Monday, 8 January 2018

London Walks: the Thames Path

One of the major joys of living in London is walking along the Thames Path, Over the last ten years I have walked the whole of the central London part of the Thames Path from the Thames Barrier to Hampton Court. These are my highlights of that well trodden path.

Part One: The Thames Barrier to the Cutty Sark

The Thames Barrier was built in 1984 but I didn't see it for real until 2014 when I decided to visit the official start of the London section the Thames Path. The barrier stretches across the width of the Thames looking a little like the curves of the Sydney Opera House. There is a small cafe and visitors centre plus a grand view of the river. 

The Greenwich peninsula has seen a lot of building work over the years, but there is still something quite desolate about it. The O2 is a welcome public space. There are interesting retro outlets here, bars, walkways and restaurants, as well as a gateway to the entertainment arena. Security was very tight when I last visited.

The Cutty Sark is an impressive ship named after the witch from the Robert Burns' poem 'Tam O'Shanter', the name means 'short shirt'. It was a good place to end the first leg of the Thames Path.

Part Two: Cutty Sark to Tower Bridge

We did part two of the Thames Path on the north side of the river. The most memorable sight was the traffic light tree on the Isle of Dogs, an artistic statement about man and nature, utterly confusing for motorists. We did this part of the path in reverse and crossed back to the South Bank via the Greenwich foot tunnel.

Part Three: Tower Bridge to Westminster Bridge

Amy, mum and I often walk the stretch of the river between Waterloo Bridge and London Bridge. There are many places we like visiting around this area: the Royal Festival Hall, Gabriel's Wharf, Tate Modern, the Globe Theatre, Southwark Cathedral and Borough Market. We are generally blessed with a good, clear and sunny, day, the river generally looks lovely and there is usually something vibrant, exciting and good natured going on. Stretching this walk out on either side, you can also take in the London Aquarium at County Hall and the Tower of London on the North side of the river near Tower Bridge. 

The highlight of London Aquarium for me was the rays and especially the rays at feeding time. These flat fish are extraordinarily cute, beautiful and fscinating. There is a Sea World type glass tunnel with sharks swimming, to the side and above you. 'Finding Nemo' was all the rage when we visited and the clown fish and angel fish were very popular.

The Tower of London includes a number of buildings circling a central court. Most interesting are the crown jewels, which had a long queue to it and a moving walkway to keep viewers circulating. A popular part of the tower is the Bloody Tower; well-known 'guests' in the Bloody Tower have been Queen Anne Boleyn, Lady Jane Grey, Sir Walter Ralegh and the young princes, Edward and Richard, all of whom met very sticky ends. The last time we visited the Tower of London we kept bumping into Dr Who's River Song, which made the day even more thrilling.

Part three of the Thames Path is very special and I think deserves a blog post all of its own.

Part Four: Westminster Bridge to Putney Bridge

The highlight of this stretch of the river was definitely Battersea Park. I have visited this park several times over the years and find it surprising, green and spacious. I first brought Amy here when she was six. She loved the zoo, the carved wooden animals, the fountains and the water features, as well as the rough and ready adventure playground. My favourite part of the park was the retro cafe by the lake, it was like being back in a work canteen in the 1950s.

Part Five: Putney Bridge to Richmond Bridge

This was the most straightforward of the walks, it was surprising how much the riverside had been developed, mostly flats and accompanying restaurants, bars, green spaces and helicopter pads. An interesting diversion could have been the London Wetland Centre at Barnes. Richmond Riverside was a good place to end the walk, with a cup of tea at the Tide Tables riverside cafe.

Part Six: Richmond Bridge to Hampton Court

This part of the path felt very familiar to me, it is near the area I grew up in. The riverside walk between Twickenham and Richmond is particularly lovely. On the way is the Marble Hill House and gardens and a lovely children's playground. This walk passes through a lot of greenery and ends up at one of my favourite London places: Hampton Court. 

The last time I visited Hampton Court we were treated to many different historical scenarios. Amy was pleased to meet Catherine Parr in one of the drawing rooms, a conspiracy concerning Charles I was being conducted in a shady passageway, jousting was taking part in the grounds. We also visited the wardrobe costumes for the Other Boleyn Girl. The cafes have become crowded and overpriced, but the maze is definitely worth exploring. 

The Thames Path continues past Hampton Court, maybe I will explore it further, beyond London, in the future.

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