Tamesis Fluvius
The Thames Path from
the Source to the Thames Barrier

Kingston to Hammersmith

Thursday 20 April 2017

By Day Thirteen we were very definitely approaching the end of our journey, as the last three days were to be spent walking through London. Our original plan was for this section to be by far the longest of the three, covering more than thirteen and a half miles between Kingston and Putney. However, as we knew that we were facing a tube journey to our overnight accommodation at the end of the day it didn't really matter where we left the path and so a couple of days before getting to this stage, we changed our plans.

We decided to finish at Hammersmith rather than Putney, which shortened this stage and extended the next, actually making the two days roughly the same length. This part of the walk was marked by long, sweeping meanders in the river and although it was the first day in London, much of the route here is remarkably peaceful for an 'urban' walk with trees and parkland shielding us from the signs of the city. It was also the stage when we reached the end of the river's locks and the start of the tidal Thames at Teddington, with the tide times leaving river level very low for much of our day.

 

Our first task for the day was to retrace the final half mile walk from the previous evening, heading back up to Kingston Bridge to rejoin the Thames Path. After passing under the railway bridge, the first stretch of the route is a very pleasant riverside walk through the open space of Canbury Gardens, before joining up with Lower Ham Road and heading past a residential area. The road here was very quiet at the time we were there, making it easy to forget that it is not a footpath. Soon the road turns away from the river but our route kept us alongside the Thames, becoming just a narrow footpath again and separated even from the cycle route as it heads towards Teddington Lock, which for many years was the final lock on the river.

Immediately after the next bend in the river the lock comes into view, signalling perhaps the biggest change in the Thames. Here the river becomes tidal and we could see that the water level was lower, although there has been another barrier at Richmond since the late 19th century, which is used at low tide and limits the effects of changing water levels. Teddington remains the final permanent lock though and is the point below which the Environment Agency is no longer responsible for the Thames and the Port of London Authority takes over. The other important change from here onwards is that the Thames Path is now signposted on both banks, giving us a choice of which side of the river to walk, although we decided to remain on the greener southern bank for the remainder of the day.

 

The first tidal stretch took us past the nature reserve at Ham Lands and Eel Pie Island and then on towards Richmond. The route took us past something which we did not really expect to see this far into London, a field of cows alongside the path in Petersham Meadows near to Richmond. The cattle are brought in each summer to graze in the meadow, maintaining it by the same method that has been used for centuries. As the river turned back around to the left, the path took us under Richmond Bridge, at which point we decided to stop for lunch, breaking with the pattern we had been in for much of the trip and having a cooked meal rather than sandwiches. Not long after setting off again we headed under Twickenham Bridge, after which the path becomes much greener again as it passes by Old Deer Park.

Alongside the park lies Richmond Lock, used to ensure that the river remains navigable at all times between Richmond and Teddington after 19th century developments left it little more than a stream at low tides along that section. Beyond the lock the water level was now much lower, shown clearly as we passed the slipway down to the river at Isleworth. Along this section the tree-lined path gives the occasional view through to firstly the Royal Mid Surrey Golf Course and then to Kew Gardens. London is not completely hidden among the greenery as there are regular sights of tower blocks across the river in Brentford. After passing Brentford Ait, almost joined to the northern bank given the low tide, we came to Kew Bridge, taking a short break there before continuing further into London.

 

By this point the bridges crossing the Thames become regular markers along the route, the next one being a railway bridge just downstream of Oliver's Island, the tree-covered island standing high above the level of the river at this stage of the tide. This is the section of the river which is widely used for rowing and we passed by several boathouses and saw a number of crews out training on the water, before coming to Chiswick Bridge. Just downstream of the bridge is the finishing point of the University Boat Races, marked by a black and white striped pole on the northern bank and a stone post with the initials 'UBR' on the southern side. Following the course of the boat races, albeit in the opposite direction, we next came to Barnes Bridge as four different crews rowed underneath.

Along the short section of pavement walking beside the road through Barnes, we paused for one final rest stop before heading on towards Hammersmith. Shortly after Barnes Bridge, the path leaves the road again to head around the outside of a now disused reservoir, which is kept from view by trees along both sides of the path. The route then moves past St Paul's Juniors school, whose rowers were among those out on the river, before Hammersmith Bridge becomes visible ahead. With the time just past 4.00 pm, the bridge was becoming increasingly busy with both pedestrians and cars as we made our way across it, leaving the Thames Path behind on the northern bank before walking on to Hammersmith underground station and making the short journey to Earl's Court, where we were spending the night at the Youth Hostel.