27 October 2009

Thames walk

An irregular pleasure of mine is catching the train from Richmond to Queenstown Road (the quietest station on the line to London) and then walking home following the Thames' meandering route.

The walk starts in earnest in Battersea Park which is a wonderful mix of the Victorian and the Modern.

There are rose gardens, a bandstand and a natural looking lake but head North towards the Thames and you find some Art Deco treasures that shock and amuse in equal measure.

The large water features are the first to catch the eye but it is the detail that gives the most pleasure, such as the design of the seats and the decorations in the water.

Battersea Park was designed for promenading so there are many routes through it, each of which reveal different aspects of the park. What is meant as a long walk starts out as an exploration.

The Thames was my companion for the day and rewarded me with exquisite views of London.

The Thames is also a playful animal and it chose this morning to be at its lowest exposing large areas of the river bed and trapping boats on the new shore.

London has been an uneven friend to the Thames over the years and this is reflected in the mixed use of the river bank.

There are some large sections of derelict looking industrial areas, some still active industrial areas and, forcing there way on to the scene, new blocks of flats that attempt to defy the logic of living in areas designed for industry.

The invasion of flats is most obvious in Wandsworth where there is a baffling choice of modern residences offering river views and modern cafe society living.

The river views are there as promised but the cafe society has not yet made the transition from promotional panels to reality.

The ground floor properties where Starbucks and Pret a Manger were meant to be are instead still empty or occupied by bland offices.

This picture shows a complete lack of people and without people you do not have a cafe society.

The other problem with the Wandsworth section of the walk is the way that the river walk is interrupted by new flats and old industries that force you away from the river far too often.

And also far too often the river walk reaches a dead-end without any warning forcing you to retrace your steps to look for a route around the unexpected obstruction.

Towards the end of Wandsworth the river walk comes in to its own as the industry and the flats lose out to trees and bushes.

There are formal tree-lined avenues of trees in places like Wandsworth Park and more natural paths the rest of the way.

I'm not too sure where I took this picture, it could have been Barnes, Mortlake or Kew, but it does not really matter.

The point is you can walk for miles and miles surrounded by trees and with the river by your side and so can almost forget that you are in the middle of a large city.

Only the frequent planes overhead remind you that this wilderness is a thin veneer and that at any moment you can step to one side and rejoin the city. But the call of the city is weak and is deafened by the gentle murmur of the trees so I stayed with the river all the way home.

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