The Thames Path is a National Trail that runs for 183 miles from the source of the Thames in Kemble in the Cotswolds, down to the Thames Barrier in Charlton. It was first proposed in 1948 and opened in 1996. For us Londoners looking for peaceful walks on summer’s days, there are plenty of city stretches to choose from that you can fit in at the weekend and this website has really useful info on manageable Thames Path walks.
James and I started off from Kingston where James studied Creative Writing and Film Studies at the university. As soon as we arrived it began to rain heavily, so we ducked into The Terrace – an excellent lunch place serving a huge selection of sandwiches and salads that is a staple for students and families in the town. The rain abated somewhat though the sky remained grey – and for us two pale skinned humans these were the perfect conditions for a long walk by the river: warm and balmy but without the beating heat of direct sunlight.
We walked along the path to Teddington, heading ultimately for Richmond, passing the houses of billionaires across the other side and the children of wealthy parents practicing their sailing techniques. A particularly obnoxious family, sweating like overfed pugs in the sun, revelled in sending their expensive mini motorised speedboats up and down the river. The sound of them bellowed down the waterway, loud as Formula 1 cars, sending waterfowl scattering in fright.
In contrast, there are many houseboats moored on the river banks, with peeling paint and neglected pot plants surviving amongst detritus abandoned on the roofs of the vessels. A moorhen made her nest in a tiny rowing boat tethered to such a boat: once white, now greyed and unmoving. The little boat tilted over to one side with the weight of her construction. Nearby, a crested grebe had made a similar nest resembling a huge pile of twigs. She was on high alert – ready to fight off the curious moorhen and Canada goose that drifted nearby.
As always, the green parakeets shrieked in the trees. We saw mute swan families: mother, father and signets, and mallards with their sweet little fluffed ducklings, peeping and swimming frantically after mum. And just moments after James wished for a cormorant – a bird of good omen – one flew over Teddington lock and skimmed the water, before rising back up and sailing into the warm open air.
This would be a wonderful path to cycle down, but one of the pleasures of walking means you notice so many things: like a small beach, pebbly and peaceful, that reminded me of the waterside beauty of the Lake District. We sat in a tree that hung over the water and touched the gnarled bark and the bright green leaves, and let the cool breeze blow over us.
Then a detour on the path to our right: it opened up into a beautiful field of tall green and yellow grass, swaying gently. Orange and black butterflies darted to and fro and crickets jumped between the stems. We parted the grass and saw a white, glistening slug ooze its way away from the light, deeper down to safety. Then we lay down on the path and breathed in the warm air. The trees swayed, and sighed, and the birds sang to each other in so many different trills and tones. Wonderful bliss, wonderful peace: this is where life really is. This is when my heart is still and its tendrils reach out to feel the breeze and it beats in time to the rhythms of the earth, and I know that all that – all that we worry about – isn’t real at all.
Richmond appeared on the hill and we walked along the riverbank to the pubs and restaurants where people gathered and chattered. Incredibly, five or six herons flew over the water and one by one, nestled into the trees on the opposite bank, huddled together. I’ve never seen more than two in each other’s company before. Perhaps, when they know the night is drawing in, they agree upon a resting place and affirm that safety in numbers is the most sensible option. Wide wings down, cries quiet, these graceful white birds stood in the leaves and watched us from a safe distance as the clouds rolled across the sky. Soon after, we began the long journey back home.