The Thames Path – or The Scenic Route

THERE’s probably a certain irony to how this post came about, seeing as it involves me visiting a dead explorer then doing some exploring of my own.

I’d decided it would make sense to combine checking out the tomb of Sir Richard Burton in Mortlake (the subject of my previous post) with a ‘work’ visit to the UK’s National Archives in Kew, seeing as the two are only a couple of miles apart.

Having done my stuff at the National Archives I hit the road – or rather roads – to Mortlake. I’d no complaints about the roads ; they were doing what they were supposed to do, ie get me from A to B (Archives to Burton, I suppose you could say). But at the end of the day they were just roads, of Tarmac and cars and pollution (and a retail park with a TK Maxx, if that’s your thang).

I crossed one pretty big road and followed a footpath down a little embankment and onto a housing estate. A little distance further on I found myself looking out onto the River Thames. Between the boring road I was on and the river, though, was a pretty little green area, framed by an elegant stone bridge.

I walked up to the bridge, which turned out to be Chiswick Bridge, which carried the big road I had just crossed over the river. “Kew Gardens 2 miles” said a sign pointing under the bridge and vaguely towards where I had just come from (the National Archives is at Kew Gardens). “Ooooh,” I thought, making a mental note for later. And I continued on my way to find Sir Richard’s tomb.

Now, in the interests of full disclosure, I should ‘fess up here that I didn’t actually see the tomb this particular day; I got caught out because the graveyard was locked shut at 3pm (I’ve updated my previous post with a warning about this).

OK, so I was disappointed, but at least I had something else to explore – that path to Kew Gardens.

The “path” was wide, smooth and had hardly any incline on it at all, making it easy enough for people who might struggle to get up hills, and/or wheelchair users. There’s lots of greenery, and, of course, you’re on the banks of the Thames, so there’s (a bit of) wildlife to watch, including, during my walk, the members of a rowing club practising on the river.

It was much quieter than the road/s, and so much more relaxing. It was, in fact, such a nice experience that by the time I had reached the back of the National Archives, and Kew Bridge, I had pretty much overcome my disappointment at not meeting Sir Richard.

Map of Thames Path

My route to the Thames Path: A: St Mary Magdalen Church, and Richard Burton’s tomb; B: Jolly Gardeners pub (which we like because it has a toilet open to the public!), Lower Richmond Road, opposite Mortlake Green; C: The Ship pub, right on the riverbank; D: ‘park’ at Chiswick Bridge; E: Kew Bridge and the National Archives. (Map compiled and adapted from maps on the Thames Path website, http://www.nationaltrail.co.uk/thames-path.)

I found out later that what I had been walking on was (a small) part of the “Thames Path”, a 184-mile-long walkway along the length of the Thames from its source in the Cotswolds to the Thames Barrier. If you’re visiting London and fancy doing something a little different to the usual stuff, as well as getting some fresh (for London, anyway) air and a bit of exercise, I’d say a walk along part of the Thames Path would be well worth considering.

There’s lots of information on the Thames Path on the official national trails website (http://www.nationaltrail.co.uk/thames-path).  There’s also lots about the other 15 national trails across the breadth of England and Wales, from the “South West Coast Path” to the “Cleveland Way” (http://www.nationaltrail.co.uk/).

(In case you’re wondering about the whole tomb thing, I went back to St Mary Magdalen Church a couple of days later, at a time when I knew the graveyard would be accessible. And then I went on to the Arts and Crafts Red House, at Bexleyheath, which I may write about presently, if the spirit moves me.)

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