The Last Leg of The Thames Path in London
All good things come to an end, and so our journey both down and up the London section of the Thames Path reached its climax on a bright day, nursing potential rain clouds that held on to their cargo and kept us dry. It could also be labelled a 'Great Trees of London' walk as we had the good fortune to come across - amongst many others - not one but two really wonderful specimens, one at each end of the path.
We travelled to Richmond Station by train from Waterloo, on 22nd October, 2016. After the train, and walking through the bustle of Richmond shoppers, the riverfront runs past a throng of restaurants in the midst of which is an enormously tall London Plane, gracefully occupying its spot for hundreds of years judging by the girth of the trunk. You can only but admire something so lovely and ancient if only for having managed to stay there as London sprawls further and further. The path breaks almost straight out into 'country' passing Ham House, a 17th century house now a National Trust property open to visitors. In the middle of the river at this point is Eel Pie Island, best remembered as a music venue in the 1960 where The Rolling Stones and The Who performed.
Shortly after we approach Teddington Lock, the largest lock complex on the Thames and the point at which the Thames turns from tidal to non-tidal. It also has a very convenient toilet facility, so we were able to stop for a short while whilest some of the walkers took advantage. The Thames here turns from being home to rowing crews to sailing ones, with lots of small boats out and about on the calmer waters.
As we approached Kingston, there is also another little surprise. Just before you reach the latest incarnation of a bridge that has crossed the Thames continuously since the 12th century, in the basement of John Lewis are a pier from the the original bridge and a barrel vaulted cellar from a 14th century merchants house, preserved very nicely behind glass. By way of a thank you to John Lewis for this keeping of history, we stopped there for a lunch break before crossing the bridge for the final stretch to Hampton Court. It doesn't take very long before we come across the grounds of the palace, even though we are still a couple of miles downriver from the building itself. The Roman Catholic Church of St Raphael glows on the south bank, Italian Renaissance in style but only built in the mid 1800s after Catholic emancipation in England, and a number of small aits or eyots as you prefer, both Middle English for 'little island'.
The path-side is joined by a brick wall, part of the grounds proper of Hampton Court, and it is here that you can find the other wonderful tree. There is a gate in the wall, up a few steps, to an enclosure for the casual visitors to admire the grounds and the views, fronted by a large and lovely Stone Pine, known as the Maids of Honour Stone Pine, that makes a beautiful frame for views of the palace. It is to here that we head and to the cafe to celebrate the end of our trek to and from Crayford Ness, some fifty miles away.
One adventure ends, others begin - the path along the Thames westwards into the country beckons...