28 August 2014

The Long Walk*

I have done variants of this walk a few times but, for various reasons, last did one in 2008 (one of the reasons that I do this blog is so that I can keep a record of what I have done when).

This time the walk started at Vauxhall just because that seemed an interesting place to start and that is where the train stopped, and it did not stop at Queen's Town Road Battersea where I have started some of the previous walks.

There is a complex of flats and offices to the west of Vauxhall Bridge that almost mimics the MI5 building on the east side.

The flats are on the north side of the block facing the river and the offices are on the south side facing the bus and railway stations. Lambeth Council had some offices there when I worked for them and I visited them a few times. This time though I marched straight past following the Thames Path west towards home.

The first part of the walk is the part that I find the most interesting because of the variety. Historically this was a heavily industrial area, and parts of it still are, with the busy river on the north and dense social house to the south. More recently brash blocks of flats have punctured the area providing incongruous clumps of prestigious looking housing surrounded by much less salubrious buildings.

I presume that the developers hope, and they may be right, that if they build sufficient expensive housing then this will change the character of the area so that the industry and social housing becomes the exception rather than the norm. This has not worked yet as most of the ground floor commercial units hoping to be coffee shops etc. are still empty and there is little sign of the happy residents walking long the rover path that are featured in the publicity materials. This part of the walk has many tall blocks of flats but the area is eerily quiet.

One area that is working particularly hard to come up in the world is that around the famous Battersea Power Station which, after many false starts, is finally being converted in to something useful, even if it is exceedingly expensive flats. It should all look very different the next time that I do this walk.

As with some other industrial parts, I was forced to leave the river for a while as the Thames Path took a detour around the obstruction.

I was able to rejoin the river at Battersea but rather than head there directly I took a route through Battersea Park. It is easy to see why.

From then on the Thames Path stuck pretty well to the Thames and that meant that walking under a lot of bridges. I always forget how many of them there are. The rod bridges are fairly easy to remember but there are a lot of rail and tube bridges too.

The Albert Bridge, at one end of Battersea Park, is probably the prettiest, though it does not look at its best at low tide. Nor on a cloudy day.

The Wandsworth section was one of mixed use. There was industry here too but it was smaller scale and so easier to walk around and it did not take me too far from the river, unlike at Battersea.

There were a couple of minor tributaries and cuttings seeping slowly in to the Thames, notably the Wandle which always reminds me of the lines "Where the waters of the Wandle do, Lugubriously flow" from John Betjeman's South London Sketch.

Wandsworth was also where I saw two armies prepare for battle. In one corner of Wandsworth Park an army of mums and toddlers prepared themselves with some form of extreme yoga while in the far corner the army of elders preferred the elegance of Tai Chi. The battle of technique and experience against fitness and youth would have been good to watch but I had a walk to do and so I move on.

It is around this point that I realised that I had left the London City behind and had escaped to the (mostly) low-rise sub-urban towns of  Clapham, Wandsworth, Putney, Barnes and Richmond. The scale was a lot more human and the places were too with more people out and about doing things that needed, or wanted, to be done.

The spaces between the towns grew too, especially around the Barnes Bump, and for periods there were few, if any, buildings in sight. This was a very peaceful part of the walk but visually uninspiring so I have no pictures of it.

The former Harrods Furniture Depository was something of an intrusion in to the rural landscape but it was such a pretty intrusion that I easily forgave it.

The Barnes/Mortlake conurbation brought me back in to the world of bricks and cars for a while before I ventured off again around the Kew headland with just the occasional bridge for distraction.

I also had lunch in the Barnes Pizza Express, as is the rule with these walks.

The mix of areas is one of the nice things about the route. There are times when I am walking slowly, taking the sights in and photographing a lot of them, and other times when all I have is an empty path in front of me and the opportunity to up the pace and to make it a proper walk.

I had planned to walk all the way home, as I usually do, and while the legs were willing the feet objected and I decided to stop at Richmond. I probably should have work some better shoes (not walking shoes, obviously, because I would not be seen in a pair) but even if I had, the long curve past Kew Gardens is cruel to feet with its hard uneven surface. It is even worse to cycle on.

For the first time I was able to use MapMyWalk on this walk, that is where the route map at the top comes from, and that tells me that I walked 25.3km in 4 hours 22 minutes. That was an average pace of 1km every 10:20 minutes, just a shade under 6km/hour. I was quite pleased with that. I normally manage to walk at just under a 10 minute pace so managing a pace of 10:20 on a long walk with several pauses for photographs seemed good.

*PS. The Long Walk is, of course, a reference to Judge Dredd.

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