31 December 2010

A river walk to Richmond

On Christmas Eve, another in a series of chilly days in which the temperature hovered around one or two degrees above zero and the ice lingered on footpaths from the recent snow, I set out to stretch my legs on a long walk upriver along the Thames from my home in Southfields to Richmond.  As I used to live in Castelnau near Hammersmith Bridge, and with the early sunset before 4pm in mind, I omitted the loop of the river from Barn Elms round to Barnes Bridge, concentrating on the parts of the route I'm less familiar with - the stretch from Barnes Bridge round to Richmond itself.

I could've easily started with a bus trip down to Putney to shorten the walk, but I decided to allow myself only one bus journey, at the princely sum of £1.20 - the journey back from Richmond.  So I set out through Tibbet's Corner, known for its highwayman connections, crunched across a still icy Putney Heath and down Putney Hill.  I made my way, following my old jogging route from my two-month stint living in Putney, until I reached the eastern apex of Barnes Common.  There I paused to eat an apple whilst observing a gang of suburban dogs frolicking around a heaped mound of snow while their assorted owners looked on and ensured a semblance of good behaviour.  I noticed someone had speared an impromptu walking stick into the turf near my park bench, and took its picture to prove its resemblance to a cheerful moose:

Walking stick, Barnes Common

After my brief pause I resumed the westward walk across the Common, stopping only to admire the frozen pond in genteel Barnes village, which still retains an air of the rural community that it once was before the railway arrived in 1916.  (Didn't get any decent photos there though).  Emerging from the village high street, I finally reached the Thames.  Here's an HDR shot of Barnes Bridge from the east, showing the Thames at low tide with plenty of bird life:

Barnes Bridge

Stag Brewery
Following the Thames Path upriver, I passed the White Hart pub and paused to photograph the imposing Stag Brewery, which was founded in 1811 and used to be London's largest brewery until its closure in 2010.  Nearby I admired some river birds staking out some minnows, including a particularly fine grey heron:

Another kilometre or so upriver the apple was wearing off and I was starting to get really hungry, so I had to take a detour north across Kew Bridge in the hope of finding something to eat.  Clearly this part of the Chiswick High Road wasn't designed with human habitation in mind, because it was a sea of dingy shops cleaved in twain by a growling torrent of motor traffic.  I had to resort to buying a Kitkat from a faceless service station, queuing behind a geezer who put £50 of petrol in his Mercedes coupe and then repeatedly forgot his pin number, which generated a massive line of eye-rolling customers waiting for him to get his act together.  Such is the joy of the Xmas Eve customer experience.

Returning to the Thames Path fuelled by the chocolate hit, I set off on the most appealing part of the walk.  The remainder of the journey was flanked by the leafy expanse of Kew Gardens and the Old Deer Park on my left.  The cold weather meant that I was virtually the only one out walking, which was probably just as well because the paths were still covered in tricky ice and it was better that no-one had to watch my painfully slow progress.

Near the southern boundary of Kew Gardens I admired the view on the far side of the river as the beautiful Syon House hove into view.  Set in a 200 acre park, Syon is the London home of the Duke of Northumberland, and according to its official website, in the 16th century it was also the location of a notable royal event:

In 1547, King Henry VIII's coffin was brought to Syon on its way to Windsor for burial. It burst open during the night and in the morning dogs were found licking up the remains! This was regarded as a divine judgement for the King's desecration of Syon Abbey.

Syon House

A short walk upriver was the Isleworth Ait, one of the Thames' many small islands.  I took this photo nearby as the sun was reaching lower in the sky, lending a pale, interesting light to the scene.  The church on the right is the Isleworth Parish Church (All Saints):


Old Deer Park obelisks
I was now nearly at the end of my walk.  Passing the playing fields and strange obelisks (1778) at the fringes of the Old Deer Park, I was reminded that the nearby King's Observatory (1769) was once the site of the prime meridian, until it moved to Greenwich.  (The obelisks were set up as reference points for the observatory telescopes; the twin pair were directly south of the two main instruments).  As I entered Richmond town, there was just time before I left the Thames Path to photograph the splendid face of Asgill House, an 18th century Palladian villa, before I proceeded to the high street for a much-needed and very late lunch.

Asgill House, Richmond

When I boarded the trusty 493 bus for the much quicker return journey to my flat I could reflect on an enjoyable three and a half hour walk that had taken me 15.7 kilometres along the ancient Thames, and had provided me with an excellent excuse to indulge in some serious trifle and jelly consumption on Christmas Day!

Here's a map of the route I took, including the less than scenic detour to the Chiswick roundabout in search of sustenance:

View River walk to Richmond in a larger map
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