London waterside walks

This is a selection of the walks described in my book, all of which I have I have done for groups. If you book one of these walks I will donate a free copy of London's Waterside Walks


The Pool of London and Shad Thames

This walk takes you along the South Bank, which until 40 years ago was built up with wharves for handling all sorts of cargo. It was a hive of activity and not at all attractive for tourists or walkers. Today some wharves have been pulled down for modern developments, but many remain and have been converted into leisure use or luxury apartments. Fortunately the conversions have been sensitively done and allow us to appreciate the industrial architecture and even some of the atmosphere of the old Port of London. The views are stunning.

Monasteries, Lawyers and Mansions (Blackfriars - Embankment)

The Art Nouveau Black Friar pub recalls the great Dominican Monastery situated here until the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536. The River Fleet flowed into the Thames at Blackfriars until the eighteenth century. Today you can descend to the Thames Path and see the strange sight of a ghost bridge between the road and rail bridges of Blackfriars. Upstream is where the lawyers have resided since medieval times in the Inner and Middle Temple Inns of Court. In these courtyards, which are reminiscent of Oxford University Colleges, are located the Norman Temple Church and the Elizabethan Middle Temple Hall as well as barristers' chambers dating from the eighteenth century. Next you come to Somerset House, an imposing building in the classical style, which houses two of London's finest art collections - the Courtauld gallery and the Gilbert collection. Finally, you pass the Savoy, one of London's most famous hotels, and see London's oldest monument, Cleopatra's Needle, before ending up at York Watergate where you discover how far the Thames stretched before the nineteenth century embankments were built.

Canary Wharf and the West India Docks

The area known as the Isle of Dogs is actually a peninsular stretching from Aspen Way in the north to Island Gardens in the south. It was mainly desolate marshland until the West India Docks were built in 1802. They were the first of the many inland dock basins to be excavated and they roughly cover the location of this walk. First, you will pass some of the nineteenth century houses where dock officials lived, and then you enter the former dock gates beside which are some magnificent Grade I listed warehouses. These have been converted for residential and leisure use and today house the Museum in Docklands. The walk then takes you around the modern Canary Wharf development where there is a wide variety of architectural styles, street sculpture and landscaping. You will also find many reminders of the former docks, such as bridges, cranes and the remains of the dock basins themselves. Finally, you will have a chance to see the inside of Britain's tallest building, No.1 Canada Square, and look down into Norman Foster's exciting Jubilee Line Station which is described as an Underground Cathedral.

The Royal Docks

This walk takes you into a world far removed from that of central London. Here the three vast dock basins, which cover 230 acres of water, formed the largest area of inland docks in the world. They were the last to be constructed and the last to close down. The distance from end to end is equivalent to that between Marble Arch and Tower Hill. Following the closure in the 1980s almost all the surrounding buildings were pulled down and all that were left was three long stretches of water. A few historic structures remain, including nineteenth century warehouses, cranes and the Gallions Hotel where passengers used to stay before boarding their ocean liners. Today the area is being regenerated and you will see several exciting modern developments on the waterfront, including the ExCeL Exhibition Centre and the new University of East London campus

Rotherhithe and the Surrey Docks

This whole area was covered by the dock basins and warehouses of the former Surrey Docks until the 1970s. Most have now been filled in and converted into housing, industrial buildings or landscaped parkland. The remaining areas of water provide an attractive setting for the new developments as well as a reminder of the history of the Docks. After walking past two of the old dock basins and through the new Nature Park you come to the village of Rotherhithe. This has always been associated with seafarers and nautical trades, and today still retains its village atmosphere. Two important events started here - the setting out of the Mayflower to America in 1620, and the building of the Thames Tunnel by Marc and Isambard Kingdom Brunel in 1834. You will see Brunel's Engine House, the Mayflower Pub and St Mary's Church where Christopher Jones, Captain of the Mayflower, is buried.

Richmond

Richmond is one of the very few towns in England to have changed its name in the last 1,000 years. It was originally called Sheen. Then In 1501 Henry VII built his great palace here and he decided to rename the town Richmond after his estates in Richmond, Yorkshire. As you walk across Richmond Green, you find the surprising sight of the gateway to a Tudor palace, and beyond that some more Tudor buildings which formed the palace wardrobe. You then come to the banks of the Thames with attractive pubs, and signs warning of the dangers of flooding. The river scene is framed by the eighteenth century Richmond Bridge, which is the oldest existing bridge in the London area. After the bridge, you find a grotto which takes you under the main road into the stunningly beautiful Terrace Gardens, with its many exotic trees and flowers. You climb to the top and when you turn round you see one of the most famous views in England which so impressed a man from Virginia, USA, that he gave the name Richmond to the State capital.

Greenwich

Greenwich is where time begins. Since the international conference of 1884, Greenwich Mean Time has been the standard from which all the world's times are worked out. When you reach the Royal Observatory, you can stand astride the meridian line that divides the eastern and western hemispheres. The town is steeped in maritime history. Here you will see the Cutty Sark, champion of the tall clippers that sailed with tea from China and wool from Australia. The Royal Naval Hospital, later the Royal Naval College, was built in the seventeenth century by several of Britain's most distinguished architects and can be visited without charge. Entry to the Queen's House, Royal Maritime Museum and Royal Observatory is also free. In fact, it is best to set aside at least a whole day to do justice to Greenwich, starting with this walk to whet your appetite.

Hammersmith and Chiswick

People travelling by car along the busy Great Western Road must find it hard to envisage the two delightful villages that still hug the river just out of sight. You will start the walk with the deafening noise of Hammersmith Flyover. Soon you leave the noise behind as you walk to Bazalgette's decorative Hammersmith Bridge. You now walk along the side of the river past several attractive riverside houses and historic pubs until you reach Kelmscott, the former London home of William Morris. Soon after this, Hammersmith becomes Chiswick. The houses here are even more exclusive despite the sometimes powerful smell emanating from the brewery. Near the end you come to the Parish Church of St Nicholas, where William Hogarth is buried. His former house is nearby and can be visited without charge.

Kew and Strand on the Green

Kew is most famous for the Royal Botanic Gardens. However the walker will also find many unexpected delights both around Kew Green and along the riverside. The first surprise on this walk is the vast modern building which now houses the Public Records Office. St Anne's Church on Kew Green is an idiosyncratic mixture of Byzantine and classical styles. The tomb of Thomas Gainsborough is in the churchyard. The Green retains its old village atmosphere: fine eighteenth century houses, many with royal connections, surround its perimeter, and cricket has been played here for over 250 years. Over the other side of the river you will find the Kew Bridge Steam Museum with its dramatic tall tower, visible for miles around. Finally, you will walk along the Strand on the Green riverside path past houses bedecked with mimosa trees, wisteria and vines and arrive at two historic pubs.

The Regent's Canal

On this walk you will explore part of the Regent's Canal, built in 1820 to complete the link between London and the industrial Midlands. Most of the walk is along the towpath, but there is one small diversion where the canal goes under the Maida Hill Tunnel. You start at the attractive waters of Little Venice where the Regent's Canal joins the Paddington Arm of the Grand Union Canal which was constructed in 1801. Here are brightly coloured inhabited barges on the water and roads lined with fine nineteenth century stuccoed houses. Further on, you come to a more industrial stretch which reminds you that the original purpose of the canal was to transport goods for commercial and industrial use. Passing under several bridges you then come to another attractive area as the canal passes the north side of Regent's Park and London Zoo. After more reminders of the industrial past the walk ends at the lively Camden Lock Market

Brentford and the Grand Union Canal

Brentford is situated at the confluence of the Thames and Brent Rivers and in former times at least one of them could be forded, hence its name. In the eighteenth century the Grand Union Canal was constructed to link London to the industrial Midlands, using the lower reaches of the River Brent to join up with the Thames. After seeing the impressive Jacobean Boston Manor, you will walk along the canalised River Brent past interesting former industrial sites and various locks, both manned and unmanned. At the end of the canal is Brunel's Brentford Dock, now turned into a marina and residential estate with fine views across the Thames to Kew Gardens. Returning from the dock and canal you will find a charming seventeenth century square known as The Butts - so-called because the area was used for archery in medieval times.

The Fleet River source

Three of London's hidden rivers have their sources in the hills of Hampstead. The Westbourne and Tyburn rivers today flow completely underground as overflow sewers and only emerge when they enter the Thames at Chelsea and Pimlico respectively. The River Fleet also runs mainly underground, but you will trace its early stages overground on this walk. You begin in the streets and alleyways of Hampstead village where in the eighteenth century crowds flocked to take the waters at the chalybeate springs. These have long since dried up, but when you come to Hampstead Heath you will see the embryonic River Fleet emerge from a pond at the Vale of Health. You then walk through the natural wooded countryside of Hampstead Heath following the course of the river which feeds three large ponds at the bottom of the Heath before disappearing underground through a grille. It is possible to continue the walk tracing the underground course of the Fleet from here, but there is little of interest to see, so I recommend taking a bus to St Pancras Old Church where you find the next outward sign of the river - an eighteenth century engraving showing people bathing in the Fleet with St Pancras Church in the background

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© Copyright Brian Cookson BA (OXON) 2008