Friday, May 05, 2006

Tales of the Riverbank

Prompted by the need to rise early today and move my car out of Hounslow Council's street-cleaning team, I decided that today was the day that I would make an attempt on walking some of the Thames Path eastwards to central London. The excursions over the last weekend between Kew and Teddington, both ending in Richmond came more or less as impulse treks: this particular walk had been fulminating since returning from Paris some weeks ago.

So Bondi & I left the house at 8am, bottled water and a thermos of coffee bundled into my bag. The early stages of the journey through the great bends of Mortlake and Barnes, passing the London Wetland at the 10km mark were very pleasant. Bondi took a few opportunities to drop into the Thames for a swim and we reached Putney Bridge at 10.15am.

After this the Thames Path takes an increasing number of diversions from the Thames itself as other structures start intruding onto the river front. Indeed there were a number of times where we had to double back a few hundred metres, as the apparent path was cut off, or the signage (either saying Riverside Walk or Thames Path) indicated the wrong direction. There seemed to be some bias towards helping westbound walkers too, so it's just as well that I had a street map to consult from this point. I took a seat at a riverside cafe in Putney (the first we'd encountered along our walk) but they were all out of breakfasty/elevenses snacky food, so it was back on the trail.

The day was beginning to warm up, and being forced "onto the streets" meant there was none of the continuous shade afforded by the trees by the river. I stopped for a "breakfast stick" from a roadside van while Bondi flopped down on the footpath, enjoying the vapours of sausages and bacon.

As we entered Battersea, Bondi took a longer dip but had trouble leaving the tidal flat as he sank up to his elbows in silt. Eventually I lead him around a rocky path near some beached barges and back onto the path.

We got to Battersea Park just after noon. Bondi and I had spent our last afternoon in the UK there back in September, immediately prior to our first jaunt to the continent. It was a rather wet day then, in great contrast to today's glorious sunshine. As we neared some shady trees for a rest, I saw a spooked mastiff, its leash tied to a chair, now dragging that chair like a child's balloon as it took off in a mad dash around a large bed of flowers. It settled back down again, as did we for about 45 minutes. It seemed to be big dog day at Battersea Park: more mastiffs, a malamute and a large white Alsatian (possibly crossed with something else) turned up during our break.

Battersea Park was my tentative destination for today, but having reached it by 12, I looked at the map, and decided to proceed into the city - Piccadilly Circus to be precise - where we could get a direct train back to South Ealing.

Striking out again from this lovely park, we were now on the least pleasant part of our journey, being continually diverted back to main roads in order to circle some new civic or apartment development. Battersea Power Station is in the throes of a massive redevelopment as a cultural and commercial centre, but for now it was a long hot walk down Battersea Park Road (past the famous Dogs & Cats Home) and then to Lambeth. Around here we spied the towers of the Westminster Houses of Parliament for the first time, and shortly thereafter, the London Eye.

Bondi took his last dip in the Thames here, as we encountered a slipway near St Georges Wharf. This development has a rather extreme blue colouration, and "winged" roof peaks to symbolise your money flying away as the design dated faster than an Ikea beanbag. Back in the water, Bondi made up a temporary furry island in the Thames: after swimming about a bit, he lay down in the water facing against the current, a dopey grin, plainly enjoying the cooling off.

We crossed the Thames at Westminster Bridge, passing by Big Ben. This is the first time in all my visits to London that I've actually seen these buildings.

Moving through Whitehall, we passed the entrance to Downing Street (now gated). The Lord Mayor of London's Town Crier (Peter Moore) happened to be on the street and while he was asking about Bondi, my tired companion flopped down at his feet. When the Town Crier knelt down to say hello it provided an excellent opportunity for a photo.

After that it wasn't long before we were on the underground at Piccadilly Circus and Ealing-bound at 3pm. Bondi flopped down on the floor of the carriage, stretched out to his fullest extent and every camera-phone in the carriage was whipped out for the occasion.

I've just calculated our walk today as 25km (15 1/2 miles) - almost exactly double the distance as the crow flies. The blackline on the map shows the path taken today, and the red line shows the additional walks done of the weekend....zzzzzz

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