London’s Lost Route to the Sea – Kingston-upon-Thames to Weybridge

24th March 2016

Kingston-upon-Thames to Weybridge – 17.06km (10.6 miles)

Cookie and i start the day by crossing over Kingston Bridge to the North side of the Thames, this way we can follow the river as closely as possible. The weather today is looking a bit inclement so we have prepared ourselves for rain later in the day.

Once on the other side of the river we entered into Hampton Court Park, the park had a gravel path right next to the Thames and would lead us round to Hampton Court Palace. On this path we once again saw a pair of green parrots with red beaks flying between trees, bemused by this i googled why we keep seeing parrots in London, apparently they are called Kingston Parakeets and estimates are that there is about 6,000 in the wild in South London. It is not known how they were introduced into the wild but the theories are that they escaped when making the film African Queen, they escaped during storm damage in the 1987 hurricane or Jimi Hendrix released them in Carnaby street in the 1960’s. whatever the reason they were lovely birds. Shortly after i also saw a Jay singing in the trees too.

Within the first hour of walking i had reached Royal Hampton court palace, however no royalty have resided here since the 18th century. The building is a grade 1 listed palace that has seen much British history since it’s completion in 1521 and is now open to the public who can visit the palace and the grounds, the garden contains a maze and apparently the worlds largest vine.

We walked through the front garden of the palace and then crossed back over to the south side of the river, here we walked past East Molesey where we stopped in Hurst Park and had lunch over looking the Thames and Hampton on the far side. A lot of dog walkers were in the park and having lunch seemed to attract them over much to Cookies annoyance and mine come to think of it. I exchanged texts with Susan who was at work and mentioned how lucky i had been so far as the rain hadn’t arrived and the ten minutes later it chucked it down, doh!.

Luckily from East Molesey the route was tree lined which protected us a little from the rain and it was also becoming more rural, with less people walking the path than before. We passed by Sunbury lock and headed on round to Walton on the Thames passing by a lot of utility company sites that fortunately were behind a wall. At Walton on Thames there was a ‘Walk for Health’ group meeting up and as i approached they thought i was going to join them, i kindly smiled and walked past, they followed me for a while but then veered off in another direction.

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After leaving Walton on Thames it was then only a couple more miles until we were to reach Weybridge and the route was again tree lined but with more farmland to the side. At Weybridge we were then faced with a dilemma as i had not got a map and the Thames Path was to continue via a ferry, so i had to google on my phone to see if i needed to take this boat, however i soon discovered that i didn’t as you could clearly define where the Wey connects to the Thames and a short walk across Hamhaugh Island would lead us to the Thames Lock which was where we were to leave the Thames and join the Wey navigation south. This is the 1st lock on the Wey Navigation and another milestone in the journey as we would now be leaving the Thames behind and heading south. At the lock there was a little barn with some museum boards up, telling you more about the history of the waterway.

From the Thames Lock it was a short walk along the canal which was a very tranquil and peaceful section, giving us a taste of what was to come further on. There was some very exclusive residences here with large gardens and all with boats. After about a kilometre we reached the Wey Bridge the final stop for the day.

London’s Lost Route to the Sea – Putney to Kingston Upon Thames

March 23rd 2016

Putney to Kingston upon Thames – 21.78km (13.53 miles)

Putney Bridge is the start of not only the Oxford/Cambridge Boat Race but also the start of todays trek. I am on my own today as Susan is at work and Cookie has not been feeling 100% so thought it best not drag her along for 21km. As i leave the bridge and descend back down to the Thames path i am amazed by how many rowing clubs are along this stretch of road, i noticed a few rowers had Oxford  and others had Cambridge written on there sweatshirts and then a little further on all the TV crews were setting up and laying cables in preparation for the 2016 race on Sunday (27th March), i’ll need to watch it this year as i walked the whole length of the race route today.

At the end of the road out of Putney the path turned into a gravel track and is bordered by trees and the London Wetlands Centre, however on looking over to the other side of the river the area was so much more built up, you could also see Fulham Football Club. For 30 seconds the area was really peaceful, with just the sounds of the waterfowl and the odd rower going by splashing on the water and the other 30 seconds the piece was shattered by a jumbo jet going over, every minute i counted a plane going over descending and heading to Heathrow Airport, this went on all day, therefore walking for 4hrs meant that 240 planes would have flown over.

The trek today will not be a straight walk as the Thames at this part curves it’s way around the land, which means i’ll go around two big loops of the river. After completing the first loop i pass by the town of Barnes where Ninette de Valois lived in a house facing the Thames, Ninette was the founder of the Royal Ballet School. A little further on i walked by another town Mortlake where the old ‘Stag Brewery’ had been operating since 1889 and brewing Heineken and Budweiser here until it closed in December 2015, later this year it will be redeveloped, most likely changed to more luxury thameside residences.

The second loop on the river took me past Kew and Kew Gardens. The gardens have been here since 1840 and are now designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, they hold the worlds largest collection of living plants and are open to the public. I chose to eat my lunch just outside the gardens overlooking Syon House on the other side of the Thames, this house was built in 1547 and after a varied history is now the home to the Duke of Northumberland and his family. After lunch i continued on walking around the outskirts of the Old Deer Park and then on to Richmond. At this point more and more islands started appearing on the Thames which for some reason are called ‘Aits’, some of these are inhabited and have many houses on.

Just before the town of Richmond i saw a graceful Heron in the ditch that was carefully pacing around looking into the water for any fish that it can catch for it’s lunch, i stood and watch for a while, but i think he decided that lunch would not be caught here so he moved on. Richmond Lock built in 1894 and now listed was situated just before the town and is the furthest lock downstream on the thames, which was built to maintain a certain level in the water upstream of the lock, you can walk over to the other side as this is a sizeable lock and forms a bridge. Richmond is a waterside town and has a lovely promenade on it’s shore to the river which has a few bars and a place where you can hire bikes. An old steamship was also offering trips up the river, so tempting but i thought that would be cheating, may be another day.

Two more notable house’s were passed on the walk and these were Marble Hill House and Ham House, both great examples of English historical architecture and have played an important part in the history of England, they are now both owned and preserved by English Heritage and the National Trust.

It was quite a long stretch between Richmond and Kingston which was becoming quieter as the planes were becoming more distant on this section i passed by the Ham Nature Reserve, Eel Pie Island and Teddington Lock before reaching the ‘Half Mile Tree’ denoting the distance left to Kingston. The tree up until 1951 was an Elm tree believed to have been 500 years old, however this was replaced as it had become dangerous and to this day still marks the half a mile to Kingston Town. The last half mile was now becoming more built up and after a short walk through Canbury Park i arrived at Kingston Bridge.

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London’s Lost Route to the Sea -City of London to Putney

20th March 2016

City of London (Bank of England) to Putney – 15.61 Km (9.71 miles)

Today is the start of the 2016 challenge of following London’s lost route to the sea, a route taken during the Napoleonic war that would be a safe transit for the gold bullion from Portsmouth to the Bank of England and also the wages for the sailors coming back the other way. This system of canals were used only for a short period as the end of the war meant that trade could be done by the sea again and also the rise of the railways saw a much more efficient means of transport. This unfortunately means that the route is no longer navigable as much of the canal is now disused and also on private land, however there is a recognised route from Weybridge to Amberley following the canal as near as possible, the rest of the route can be quite distinguishable of which i will navigate as near to the canal as possible too.

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After parking up at Three Bridges Susan, Cookie and Myself caught a train to London Bridge followed by the London underground to Bank, on exiting the underground we came up into Threadneedle Street right outside the Bank of England and the Royal Exchange, this is an area i had not been before. The Royal Exchange was built in the 16th Century to act as a centre of commerce to the city of London, it now houses offices, luxury shops and restaurants. Just across the road from here is the Bank of England, where the gold bullion would have arrived. The Bank of England which is the central bank to England has been sited here since 1734 and is the second oldest central bank in the world.

From here we walked down towards London Bridge, which was to take us past ‘The Monument’ a column designed by Sir Christopher Wren to commemorate the great fire of London and stands 221m away from where the fire started in the bakers in Pudding Lane, there is a climb of 311 steps to the top, so decided to go to Pudding Lane rather than climb the steps up the tower. I was really disapointed in Pudding Lane, perhaps i just expected it to be olde worlde but it was very modern with offices and a small plague marking the spot where the bakers shop was, if you didn’t know it you could have walked straight past.

A short walk from here and we were at London Bridge where we would join the Thames that would be with us for the next three treks. The view of Tower Bridge was quite spectacular. Once on the other side of the Thames the path took us through Borough Market, which is a market where you wouldn’t go hungry as there is so many food stalls of all kinds from around the world. Just through the market and round the corner you are greeted with  the Golden Hinde, Sir Francis Drake’s ship that he circumnavigated the world in, at the entrance to the boat there was an explorer scout group carrying out some investitures, great place for the ceremony, you could also see that they were also taking part in the alternative Monopoly run too.

The path here was quite busy and then getting extremely busier at the Southbank, so much so it really slowed the pace down. It was a hive of activity with Yoda levitating, human statues, musicians and a guy making huge soapy bubbles, certainly an exciting stretch of footpath with so much going on. But such a contrast as you pass under Westminster Bridge the crowds just disappear and we were left with just a few people taking their Sunday afternoon stroll. At this point we have a great view of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament over the other side of the river.

We continued along the Thames and chose to have lunch in Battersea Park, as we entered the park from the road it became a more calmed atmosphere, an unusual bird call caught my attention so on looking up there were two green parrots in the trees, they flew around from tree to tree and then off to another part of the park, it was most bizarre. Another feature of Battersea Park was the large Buddhist Peace Pagoda standing just in from the Thames, the pagoda is there to inspire peace amongst all in the world and was built in 1985. After lunch we continued  on our way west along the Thames, and the area from here was to now become much more residential with large blocks of apartments that have sprung up, a quick peek in the estate agents revealed that some of the apartments cost millions, there were also many varied house boats on the river too. The path continued through the residential areas, past Prospect House where George IV frequented and into Wandsworth Park, where we saw some chalking on the ground saying ‘Almost There’ so apt for the days walk as it was true. Before long we arrived at Putney just as a second hand market was clearing up and todays walk was to finish at Putney Bridge. A short walk up the high st took us to the station where we would catch the train back.

 

 

Seaford to Eastbourne

12th March 2016

Seaford to Eastbourne – 20.72 km (12.87 miles)

A day of ups and downs it was and certainly the toughest part of the coastal walk so far, they call it the Seven Sisters but i’m sure i went up and down a lot more hills than that.

The day started in Seaford and we was to be a little delayed in setting off as just as i had got out the car and onto the promenade a little old lady called Jean fell over in front of me, i rushed over to help pick her up only to find out that she had a lot of pain in her hip and wasn’t able to get up, another couple had also stopped to help, so i decided to call an ambulance and ended up waiting about 45 minutes for it, shortly after arrival they started to deal with her so at that point i left them to it and set off.

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The first of many hills was Seaford head a climb of 80m, not a massive climb but quite steep and tested the knees straight away. At the top the beauty of the days walk was to become apparent, we were leaving the flat coast of Seaford behind and entering a dramatic landscape of undulating chalk cliffs.

Dropping down from Seaford Head took us into Cuckmere Haven, the estuary of the River Cuckmere, this meant that we were going to have an inland walk of about 1.5km to cross at the road bridge. The path that led us inland was quite muddy which meant a lot of slip sliding about. On reaching the road we crossed over to the Seven Sisters Countryside Centre which had details of the area and local walks, there was also coach loads of tourists too all walking down the beach trail path to the sea, so from here the rest of the trek was not to be alone as there would always be others walking to or from the same direction. It was probably the glorious weather that tempted everyone out as although it was a little hazy it was blue skies all round.

From Cuckmere Haven i followed the South Downs way back up to the cliff tops and started on tackling the Seven Sisters, a series of hills that have been cut in half with rolling downs one side and sheer drops on the other. There seemed to be more than seven hills and after many ups and downs and testing of the knees we dropped down into Birling Gap

Billing Gap has for a long time now been one of my favourite spots as it can be so peaceful, but today it was absolutely packed with people. It also gives you some fantastic views back towards the Seven Sisters. The coastguard cottages built here have been used in many films Birling gap is also subject to a great deal of coastal erosion as currently there are only a few cottages left compared to 1905 when there was four more. Now for me a decision needs to be made, Do i turn inland to East Dean and catch the bus or do i head on over Beachy Head to Eastbourne, the latter would be the choice, so uphill i set off once again.

The hills up to Beachy Head are higher but not so steep as the Seven Sisters. It was a more gradual climb out of Birling Gap up towards the ‘Belle Tout’ Lighthouse, now disused and converted into a luxury bed and breakfast, the light house was moved back 17m in 1999 as it was becoming to close to the crumbling edge, the whole building was raised up and put on rails to gradually move it back. A little further on we were then able to see ‘Trinity House’ the current Beachy Head Lighthouse that stands prominently in the sea at the base of the cliffs. This lighthouse has been manned for 80 years and since 1983 has been totally automated. The walk continued upwards to Beachy Head itself which stands at 164m above sea level, the highest point of the day, there is another visitor centre here and lots of tourists wandering around and some very close to the edge. From here it is to be downhill all the way into Eastbourne which i thought might be easy, but this was even more of a killer on the legs as the first bit following the south downs way was really steep. On the descent we were to get our first glimpses of Eastbourne and the pier in the far distant, the goal was in site. The end of the South Downs Way and ultimately the South Downs came abruptly to a road which was to lead us into the town, we dropped down off the road onto the Western Parade promenade. The promenade walk took us past another Martello Tower and the bandstand, that claims to be the most used in the UK, i must admit that it was quite impressive and just past this was the pier, looking good and fully open albeit with a building missing following the fire that it suffered in 2014.

The bus stop was right outside the pier and after a ten minute wait i got on the number 12 that would take me back to Seaford. It stopped in the town centre and i’m sure every foreign student in Eastbourne got on and then at Exceat loads more foreign students got on, now i was beginning to panic as i was right at the back with a dog and rucksack and needed to get off soon…….doh.

Back in Seaford i was really pleased with myself regarding the achievement today and overall, it was great to see a beautiful sunset over the English Channel. Now home and to the pub.

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Brighton to Seaford

17th October 2015

Brighton to Seaford – 23.3km (14.5 miles)

……..and the trek goes on……..!

Originally the idea of the pier to pier trek was to be from Bournemouth to Brighton, but now I’ve got to Brighton I’ve thought why stop here when England has such beautiful and varied coastline, so let’s carry on and take one pier at a time.

Brighton Pier this morning is not yet as busy with tourists as it was when I finished the last leg but seems to be more joggers and fitness walkers. From the pier I head east with cookie along Madeira Drive, the lower road that runs alongside Volks railway. A railway that is the longest running in the world since 1883.

The promenade along here houses the Brighton wheel and lots of recreational and sports facilities. At the furthest end towards the east of the promenade there is an area set aside for naturists.

As the promenade ends the pebbly beaches give way to tall white cliffs that have a marina built in front of them. The marina has been here since 1978 and following development over the years now contains 1600 berths, residential properties, retail outlets, restaurants, bars, bowling alley, cinema and gym

The marina is sheltered from the land by some very high chalk cliffs at the base of which has a long concrete path, that goes all the way to Saltdean. Which you would think would be the easiest part, but this bit I struggled with the most during the day as the sun was really warm and the path very long and unchanging.

The concrete path continued a little way past Saltdean but did not go anywhere and stopped at a large outcrop of chalk cliff. The walk from here is now to be along the top of the cliffs which is changing the whole scenery of the day. Lunch was had on a windy bench just outside Saltdean after tackling the first significant hill, i think that must have sapped my energy.

After lunch the trek took me along the top of the cliffs from Saldean to Peacehaven mainly past residential properties, however at Peacehaven we were to achieve another massive milestone and that was to cross from the worlds western hemisphere to the eastern hemisphere as we passed by 0 deg longitude or the ‘Greenwich Meridian’, a memorial marks the exact spot of the 0 deg line.

After walking past a few more streets of houses we were on to Peacehaven & Harbour Heights an open expanse of land between here and Newhaven, this would be the remotest that we would get today and quite nice to get away from urbanisation. Cookie was put back on the lead as there was quite a cliff drop here. At the top of Harbour Heights was a coastguard lookout and Newhaven Fort, you can understand why they are both here as it is such a vantage point looking out to sea and protecting the harbour. The fort has been overlooking the area since 1871 when it was built and was the largest fortification built in Sussex, it is now a museum open to the public.

As we descend down from the fort we enter into Newhaven a harbour town with a cross channel ferry port and back to flat walking for the rest of the day. We follow the River Ouse up to the swing bridge as this is the only crossing point and back down the other side to the coast again. As we leave the estuary some large ships are coming in to harbour, from where we are standing it looks like they are travelling across the land as we can’t quite see the river.

It was a pebbly walk from here for a few kilometres until we reached the foreshore and promenade of Seaford. Seaford like Bognor Regis used to have a sandy beach but pebbles were dredged up and put on the beach for sea defences, every year these stones are moved eastwards along the coast by the tide and it’s currents, so they have to be picked up and put back by the most gigantic trucks. It’ll be a never ending job as nature will always get it’s way.

We walked along the promenade at Seaford and was to finish our day at the Martello Tower. These towers were built to protect our coastline during the Napoleonic war and this was the most westerly tower that was built. It now houses a museum.

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