind us West to East was much easier on my eyes. Even with the sun low in the sky, I hadn’t been too bothered until now. As we hit all the development here, the sun started glaring off the buildings. It was painful, but as we had a good pace and a deadline to catch the boat we were moving quickly and it was soon behind us
Around here as we approached Battersea Bridge you had the real sense of the old river life hanging in amongst the new. It was also the first time we kept being diverted away from the banks for short periods.
I mentioned earlier we were expecting this walk to be a logistical challenge. Mileage and timings were rough and as usual we had contingencies up our sleeves. The flat level route meant we were feeling good – that usual final 5 mile pain was just a niggle and more importantly it looked as though we wouldn’t need the contingency route.
We climbed up the steps onto Albert Bridge at 18.15 with less than a quarter of a mile to hit the 20 mile marker.
We crossed the bridge and headed to Cadogan Pier where we planned to catch the clipper at 18.35. As we got to the pier our apps clicked 20 miles – perfect! It was 18.20 – even better. The sun was setting and the view back along the river was wonderful.
The boat arrived and we boarded – heading off down the river past all those landmarks from Walk 15. It was a fabulous way to end this walk – and this will be one of the top walks to recommend to you all.
Walk 17 done!
This walk had a sense of urgency : possible lockdowns; nights drawing in ; weather being unpredictable; challenging logistics.
It was lovely though and hopefully we can now get the final 3 walks sorted without issue !
So this challenge is all about raising awareness of macular disease.
Two weeks ago I started experiencing new symptoms: vibrating vision. It was scary.
I couldn’t get through to my consultant and the support team at Moorfields but I got support through the Macular Society.
This challenge is to raise funds for the Macular Society- many of you have supported me already and I have tried to thank you all personally but some of you have chosen to stay anonymous- so thank you again!
If you would like to support this challenge please share these blogs and you can make a donation here