Walking in London
Let’s Go Walking along the Thames
Some of the best walking paths in London can be found along the banks of the river Thames. Whenever you are looking for a particularly easy walk: a two to three hour stroll to help you digest a heavy Sunday lunch or something to do if an afternoon business meeting has been cancelled, my advice: Pick a stretch. Any stretch.
There is only one thing you may want to consider – as far as the Thames is concerned, East is East and West is West, and although the twain do eventually meet (somewhere in central London, presumably), they are rather awkward neighbours with irreconcilable temperaments.
The East Thames is melancholy in nature, at times even downright gloomy, full of history but often – as you will remember if you have read about our walk from Tower Hill to Limehouse – involving some of this history’s darker aspects: convicts on the way to Australia, orphanages, pirates who are publicly tortured to death.
The West, conversely, is merry and bucolic throughout, and it was therefore fitting that on the two days we had set aside for our Thames walks, the sky was overcast and grey on Day 1 (East) while on Day 2 (West), we walked straight into a Hollywood version of an autumn day, azure skies and intensely coloured leaves as far as the eye could see. Almost everybody we met, walking along the Thames, appeared to have brought their cameras with them.
Our walk begins in the fairly posh London suburb of Kew. Take the train (District Line on the London Underground) to Kew Gardens and, leaving the station through the main exit, turn right at the fork into Kew Gardens Road.
When that street ends, turn right into Kew Road (opposite you, you can see the walls of the famous Botanic Garden) past Newens tea room. I know it is a little early for a break but their “Maids of Honour” cakes are apparently excellent – Henry VIII is said to have been a great fan.
You will then come to the traffic lights where you turn left into Kew Green. Cross the village green with the church on your right hand side – you may search out the grave of the painter Thomas Gainsborough who is buried here (it is the one with the black iron railings) – towards the bridge on the far side. Cross the bridge and continue down your right hand side by the northern bank of the river.
This stretch of the Thames is called the Strand on the Green, an old fishermen’s village and one of the most picturesque parts of London. The Strand is also home to some of the capital’s most popular riverside pubs, such as the Bull’s Head.
At the end of this section of the path, continue straight-ish into Grove Park Road, all the way up to the church, then turn left and left again on to the bridge.
Take the stairway half way down the bridge towards Chiswick station and continue by turning left into Park Road until you meet the grounds of Chiswick House on your right hand side.
Enter the gate and explore the garden at length – perhaps you even find the time for a visit to the house itself, a rare example for an almost completely “Italianate” English country house (built in 1729).
Exit the park by leaving the Chiswick house gateway on your left and walk past the outdoor cafeteria, also on your left, to the iron gates next to a white lodge. Cross the busy road behind immediately, turn left and immediately right behind St Mary’s Convent into Powell’s Walk. After a couple of minutes, you will reach St Nicholas church and churchyard where you can find the graves of two more famous painters, Hogarth and Whistler.
Walking out of the churchyard, turn right (into Chiswick Mall) and continue by the Thames. There are some pretty grand mansions on this stretch of the river, and the third or fourth house that you will see – called Bedford House – used to belong to the famous Redgrave dynasty of actors (Michael, Vanessa, Lynn etc).
Just follow the river from here onwards, all the way past Hammersmith Terrace and Furnivall Gardens to Hammersmith Bridge, perhaps London’s prettiest (which may explain why Irish terrorists tried to blow it up not once, not twice, but three times).
Turn left on to the bridge and continue in the direction of St Paul’s church behind which you will find Hammersmith Underground station. Central London is only a few stops away from here.
One last word: for much of this walk, we followed the route suggested by Andrew Duncan in his “Walking London”. This is not only the best introduction into the sights and the history of the capital but simply the best guide into “urban walking” I have ever come across, and I have come across quite a few. (I have done nearly all of the 30 walks in the book over the years, some of them more than once.)
If you live in London or spend regularly some time there, make yourself a wonderful gift and buy this book. You will be glad you did.
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