Barnes Bridge to Teddington Lock – North Bank - August 4th
This walk follows the Thames Path along the north bank of the river from Barnes Bridge to Teddington Lock. The route passes through Strand on the Green, Brentford, Syon Park, Isleworth, Richmond, Twickenham and Strawberry Hill, before ending at Teddington Lock.
This section is meant to be about 12 miles.
This was the 2nd of the 3 walks I did along the north bank of the Thames in London. I was a little apprehensive about this, as it would be the first time I’d need to use public transport in London since before lockdown started in March. Still, knowing that so many commuters were still working from home and that overall public transport usage was way down, I reasoned I should be quite safe – and so I was! To get to the start at Barnes Bridge I got the train to Kings Cross, Victoria Line to Vauxhall, then train to Barnes Bridge station.
As I crossed Barnes Bridge to the north bank I couldn’t help but notice how low the water level was, demonstrating quite clearly that the river was still tidal at this point. For much of this walk as far as Richmond, where the sluice gates across the river are only lowered for around 2 hours either side of high tide, the water levels would be extremely low. Anyway, the Thames Path needed to be well signposted from Barnes Bridge, since it initially continued directly inland away from the river, before turning left under a railway bridge and left again back towards the river. Thankfully there were plenty of signs and I was soon on the towpath with trees and hedges on both sides.
On the south bank were attractive houses and apartment blocks of Barnes and Mortlake. These gave way to the former Mortlake Brewery, most recently owned by Anheuser Busch InBev to brew Budweiser. Brewing ceased in 2015 and the site was sold (surprise, surprise) to a property development company, who now have planning permission to regenerate as a 22 acre riverfront village. Chiswick Bridge, the end point of the University Boat Race, came up next, followed by Chiswick Quay. Chiswick Quay is a small estate of 68 town houses surrounding a marina on the river. Every house overlooks either the marina or the river. Lock gates provide access to the Thames.
At Chiswick Quay, the path left the riverside and took to residential streets of Chiswick for about half a mile. It rejoined the river just before Kew Railway Bridge at the very pretty riverside area of Chiswick called Strand-on-the-Green. Between here and Kew Bridge, the path continued on a pedestrian walkway, also named Strand-on-the-Green, that eventually widened to become a road. In the middle of the river was a tree covered island called Oliver’s Island, so called from a story that Oliver Cromwell once took refuge on it; however, there is almost certainly no truth in this story. At Kew Bridge I left the path briefly to buy a sandwich for my lunch.
Returning to the riverside, I passed a long uninhabited island named Brentford Ait in the middle of the river, followed immediately by a smaller one named Lot’s Ait. In 2011, a 30 year lease of Lot’s Ait was granted to a local boat builder. In 2012, a new pedestrian bridge connecting the island with Brentford was built. Because the river was at low tide at the time of my walk, there was virtually no water between the river bank and the 2 islands and quite frankly, it all looked quite scruffy with numerous beached vessels. After the islands, I reached the point where the River Brent (part of the Grand Union Canal network) joins the Thames and this is where the path left the riverside for about 1.5 miles. A major redevelopment of about 12 acres of land between the river and Brentford High Street was the main reason for leaving the river. The Brentford Project as it’s called, will be a mixture of apartments, shops, cafes and restaurants. The developer has promised extensions to the Thames Path along the riverside. The development is due for completion in 2027. Walking along Brentford High Street I eventually reached a friendly Thames Path sign directing me towards Syon Park.
Syon Park is a 200 acre park owned by the Duke of Northumberland. Syon House within the park is the Duke’s London residence. I would have liked to explore further but at the time of my walk, the house, gardens and Great Conservatory were all shut to visitors due to COVID-19. All I could do was carry on through the park until I emerged by the river once again in Old Isleworth. Another island, named Isleworth Ait filled the middle of the river. This island is uninhabited but is home to plenty of wildlife. Visitor access is granted to local volunteers of the London Wildlife Trust. Much of the path for the next mile was paved, with modern apartment blocks to my right and the dry river to my left. It then entered some pleasant gardens, before returning briefly to the main road.
Back by the riverside once again, the paved path continued to Richmond Lock and its very grand bridge that houses the mechanism for raising and lowering the sluice gates, as well as being a pair of footbridges. The purpose of the lock is to maintain a broad navigable depth of water upstream of Richmond of at least 5ft 8 in. The sluice gates are lowered for 2 hours each side of high tide, allowing free passage. At all other times, vessels have to use the lock, for which there is a charge. Even before I reached the lock, the level of the river now reached both banks, making it much more attractive. After the lock, Twickenham Bridge, Richmond Railway Bridge and Richmond Bridge itself came up in quick succession.
From Richmond Bridge the river took a noticeable right bend. The path was wide and tarmacked and a lot of people were out enjoying the sunshine and the river. There were lovely views across the river to Petersham Common, the Petersham Hotel and the landmark Star and Garter building. The path entered Marble Hill Park, a lovely Grade II listed 66 acre park managed by English Heritage. It provides many leisure facilities including rugby and hockey pitches, a cricket pitch and nets, tennis courts and a children's play area. The centrepiece of the park is Marble Hill House. The house is a Palladian villa built between 1724 and 1729 and was the home of Henrietta Howard, Countess of Suffolk, who was also the mistress of George II. At the time of my walk, the house was closed as it is undergoing renovation. The house is clearly visible from the south bank of the river.
I next came to the ferry that crosses the river to and from Ham House. Hammerton’s Ferry proudly boasts that it’s the last remaining privately owned foot ferry on the tidal Thames. The path left the river briefly, continuing along an appropriately named residential street called Riverside. You’d need a lot of money to buy one of the very attractive houses in this area! The path rejoined the riverside opposite a boatyard on Eel Pie Island.
Eel Pie Island is a 9 acre island accessible by boat or footbridge from the north bank. The island had a hotel that was a major venue for jazz, rock and R&B music up until 1969. Artists including Acker Bilk, George Melly, the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Rod Stewart, the Who, Black Sabbath and Genesis played there. The name comes from eel pies which were served by the inn on the island in the 19th century. Today, the island has about 50 homes, 120 inhabitants and two or three boatyards, as well as some other small businesses and artists' studios. It has nature reserves at both ends, protected from public access. Shortly after passing the footbridge, the path left the river and I found myself in busy Twickenham. For the next mile, the path continued on the main road to Teddington through a residential area called Strawberry Hill. Eventually the path took a left turning down to Teddington Lock, the end of my walk as well as the Thames Path north bank route.
At the lock, there are 2 distinctive footbridges across the river, separated by a small island in the middle of the river; one is an attractive suspension bridge crossing the weir stream, whilst the other is a less attractive girder bridge that spans the lock cut. Both bridges are Grade II listed. Teddington Lock is the furthest point upstream at which the river is no longer tidal.
The Anglers is a riverside pub at the lock. As our generous Chancellor was encouraging us all to eat out in August, I decided to take him up on his offer and have a half price meal and a pint of London Pride. Duly refreshed I followed the thoughtful Thames Path signs directing me to Teddington Station. On the journey back home I couldn’t help but think that apart from the 2 mile section between Richmond and Eel Pie Island, this hadn’t been a desperately interesting or enjoyable walk.