This walk on the Thames towpath is probably best done over two days, one from Kew to Richmond (7 kilometres) and one from Richmond to Hampton Court Palace (13 kilometres). Or you could do it in one big day!
Regardless of how long you take to walk it, this section of the Thames Towpath offers glorious parks, colourful river life, one of England’s greatest royal residences and even some wildlife.
The Thames Towpath is of course much more extensive than the Kew to Hampton Court section.
Starting in the Cotswolds, the Thames Path National Trail follows the river for 184 miles all the way to the Thames Barrier past Greenwich.
Starting from Kew Gardens Station the obvious thing to do first is to explore some of the 300 acres of Kew Gardens, with its famous Palm House, palace and observatory. Kew Gardens is not only historic and beautiful but also a world leader in botanical research.
You’ll see the stately Syon House on the other side of the river as you walk along. Henry VIII destroyed a medieval abbey here in the 16th century and this ‘little’ private home was built on the site. With 18th century remodelling by Robert Adam, a Capability Brown garden, and a butterfly house, Syon House is worth a visit on its own. But we are getting side tracked again.
You won’t be able to ignore the constant stream of aircraft on the Heathrow Airport flight path but follow the bending river past the long island of Old Isleworth, where an obelisk marks the original meridian line (now in Greenwich Park).
Before you know it you’re at Richmond Lock and the busy riverfront of pubs and boats and expensive houses. Pass under elegant Richmond Bridge, London’s oldest built in 1777.
You can leave the Thames Towpath here for a detour up into wonderful Richmond Park to see the herds of deer gracefully grazing.
Now the residential suburbs get left behind and you’d almost think you had left London. The beautiful Marble Hill House and red-brick Ham House were both once places the aristocracy came to escape the city and are now open to the public. Marble Hill was built for a royal mistress.
Eel Pie Island is the biggest on the Thames River and named for the pies (and ale) sold here from Tudor times – Henry VIII is reputed to have once supped here. In the swinging 60s the Rolling Stones played a gig here. If you have time rent a boat from Richmond and go for a little row along the river here.
Kingston-upon-Thames is approached through green meadows and Teddington Lock. At last Hampton Court Park comes into view and the gateway to the Palace.
One of my favourites of Britain’s many palaces, Hampton Court is replete with history from the times of Henry VIII and then later William and Mary. The Tudor brickwork, heraldic beasts and formal gardens are worth an afternoon’s exploration at least!
By Natasha von Geldern
Have you walked any of the Thames Towpath?