On my third day of walking on the Thames Path in May, 2016, I arrived again at Richmond Station and headed for Richmond Bridge, a detour into Itsu (“eat beautiful”) on George Street for a fortifying bowl of noodles before committing myself to the river and the path toward Kew.
After 2 days of rain, the forecast was perfection, low 70s with almost no chance of precipitation. The park and path near the bridge were full of people doing what the English do when the sun shines, removing layers of clothing and enjoying the semi-warmth. Suburban Richmond gave way almost immediately, first to an older and posher fringe, then to a landscape reminding me of that much farther upriver. One could easily forget being on the edge of Europe’s second most populous city.
I had a look in my guide as I walked along. It told me that the lovely building over the wall I was passing was Palladian Asgill House, built in 1758.
It also told me to turn right for a short detour off the path into
Old Palace Lane, and I did, walking past the White Swan pub...
...another right turn into Old Palace Yard...
...and blazoned on the bollards blocking the alleyway to cars were initials that left no doubt as to the lady owner of the property I was entering.
Directly in front of me was what remained of the once vast Richmond Palace, favorite residence of Henry VIII and his daughter, Elizabeth I, the place both had died and of which I thought nothing at all now existed. Yet here was an intimate fragment of it, not a ruin, tidy and occupied. The Palace gate was there, beyond which was Richmond Green. I was standing within the living vestiges of the old palace.
The short lane where I stood was called The Wardrobe, the term for a monarch’s personal household, and over the doorways were the addresses which read, for instance, “One, the Wardrobe”. These are the unexpected moments which propel me around this island of my ancestors.
I retraced my steps to the river, turned right, passed under 2 bridges, one rail one road, and was back in the closest thing to countryside one might expect to find in the city. Richmond Lock, then Isleworth Ait, a 9 acre wooded island splitting the waterway on my left. And between them on the right through the trees was one of 3 stone obelisks of George III’s Observatory, erected in 1778 marking the meridian line, now at Greenwich, that had been standing there since Americans opted out of his kingdom. This was the second time I’d seen it and I was thrilled all over again.
I was almost alone on the path and that would continue to be the case...
...as I passed the riverside edge of Syon Park
and its unique tidal meadow on the far side...
...then barges resting in the mud.
Soon, to my right behind a wall, my primary destination of the day, Kew Palace. I’d been to Kew Gardens several times but had never managed to be there when the palace was open, for one reason and another, including a major renovation lasting from 1996 to 2006.
I stayed on the path until Kew Bridge was in sight, then turned right down the lane between the Herbarium and Kew Green Prep School. Skirting Kew Green, and entering Kew Gardens’ imposing Elizabeth Gate (below), I went directly to the Orangery Restaurant for a late lunch of salmon, a slice of cake and cup of tea.
Kew Palace was just ahead.
Next week, a visit to Kew Palace, the garden and Royal Kitchens.
A very interesting article expanding on the ideas of King George III’s meridian,
as well as other sites mentioned above and in Parts 1 & 2 in previous weeks:
Find all episodes of ‘PortMoresby in England’ here.