THE THAMES PATH
Stage 9: Windsor to Hampton Court
Thursday, June 16, 2011
On my way back to Windsor to resume my walk along the Thames Path, a series of rain showers seemed to defy the official forecast of fine and warm weather. By the time I rejoined the Thames Path at the southern end of Windsor Bridge (picture 1) at around nine o'clock, it was looking like the rain was set to hang around for some time.
From Windsor Bridge the path descends some steps to return to the towpath where a large boat called Magna Carta was moored (picture 2). The river curves slightly to the left here, giving some good views back towards Windsor Bridge (picture 3).
The path soon leaves the buildings of Windsor behind and follows a fence-lined footpath parallel to a railway line and then between some red-brick buildings and through a small boatyard, where I left the trail briefly to visit Romney Lock (picture 4). This is one of the newest locks on the Thames, having last been rebuilt in 1980.
The route follows the river as it bends to the right and passes under the Black Potts Railway Bridge before continuing along a shady path beside the playing fields of Home Park for another 600 metres to reach Victoria Bridge. The path heads to the right away from the river for about fifty metres to climb up to the road and cross the bridge via the downstream footpath. From the bridge there were good views across to the neat tree-lined banks of Home Park as a narrowboat labelled Quarriers Quest, Scotland passed under the bridge (picture 5).
At the far end of the bridge, the route heads down some steps and along a narrow strip of woodland next to Datchet Golf Course, before heading up to meet Windsor Road, which is followed through the village of Datchet for more than a kilometre. As I joined the road it began to rain and I was forced to stop and put on my wet weather gear before crossing to the footpath on the other side of the road and following it to the right.
The first half of this stretch of road walking is close to the river and at one point a little park gives a good view across the river to Double Cottages (picture 6), which is an interesting name, as there appears to be only one cottage.
When the line of houses ends, the path crosses back over to the right-hand side of the road and crosses a small plank bridge and through a gap in the hedge. This would be an easy place to get lost as the waist-high post bearing a waymarker disc was almost entirely hidden by foliage.
From here the narrow field-edge path parallels the road behind the hedge for about 150 metres before passing through another hedge into a second field and turning right to follow that hedge back down towards the riverbank (picture 7). By now the rain had abated, but the long grass by the path was still wet and I was glad to be wearing my waterproof overtrousers which did a good job of keeping my trousers and socks dry.
A few hundred metres further, the path reaches the Albert Bridge (picture 8), passing under the bridge and then circling around to the left to cross over the river.
As I crossed over the bridge, I saw what I'm fairly sure is the same small sailing boat that I had seen on the river as I left Reading three days earlier, this time being rowed down the river with the sail stowed away (picture 9).
The route heads down some steps at the end of the bridge and soon passes Old Windsor Weir (picture 10), where the river flows off to the left but the Thames Path continues ahead along the long New Cut, dug in 1822, which shortcuts a lengthy loop in the river. Near the end of the New Cut, the path passes along the side of Old Windsor Lock (picture 11).
Downstream from the lock, the path soon starts to pass the houses of Old Windsor, with the path meeting the A308 Windsor Road near the Bells of Ouzeley pub (picture 12).
A few hundred metres further, the path crosses the county border from Berkshire into Surrey and then the road and the path part company as the path passes to the left of the twin Fairhaven Memorial Lodges, while the road runs between them (picture 13). From here, I followed the path along the river's edge by the famous meadows of Runnymede (picture 14), where King John signed the Magna Carta in June 1215.
For a little more than a kilometre the road is never very far away from the path until the river bends sharply to the left to pass by a large park where several tents had been pitched on the path and the small sailing boat passed slowly by once again (picture 15). On the other side of the park, the river curves back to the right and the path passes by the clubhouse of the Wraysbury Skiff and Punting Club (picture 16).
The path continues along the towpath on the outskirts of the town of Egham, passing a line of bungalows with one much larger building in the middle, before crossing through a boatyard where I got to see a narrowboat out of the water (picture 17), revealing that they are flat-bottomed and need less than a metre of water.
Just past the boatyard I spotted some interesting buildings on the opposite bank of the river (picture 18), but so far I have been unable to discover what they are. Beyond these, the path passes along the edge of Bell Weir Lock (picture 19), where the familiar sailing boat was waiting in the lock.
Leaving the lock, the path passes the large Runnymede-on-Thames Hotel and then passes under the M25 Motorway Bridge, which carries both the M25 and the A30. I did not follow the path under the bridge however, as just before the bridge a sign indicated the beginning of a lengthy diversion around a closed section of the Thames Path (picture 20).
The diversion signs directed me onto a footpath that runs across the M25 Motorway Bridge, before descending and turning right to head under the M25 and along the B376 Wraysbury Road. For some distance the road passes houses on the left and then a lake before turning right into the Lammas Recreation Ground. A footpath through the recreation ground (picture 21) soon led back to the riverbank, which I followed for a short distance to the edge of the park, where the temporary route turned right onto Church Street and followed it through a residential area, eventually turning right onto Bridge Street.
Bridge Street runs back to the river at Staines Bridge where I rejoined the official Thames Path route which comes over the bridge from the Egham bank. The diversion had been about 2.5km long, bypassing about 1.5km of the official route.
From the northern end of Staines Bridge, the Thames Path descends steps from the upstream pavement and passes under the bridge (picture 22). the riverside path leads past a grand semicircular building then crosses the confluence of the River Colne by a footbridge before reaching a small riverside park where a metal sculpture stands in front of the historic Staines Town Hall (picture 23). Further on, past a carpark, the broad riverside footpath goes under the Staines Railway Bridge and shortly passes by the late-Victorian St Peter's Church, which has a rather unusual looking spire (picture 24).
For a little over a kilometre the path passes a series of apartment blocks and then houses. Reaching a left-hand bend in the river, the path crosses a small expanse of open grass before rejoining the riverside footpath which runs along to Penton Hook Lock (picture 25). The lock shortcuts across a long loop in the river, which flows around the large raindrop-shaped Penton Hook Island to the south of the lock.
Beyond the lock, the Thames Path follows the access road, which crosses over the intake channel of the Queen Mary Reservoir. When the road bends away from the river, the route continues ahead on a well-worn gravel track and soon begins passing the houses of the village of Laleham. Before long, the gravel path becomes a single-lane road called Thames Side, and after a few hundred metres this road joins a more substantial road, also called Thames Side. The Thames Path runs along the grass between the road and the river, passing Laleham Park, where there were a huge number of tents and caravans. Along this stretch of the path there were some nice views over the river, with the afternoon reflecting off the water making a welcome contrast to the morning's wet weather (picture 26).
The route runs under the M3 Motorway Bridge (picture 27), before following the grassy path beside the road past a chalet park and up to Chertsey Lock (picture 28).
Below the lock, the path follows Thames Side for the short walk to Chertsey Bridge (picture 29), built of stone in 1785, leaving the road to take a footpath under an arch of the bridge and through a wooden gate into Dumsey Meadow. The path stays close to the water as the river curves to the left around the meadow, eventually coming back up next to the road from Chertsey Bridge.
The river soon veers away from the road again and the path passes the shady Ryepeck Meadow Moorings, where around a dozen houseboats were moored. A few hundred metres further, the towpath becomes a narrow road which passes houses and heads around a sharp left-hand bend in the river. After another 500 metres the path passes the Thames Court pub (picture 30) then soon passes along the edge of Shepperton Lock (picture 31). Just below the lock, the Thames Path crosses the river from Shepperton to Weybridge via a small ferry (picture 32), where walkers must ring a bell to summon the ferryman on the quarter hour.
As I waited, a large bank of dark clouds rolled in from the west, and by the time I stepped off the ferry and onto the Weybridge bank of the Thames the first few drops of rain were falling and I had to pause to put my wet weather gear on for the second time.
A short distance downstream from the ferry landing, the path passes the small D'Oyly Carte Island, where a private footbridge leads over to a house (picture 33). The Thames Path sticks to the southern bank however, and continues along the Desborough Cut, a kilometre long channel dug in 1935 to cut out a long loop of the river that runs via Shepperton. As I followed the surfaced footpath along the tree-lined cut, the rain became heavier (picture 34), but this only lasted for about ten minutes and by the time I reached the small road bridge across the far end of the cut the rain had stopped. Despite the rain, several rowing crews were practicing along this part of the river (picture 35).
Just below the bridge, the longer loop of the river rejoins from the north and about four hundred metres later the Thames Path reaches Walton Bridge (picture 36). By the bridge there was a small picnic area and a kiosk called Cafe Gino, where I stopped for a nice hamburger.
After passing underneath Walton Bridge, the Thames Path crosses over the entrance of a large marina before continuing past the houses of the town of Walton-on-Thames. Along this stretch of the river the sun returned and there were a large number of swans on the water (picture 37).
Having passed the last houses of Walton-on-Thames, the path becomes more enclosed by trees, which screen off various industrial sites as the path runs for another kilometre and a half to reach Sunbury Lock, where there are actually two locks side-by-side (picture 38).
For the next two kilometres, the path remains fairly enclosed, running between the river and the walls of the Molesey Reservoirs. Part of the way along this stretch, the path passes some large concrete cubes left over from England's wartime anti-tank defences (picture 39). Eventually the path reaches the houses of West Molesey, where somebody had carved a bush into a living sculpture of a child riding on the back of a bird (picture 40).
Soon the river begins to bear away from the houses and the Thames Path follows the broad riverside path through Hurst Park, once the site of a racecourse, where the first high-rise building since Reading gives a sure sign that the Thames Path is approaching Greater London (picture 41). Further into the park, the path passes a circle of unusual seats (picture 42), from which there was a good view across the river to Hampton Church (picture 43).
Continuing along the edge of Hurst Park as the river curves to the right, the path passes the large Tagg's Island, where several dozen large floating homes were moored (picture 44). The word "houseboat" doesn't really seem adequate to describe these vessels, most of which were at least two stories high.
At the end of Hurst Park, the path passes more houses as it runs past the large Molesey Weir (picture 45) and up to Molesey Lock (picture 46). Just below the lock, the Thames Path heads up to the southern end of Hampton Court Bridge (picture 47), where I left the path for the day. My GPS indicated that I had covered around 32.6km of the trail, my longest day's walking in England so far.
From the end of Hampton Court Bridge it was no more than 100 metres to Hampton Court Station, where I had only a short wait for a train to central London.