A Day By The River

This weekend I paid a visit to my sister, down London way. The two of us left her kids home alone (not really, gawd…) and took a day out to walk part of the Thames Path from Richmond to Teddington lock.

We started at her local station in South London. I’d brought with me two books for the take-one-leave-one book exchange (previously having taken a couple) in the waiting room. Within a couple of minutes I saw a woman leaving the waiting room with one of the books!

While waiting for the train I then saw a green parakeet in one of the big trees opposite the tracks. These exotic birds went ‘native’ some time ago in London. I’ve often heard them squawking but never seen one. They are bright green and at this time of year, so are the trees, so hard to see.

Having changed tube trains at Victoria it was a nice little ride to Richmond. Over ground, even though it’s the underground. Confusing? Oh yes.

Richmond is one of those places that’s ‘in London’ but isn’t. Like a little country town. A right posh country town, full of shops that usually I only see as concessions in big department stores. We headed for the river only to be distracted by the ‘farmers market’. Clearly there aren’t many farmers in Richmond because it was basically about half a dozen stalls- mostly cakes. This isn’t a bad thing. As it was munchy-o-clock we bought a couple of large flatbreads with spinach and feta cheese fillings and progressed down to the riverside.

Very pretty it was too. RichmondBridge to one side, boats, and ducks and a handy picnic seat. As we were eating two nice young men from the adjacent ‘Nandos’ chicken shop came by with a sample tray of chicken for would be punters. I greedily accepted a freebie, but when my sister said ‘no thanks, I don’t like chicken’ the poor boy went pale, and backed away in incomprehension!

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Fully sustained now by bread and ice cream from the handy ice cream van (with flakes, obviously) we headed off upstream. The river path ran alongside a few cafes and backs of nice houses. There was a couple of sheds being used as an open art gallery. As we progressed, along with half the neighbourhood it seemed, we came across a couple of gazebos and people in matching blazers. There was, it turned out some kind of rowing competition that day. Possibly every school in the country that has rowing clubs (and who knew they’d be so many?) was attending, because at this point the path became endlessly cluttered with teenagers in lycra, boats, bits of boats, cars and mini buses.

The path was now more of a gravel track like you’d expect in the countryside. Although still in London there was much more of a country feel. Trees all around, the path ran alongside grassy meadows. Really the only thing taking away the rural-ness were the planes coming in on low descent to Heathrow airport!

Further along we took a turning off the riverside, over a tiny footbridge into the meadow. Just along from here was Ham House. A regency era mansion now run by the national trust. And I have learned that ‘ham’ is an old English word for ‘home’, hence the abundance of places in the UK with the name Ham in them.

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Passing Ham House there were more meadows, full of long grass, wild flowers and many, many rooks. I think it may have been ‘rooks got talent’ day judging by the incessant crowing.  Back alongside the river, it was now much quieter, and very beautiful. Dappled shade, which was lovely as the day was much sunnier and hotter than expected (I ended up with sunburn).  We stopped for a rest by some trees that looked like they’d been in a pillow fight and lost. Piles and piles of white fluff, which were seeds. The interwebs tell me this may have been a willow tree. Or a poplar. I’m not really sure, but it was impressive.

A bit further along we came to Teddington lock. This is several locks and a weir and some bridges. At this point the river ‘changes colour’ and the lock is where the river stops being tidal. Downstream will lead you (eventually) to the city, the Thames estuary and the sea. It was somewhat bizarre to see ‘rabies warning’ signs attached to the locks, but I suppose one could have sailed up from the open sea to this point!

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A cute little brick lock keepers house is perched between a divide in the river, looking more like a rural railway station than a boathouse. The lock, although not long was pretty deep. We saw the lockkeeper, in his life jacket and jaunty hat come out to attend the lock. Not for him some slow hand cranking. Nope, insert a key, turn a wheel, and whoosh, the lock filled in less than two minutes.

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By now it was time for further sustenance from a café van which was like a tiny silver airstream trailer. Surreally, along with coke, crisps and cookies they had a small basket of hand knitted Barbie dolls clothes for sale!

We returned the same way we’d come, through the leafy woods, beautiful houses on the rivers edge on the opposite bank. Part way along we then diverted off the river path into the meadows. The grass was so long you couldn’t see which way you would need to go, but helpfully a few paths had been cut through. By one ditch we saw a children’s rope swing over a boggy puddle. The river does overflow into the meadows, at high tide from time to time, so there were moments of stickiness, but mostly it was peace and quiet, birds shouting (those rooks again), wildflowers and butterflies. Towards the edge of town there was a couple of rare breed cattle under the trees; the meadows are attended to by the local wildlife trust, which put the cows there to graze.

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It wasn’t until this point we realised how high up the town is. Up on the hill the magnificent Star and Garter House overlooking it all. Back in the town we stopped for a cuppa and the café was playing the music of my college days. The return train was an actual over ground train and took about half the time too. I’m not sure how many miles we walked. There was a bit of meandering. It felt a lot. Probably wasn’t!

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