Before the walk
It was a dark morning out when I left my hotel room to St Pancras to find my train towards Charlton.
It’s such a great feeling to embark onto a new little adventure: the unknown and excitement blend into a great positive energy.
I then walked for about 20 minutes from the station to the Thames Barrier, stopping to get water to refill my bottles, and passed through an industrial estate with pretty inconsiderate parking blocking the pavement and lorries going past so it was not a very scenic start of my day.
However, as I walked up the steps towards the start of the Thames path, overlooking the Barrier, I looked back and enjoyed the avenue of trees.
I also saw a cute cherry tree in the middle of the industrial estate. I’m not sure my photo captured its beauty and how outstanding it felt.
The Thames Barrier area also displays a lot of heritage and educational artefacts that can be observed as you approach the area on foot. There’s also a memorial to those who lost their lives building the Barrier.
If you want to know more about the barrier and how it works, head to the Environment Agency site. The future of the barrier, due to the impact of climate change is an important topic with massive impact. It’s worth a read.
The start of the walk
It was foggy but you could still just about see the other bank just as I started my walk. The morning then became so foggy you couldn’t see the other bank of the Thames once I got started on the walk . What struck me as I started my walk along this 180 miles path is the juxtaposition of the industrial area needing the Thames water, and the water and wildlife from the Thames, with in between the Thames Path with trees, blending the industrial to the natural alongside to concrete factories.
As I begin my journey along the Thames Path, it strikes me how reading blogs and books will never be enough to understand a route. And if you’re lucky enough to come here yourself and experience the route, you will be able to get your own feel for the good, the bad and the ugly.
I can’t recommend enough that you retrace my steps, or rather make your own steps, be it upstream or downstream along this path.
My initial progress is extremely slow as I stopped a lot to take many pictures. I imagined my rate of taking pictures will reduce as I walk along the path. I suspect I should take the opportunity for this foggy morning where we cannot see much to pick up my pace, and take fewer pictures but enjoy the experience on the walk itself.
However, as I walk along the tidal Thames, with its beaches and concrete factories, I reflect on the need for our ever demanding growing consumerism, the need for these concrete factories to produce new concrete for roads and infrastructures that we demand in our daily lives. Those very infrastructures that we rely on and that I rely on to organise this walk.
I arrived at the Greenwich Peninsula. Just before the Greenwich Yacht Club, as you turn the corner towards the ecology park along the Jubilee Greenway, this burned motorbike or small moped ironically lays across the floor, on the path.
I progressed to a more residential part of my walk along the Olympian Way, along the Thames, with a lot of newer buildings. As it is Saturday morning, there are many walkers, walking dogs, walking in families, even though the weather is quite foggy.
I had no idea about the Emirates cable cars you can use to cross the Thames. I couldn’t see the other end as the cable cars disappeared in the foggy sky above the Thames. In some ways I felt I missed out on a lot of sights because of the fog that morning.
I come to the first challenge of my walk. I have been carrying and drinking a water bottle, which didn’t fit in my backpacks’ two water bottles. So I come to a point where I need the toilet, and I do not know where to go. It seems everything (pubs/cafés) only opens after 10:00. I imagine this is going to be a bigger challenge as I progress through the walk if it’s already a challenge in London!
At this point in my walk as I walk past the huge O2 building, my thoughts are mostly around my lack of pace so far, but also the noticing the sounds around me, the constant murmur of the construct concrete factories that I have left behind, the sound of the Thames here in London, added to the odd cacophony of birds on the sandy tidal banks of the Thames.
I stopped at the Riverside Garden Café for a coffee and using the toilet. I ended up staying for a delicious second breakfast. I had smashed avocado with chilli on sourdough bread and poached eggs, which should keep me going for at least three hours.
Luckily, as I left the café, the sun started to come out and I can now see the other bank of the Thames, unable to take further pictures. At this point, I’m also moving onto a nice little residential area with lovely little streets, and a few more pubs and the Cutty Sark.
Shortly after this, I came across people queuing for a food bank. Suddenly I felt terrible for having had that second breakfast in a middle class café. I haven’t shifted that feeling since.
As I pass the Cutty Sark and the Old Royal Naval Collage, the promenade is getting busier with local walkers and the sun is truly shining. The noises have switched from the industrial humming of the Thames to the tidal noise and a lot of voices talking in different languages. An older man practises Tai Chi on a basketball court, people chat with each other in the street; altogether giving a sense of a lively community.
After Canada Wharf, my navigation hasn’t been perfect as the Thames Path wasn’t fully accessible and I took a detour around the back streets, allowing me to discover Twinkle Park, and Sayes Court Park (and its mulberry tree – see my pictures) as well as some engineering and heritage features (boundary stone, gauge house, hydraulic pumps, etc.). I discovered the Greenwich tunnel too. I eventually re-joined the path at the Salt Quay pub from where I could see the Shard and other buildings from the rest of London, in the distance. I stay here a while enjoying the views and taking pictures of the lock and of the local sculptures.
I came across families enjoying Surrey Docks Farms, just before reaching Tower Bridge. Then I found a link with home (Swindon) as the Brunel Engine House houses the Brunel museum. I’m familiar with Brunel as he influenced the Swindon (and broader local area such as Bristol) history, and I’ve visited the SS Great Britain in Bristol too.
I arrived to what is usually my favourite part of London, but as I turn the corner from Tower Bridge, there were a lot of people around, suddenly.
There were literally hundreds of people everywhere when I reached Borough Market. No social distancing and people blowing their nose and coughing which all triggered a bit of irrational post-Covid social anxiety. I kept walking for a few kilometres, past the Golden Hinde and Winchester Palace (see photos) until I found a quiet café, in the back of the Oxo Tower. I changed my socks, washed my hands a lot, ordered lunch and sat for a while. I felt better.
I should really have expected it. A sunny Saturday in a capital city along the river… but it’s the first time since before the start if the pandemic that I found myself in such crowds.
Once I passed the London Eye and Westminster Bridge things were a little quieter.
Something that’s been humbling me was the wall of hearts Southbank opposite the Houses of Parliament. It’s the National Covid Memorial Wall, with thousands of people’s names, who died of COVID-19 in the last 18 months. These were lives that have been lost; staunch reminder of the pandemic still being here.
Lambeth, Vauxhall and Battersea
It’s definitely been quieter, on the other side of Lambert’s bridge, as I’d hoped, which was really pleasant. The sun was still out, although most of the afternoon had been in the shade of the buildings on this side of the Thames. I have been very lucky with the weather. On the Albert Embankment, I came across Lambeth Basaveshwara statue, then I went through the Riverside gardens and past ‘The Tower’.
Unfortunately more detours awaited as the Thames Path was closed in places due to construction work.
The Battersea Power Station area has been completed regenerated and it was quite busy. It seems it’s the latest place to be in London?
Battersea Park was very pleasant but at that point, I won’t lie, my feet hurt quite a lot. I focus on reaching Putney Bridge there, and observe some wildlife, ducks on the water, and I look forward to sitting down and having dinner soon.
As I arrive in Putney and finished crossing the park, I have packed away my DSLR camera. I think it’s getting me tired and carrying the weight on my neck and I don’t think the photos I especially worth it compared to my iPhone so I decide to just try with the iPhone on the next day.
Wandworth and Putney
I reached Putney Bridge: day 1 of the Thames path is done!
I walked from the Thames Barrier to Putney Bridge in exactly 9 hours and 32 seconds. I had planned to cover 30.5 km as that’s the distance my guidebook said it was…but with all the construction work, the multiple detours meant I covered 37.91 km (23.56 miles).
Apart from the crowds from Borough Market to Westminster Bridge, I’ve really enjoyed the walk and I’ve been very lucky with the weather too. Once the fog lifted, it’s been sunny and warm all day.
Now to have a veggie pizza and a glass of Italian white wine in Putney before I head back to my hotel to rest for the next leg the next day.