Walking the Thames Path Part 2 April 2021
Walking the Thames Path – Part 2
April 15th – 17th 2021
We waited a few days after lockdown 3 finished on April 12th before heading out in Buzzbee, complete with new stickers! We have planned a few trips for May and June and wanted to have a short break away to check all was running smoothly - for the van and us! Last year, after lockdown 1, we walked the first 130 miles of the lovely Thames Path National Trail, from it's source near Kemble in Gloucestershire, to Windsor in London. You can read more about part 1 on the blog page.
We camped on the Camping and Caravanning Club site at Chertsey. A lovely site, right next to the River Thames, with bus and train links to our walk start and finish points! We were surprised to find that it was only about 60% full, but possibly the fact that the toilet block and other facilities remain closed was a factor. We are self contained, so this was not a problem for us.
We planned to tackle the next 3 stages of the Thames long distance path, so on day one we caught the train to Windsor and Eton Riverside, picking up the trail where we 'paused' last year.
We were a bit nervous about travelling on public transport, but the train was deserted, despite it being rush hour, which was so strange. In Windsor, the press and military preparations for HRH Prince Philip's funeral were much in evidence. RIP Sir.
The walk was a combination of leafy riverbank filled with tweeting birds, and views of interesting riverside properties from a range of eras and budgets! We passed through Runnymede, birthplace of our legal system, where King John signed the Magna Carta in 1215. Many elements are still enshrined in democratic law today, including in the UK, US and Indian constitutions. The most famous extract is probably Clause 39.
The nearby sculpture, the Jurors by Hew Locke, was exquisitely made, poignant and thought provoking, with each seat representing an aspect of justice, or injustice, including suffragettes, slavery, disability, destruction of evidence, political silencing and others.
There is always so much to see along the Thames. Even Staines had some interesting sculptures, and we discovered that it was where Lino was invented in the 1860's by Frederick Walton. At one time, the town boasted a Lino Factory which covered 45 acres! Near here was the London Stone, erected in 1285, it was the tidal limit of the Thames before the locks were built. It is incredible to think of the tide reaching this far inland, twice a day.
We saw old boatyards, barges, all manner of water craft, ice cream vans and Jen who joined us for part of the walk which was lovely! Nearing Chertsey we passed through pretty Laleham, a real hidden gem. It was a great day... but our legs are telling us that it is a very long time since we walked 14 miles in one day!
April 16th. We slept well, despite temperature dropping below freezing. Thankfully we have electric hookup because our 'Must Have' gadget is our electric blanket, which we were very grateful for. We walked over elegant Chertsey bridge, built in 1785 and entered Dumsey meadows, the only unimproved, grazed grassland left along all the Thames.
A lovely shore walk past moored narrow boats took us to Shepperton Lock, and a quick coffee in the Nauticalia before catching the little ferry that you call by ringing a bell! The path on the south bank took us through pretty Walton, past elegant riverside villas from a bygone era. Near Walton Bridge is one of the sites where Ceasar is said to have crossed the Thames with his Army in 54BC. Sunbury-on-Thames is a charming town, set next to it's locks, but further along the path we found more sinister remains of tank traps, from WW2. We also found a barge with a real guard cockerel who crowed loudly whenever anyone approached! Apologies for photo... that was as close as we were getting!
Approaching Hampton Court we passed through East Molesey, where a series of heritage plaques explained that the present day meadows have an incredible sporting history from the 17th and 18th centuries. Some of the first games of Golf in England were played here, the first organised Cricket matches, there was a hugely popular horse racing track, and, rather more infamously, it was a favourite location for bare knuckle fighting! None in evidence today, but there was the excitement of a Chinese family rescuing a pigeon that was trapped in a tree. They were successful, after some intrepid climbing, to the applause and cheers of the onlookers!
Garrick Island is home to many houseboats, some very grand indeed, and on the north bank of the river is the Garrick Temple, built by David Garrick to honour Shakespeare. He is said to have modelled himself for the statue inside, but due to Covid it is all shut up, so we could not confirm this!
Crossing the bridge we reach the incredible facade of Hampton Court Palace, built by Henry VIII for Cardinal Wolesey in 1530. We visited last year, and it is worth allowing at least half a day.
The path continues alongside the river to Kingston, which was the first place that we felt uneasy due to the sheer numbers of people. It was quite unsettling after the peace of the river path, so we were glad to catch the train and bus back to our campsite! We are loving being out and about somewhere new to both of us, although todays 13 miles has awoken a few niggles in knees and ankles!
April 17th. Another good nights sleep. It is surprisingly quiet on this campsite.
Today we left, and drove to lovely Bushy Park, adjacent to Hampton court. You can park during the day here free of charge, even with a campervan. Lots of deer and birds on the ponds!
We walked through the park to Kingston to resume the trail. The path hugs the river, and despite getting closer to central London it still felt incredibly rural. This stretch of the river was notable for the grand houses built here in the 16th and 17th centuries. Teddington Lock is the new tidal limit, and comprises 4 locks. The largest is huge, being built to take a steam tug towing 6 laden barges.
Ham House, owned by the National Trust, has a super location. The interior was closed, but we used our membership to visit the formal gardens which have been restored to their 17th century appearance, using only plants recorded there at that time. We enjoyed our picnic in the sun. The weather has been quite chilly, but today was warmer. We even undid our coats! Passing Eel Pie Island, we were reminded of it's notoriety in the 1960s. The Eel Pie island Hotel had been a genteel 1920's dance venue, but became first a jazz haunt, and then a place where new bands played in the 1960s, including the Rolling Stones, Yardbirds, Eric Clapton, David Bowie, The Who and Pink Floyd. It became a hippie commune, and even today has a bohemian atmosphere, with artists living there. On the opposite bank was Eel Pie Studios, once owned by Pete Townsend, and where many a great album was recorded.
The path was getting busier as we approached lovely Richmond, a place I know well, and although the numbers were a little daunting, most people were social distancing, and it was lovely to see people outdoors enjoying themselves. We had a truly delicious ice cream from the Liquid Gold Greek shop on the riverside, and started the final stretch, around the edge of Richmond Deer Park to Kew Gardens.
Syon House was on the opposite bank, where my 13th Great Grandfather, Sir William Stanley, was buried after being executed by Henry VII! Sir William Stanley was pivotal in changing the course of history. At the battle of Bosworth Field, he hung back with his armies, before coming into the battle on the side of Henry. This turned the tide, and led to the defeat of Richard III, and the coronation of Henry VIII, the start of the Tudor dynasty. Sir William was made Lord Chamberlain. What could go wrong? Well he started plotting to overthrow Richard, was caught and executed! Twit! He also had all his lands and castles confiscated, so none left for me to inherit. We finished the walk watching cricket on Kew Green and watching the funeral of HRH Prince Philip RIP on my phone, and were very moved when all the cricketers stopped along and formed a circle for the minutes silence.
The Thames Path is such a lovely walk, and we really recommend it, but we will return later in the year to do the final 3 days walking through Central London and out to the Thames barrier. There was no doubt that as we got further into London, the rules about group sizes and distancing seemed to be less well followed, and the news of new variant clusters in areas close to our next stretch has made us decide to be cautious.
Back home now feeling pleased with our accomplishments, tending to a few aches and pains, and planning our next trip!!