Happy Birthday Thames Path!
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Walk the trail with Load Off Your Back
Walk beside water and there’s always
something to catch your attention. Ducks
dabbling. Herons fishing. The odd small boat perhaps. A fisherman or two. Walk beside the Thames and the potential for
activity cranks up a few notches. Walk
the Thames through central London, however, and it’s off the scale.
I love my country rambles, a chance to see
nature at close quarters and catch up with a friend whilst we get fit for
free. So the idea of walking 10 miles
on level tarmac through the heart of our capital city was certainly
different. But my friend and I both
love historic sites, iconic buildings, and new discoveries, so the Thames Path
through London ticked all our boxes for a winter walk without mud or slippery
And what started as a day’s ramble from
Blackfriars to North Greenwich has sown the seeds for a far more ambitious hike
to discover more of the Thames Path trail, which this year celebrates its 20th
Britain has some outstanding National
Trails but the Thames Path is the only one that hugs a river bank for almost its entire
length. The trail starts in Gloucester
and winds its way through quiet countryside towards Oxford, before swinging
south towards Pangbourne and Marlow, Windsor and Battersea, finishing up at the
Thames Barrier – a distance of just over 180 miles.
But first things first. Living on a commuter line into London, we set
out to tackle just the final stretch over a few hours with coffee and lunch
stops built in. So we jumped off the
train at Blackfriars and set off along the South Bank trail at low tide. Beachcombers
wandered the shore as we passed the distinctive outlines of Tate Modern and The
Globe Theatre, The Shard and the Mayor of London’s wonky oval office.
On the north shore, away across the
Millennium pedestrian bridge, huge cranes reared up amongst the skyscrapers of
the city. The Gherkin. The Cheesegrater. The Walkie Talkie. But suddenly we slipped back in time as we
passed HMS Belfast and opposite, the 1000-year-old splendour of the Tower of
London. And that was just the first
half an hour.
Sections of the trail were familiar to
us. We’d been to a restaurant here, a
wine bar there. But beyond Tower
Bridge, the cafes began to thin out, and we found ourselves skirting smart new
residential developments where once pirates lay in wait for merchant ships
queueing to unload at the crowded docks.
And as we walked, so the history of London
unfolded through wayside information panels and at viewpoints. Our heart strings were tugged by the bronze
effigies of Dr Alfred Salter and his wife Ada Brown who lived amongst the slums
of Bermondsey at the turn of the 20th century, desperately trying to help
London’s poorest people. They paid the
ultimate price for their philanthropy, losing their 10-year-old daughter Joyce
in 1910 to scarlet fever, but the whole family are now together forever at a
riverside terrace looking back to Tower Bridge.
Nearby we found the foundations of King
Edward III’s manor house at Rotherhithe which once fronted the river,
surrounded on three sides by a moat. The
gloriously atmospheric Mayflower Pub too which stands close to where the
Pilgrim Fathers set sail for America. Ship’s captain – Christopher Jones – is buried nearby in the churchyard
of St Mary the Virgin.
Every one of our 26,500 steps (yes, I have
an App!) brought new views as we followed the dramatic meanders around Canary
Wharf and Greenwich Park. We said hello
to the animals at the Surrey Docks Farm and took our turns to pose in the giant
chair beside a statue of Russian Czar Peter the Great, who learned shipbuilding
here for four months in 1698. We
marvelled at the Cutty Sark and the Royal Naval Hospital; looked downriver beside
a statue of Nelson; and watched the Emirates Cable Cars glide silently overhead
as we stood beside the 02.
By the time we stepped back on the Jubilee
Line at North Greenwich, we’d not only enjoyed 10 miles of iconic river scenery
but had also been fired up to explore more of this spectacular waterway. We’d like to walk sections of the young
river through that lush Cotswolds countryside; explore around Windsor,
Runnymede and Hampton Court; and discover the north bank trail through the City
We could, of course, plan our own trip, but we’ve found a better way, thanks to Ramblers Worldwide Holidays.
Their Load Off Your Back programme does
exactly what it says – takes care of all the holiday planning, leaving you to
enjoy the walking on any one of 16 long distance trails.
Routes are broken down into well-researched
sections so you can choose to do all or part of the trail. Accommodation is pre-booked near the route
and luggage taken on for you each day. And because the walking is independent, using maps and guidebooks
provided by Load Off Your Back, you can start on any day of the week and walk
for as many days as you want between April and October.
And for Home Counties walkers who just want
to enjoy a bite-sized walk through the history of London, Authentic London Walks
run gentle, guided circuits of two hours each. Areas include Covent Garden; Primrose Hill and Camden Town; and
Highgate. But be warned – from such
modest rambles do hiking ambitions grow. Before you know it, you could be striding our National Trails too!
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