I have a relationship with a river. Years ago, I began walking along it’s banks at the source, a spring in the Cotswolds near the village of Kemble, the first of now 5 trips to walk the 184 miles of the Thames Path National Trail to the end at the Thames Barrier, east of London in Greenwich. What starts as a trickle, or more precisely the day I began, a muddy spot that seemed a figment of some geographer’s imagination, was now, where I began this year at Hampton Court Palace, looking somewhat more like the river we know as it flows past Big Ben. As I went along, the path had become more reliably dry, often well-surfaced where it passed through communities whose cyclists demanded it, and finally wide enough for a human and a bicycle to pass one another without the human backing into the shrubbery.
When I began planning my 2016 walk, it seemed entirely possible that I’d finish. Shortly thereafter I realized that there were too many other things I wanted to do in the 17 days I’d set aside to be in England and that I’d be lucky to walk half of the remaining 36 miles from my starting point at Hampton Court station. As it happened, I did even less, stopping on the third day at Kew Bridge alongside the botanic gardens. But it made no difference at all to me and will simply require more time to complete. No one has ever suffered from more days in London, as far as I know. The truth is, I’ve long realized that finishing isn’t the point, walking through the countryside, villages, towns and cities along the banks of the Thames is the point and, while I look forward to visiting Greenwich and seeing the Thames Barrier, I’d be happy, too, if it never ended.
My first day was the longest. I took the tube 1 stop from Wimbledon Park to Wimbledon, changed to Southwest trains and on to Hampton Court station. Over the river to the palace and past on the north bank, crossing later by the Kingston Bridge again to the south bank, a riverside pub lunch, then after about 7 miles arrived at Hammerton’s Ferry, paying £1 to cross once more to the leafy Thameside community of Teddington. The ferry leaves from the bank at Ham House where I planned to return the following morning for a long-postponed visit, so an altogether perfect place, logistically speaking, to end the day’s walk along the official path.
I stood at the small pier with a family who also wanted to cross, waving & calling to the ferryman until we saw him come out of his shed on the far side. There used to be a bell to hail him, I was told, which seems to me a better idea than the waving-calling approach. I suspect he prefers the uncertainty of the new system, should he be having his cuppa when we want him.
The lane that parallels the river in Teddington was a beauty, through an upscale residential neighborhood. I had a map to show me the way to Twickenham station and when I reached a turning point, the street was blocked and guarded. A film shoot, I was told by an elderly gentleman standing on the corner with his dog. He said “follow me” and proceeded to escort me on a detour of several blocks until the way to the station was clear, the kindness of strangers. I caught a train to Wimbledon, then changed to the District Line for a 2 minute ride to Wimbledon Park Underground Station (which is above ground) and my digs a block away.
Beginning where I last left the path, Hampton Court station...
...an immediate right across Hampton Court Bridge...
...right again to follow the path between Hampton Court Palace and the river.
Continue on the north bank...
...then follow the path across Kingston Bridge, above, to the south bank.
...Teddington Lock Footbridge and the lock...
...to today's goal, Hammerton's ferry at Ham House.
Posh riverside Teddington homes on the way to Twickenham station...
There are a number of Thames guides, maps & websites with detailed
information for walkers, cyclists & boaters. For walkers, begin here with
the official website for the UK's national trails and the Thames Path.
Next week, a long-awaited visit to Ham House,
beside the river near Richmond-on-Thames.
Find all episodes of ‘PortMoresby in England’ here.