Monday, 11 April 2016

Of heron, rock stars and float planes - fascinations of the Thames Path



A grey heron appears to take a shower while watching for fish under a sluice gate. Apologies for the poor quality of the image, taken with a soon to be discarded mobile phone. That'll teach me to forget my camera. There's usually something to grab to attention on the Thames Path in London and its suburbs. We walk from Kew Bridge to Kingston, a stretch of around 8 miles along the south bank of the river (you may take either side). It's a Sunday at the tail end of the school Easter break, the day has dawned chilly but sunny and the crowds are out. cycling, running, hiking intently. You must check the times of high tide on this part of the path, especially in spring, or you may have to make diversions to avoid flooding. There's plenty of evidence of this, notably at Old Deer Park, where the grass is submerged for maybe 50 metres inland. A deep ditch to the left of the path acts as a drain but in places it has proved inadequate. It's crossed by a little drawbridge that has been used to land plants bound for Kew Gardens, glimpsed beyond, between trees. Not far from the start of the walk we pass the red brick Kew Palace, built in the 17th century for a Flemish merchant and used in the 18th by George II and Queen Caroline, There's a little drawbridge across it, that has been used to land plants bound for Kew Gardens, glimpsed beyond, between trees. 


We pass under Richmond Bridge, London's oldest, opened in 1777 and walk along the margin of Petersham Meadows, below the Star and Garter Home that once housed injured servicemen. The Belted Galloway cattle - this has been grazing ground for well over a century - have don't appear to have returned there from their winter retreat yet. Save at Richmond and shortly before Kingston, there aren't many pubs on this stretch,though you may walk across a footbridge at Teddington Lock to The Anglers, a pleasant, busy Fuller's pub where you may drink and lunch outside in good weather. It's right next door to the former Teddington Studios, now being demolished. where Errol Flynn began his screen career, and the Beatles and Morecambe and Wise performed for the cameras. The pub counts Johnny Depp, Tommy Cooper and the cast of The Office among its past regulars. If you would rather picnic, there are benches and tables by the lock. Though it's only a few steps from our route we don't have time or energy for a return visit to the wonderful Ham House, a superb, rare, example of 17th century architecture run by the National Trust . On then past Eel Pie Island, formerly home to a major jazz, blues and rock venue where stars from Acker Bilk to the Rolling Stones played. Just before Kingston, where we spot a pair of Mandarin ducks among the coots, moorhens, mallard and swans, is a tableau I haven't noticed before. It shows Sopwith floatplanes being tested on the placid waters just over a century ago. As we head through Kingston to the station, a band entertains shoppers with La Cucaracha on pedestrianised Clarence Street. I am reminded of Tom Lehrer's lyric about fiesta tim,e in Guadalajara "the mariachis would serenade - and they would not shut up 'til they were paid". I drop a tip into their hat but I don't want them to shut up. Their blaring music, which lingers long after we've left them out of sight, seems a suitable crescendo to another walk on the path that never fails to satisfy.


The official National Trail Guide to the Thames Path in London, by Phoebe Clapham, is available from book shops, Published by Aurum Press it covers the path from Hampton Court in the west to Crayford Ness in the east.

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