Wintry Thames towpath walk that’s like entering another world

The long, languid Thames provides some bracing walking at this time of year

WANDLE WANDERER: Croydon’s own river, the Wandle, eventually reaches the Thames itself, which provides a multitude of possible walks.
Here, KEN TOWL sets off for Richmond to see what the towpath has to offer

With friends visiting from Hackney and looking for a walk, I knew I couldn’t compete with their home for cosmopolitan cool, so I suggested a stroll along historic Old Father Thames instead. The eight miles from Richmond to Hampton Court make up a particularly attractive stretch of the river, and Richmond and Hampton Court stations are easy to get to from Croydon. And, it turns out, Hackney.

From East Croydon, you can catch any of the many Victoria-bound trains and change on to Platform 6 at Clapham Junction for a quick hop to Richmond. We met our friends from the east there and joined the river at the bottom of Water Lane.

There is a chance of having too much information on a signpost

Here the Golden Cross, one of Youngs’ landmark pubs, is a great place for a post-work drink when the sun is shining on its river-facing beer garden. It was too early and too wintry for that, though, and we had some walking to do.

Strolling along the grassy banks of the Thames below Petersham, you soon get a view of Marble Hill House across the river to the right.

A fine Palladian mansion, it was, as Richard pointed out, the home of a mistress of George II.

I looked it up when I got home and it turns out that it was the home of “the remarkable Henrietta Howard”,  who was, as the English Heritage website puts it, a “close friend of the king”.

Bit of a mistake

I made a trite plus ça change reference to Jennifer Arcuri, and we walked on.

Four miles and three aits into our stroll, and we stopped at The Boaters Inn, a waterside pub in Kingston. Here we fortified ourselves with mulled cider and mulled wine before making the grave mistake of failing to cross the river at Kingston.

Do not, beloved reader, make this mistake.

The Thames path continues on the north side and, above all runs up the side of Hampton Court Palace itself.

We, by contrast, found ourselves spending most of the rest of the journey in a Surbiton suburbia remarkable mostly for its concentration of orange diamonds proclaiming “Liberal Democrats Winning Here”.

Barbara and Richard live in the 10th safest Labour constituency in the country, where the reds have a 38,000 majority and 79.4 per cent of the vote. So presumably the orange diamonds there say “Liberal Democrats Failing Miserably Here” (for the record, and in the interests of balance, the LibDems achieved only 5.7 per cent of the vote in Hackney South and Shoreditch in 2017, even less than the Conservatives on 10.9 per cent).

Make sure you get to the right side of this bridge

Meanwhile poor Zac Goldsmith, oxymoronically speaking, is sitting on a Tory majority of a mere 45 votes in Richmond Park, while Sir Ed Davey looks set to hold on to Kingston and Surbiton if this very public display of triumphant liberal democracy is anything to go by. It looks as if we can expect to see the orange wedge reassert itself in South West London.

After a few miles more of suburbia, we reached the briefly attractive centre of Thames Ditton, dominated by the wonderfully named Home of Compassion. It is an imposing 18th Century mansion that now serves as a care home.

Before long we reached Hampton Court Bridge and entered the Mute Swan on the other side.

Just opposite the front entrance to Hampton Court Palace, this is a fine place to eat. You will probably need to book if you are planning on visiting on a weekend, but it is worth it.

There’s some very attractive moorings, and pubs, in this part of south-west London

They even cater relatively well for vegans (nut roast, sweet potato and aubergine curry, Padron peppers) which is just as well if you are going to attract visitors from as far afield as Hackney.

The roast beef was good, too, and the whole camembert baked in a homemade ciabatta was perhaps the single most beautiful thing I have ever seen in a west of London pub.

A few hours later we staggered into the darkness, crossed back over the bridge, and picked up a train back to Clapham Junction where we said our goodbyes.

Back home, I opened an envelope that contained a Vote Labour poster. I have stuck it in the window and it is the only one in the street. Who knows who is winning here in Croydon Central?


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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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