Walk 1: Richmond to Hampton Court
resolution, (n.) A firm decision to do or not do something.
2019, the first part of my new year’s resolution is to go for a walk every weekend. The second part of my resolution is write about each walk.
I’m quite pleased with this resolution, as it combines two of my favourite things, walking and writing, and means I have a firm plan to do both every week. I like plans, not too rigorous ones, no laminated spreadsheets, but a good outline with some key pointers, allowing the rest just to happen as it happens. And walks are excellent non planning, planned activities – with a start and end point decided, the only other things needed are a good pair of walking shoes and, if possible, a good companion.
My first walk of the year was a London walk, between Richmond Station and Hampton Court Station. An unsuspecting Max accompanied me (I suspect he hadn’t quite clocked how far I was planning for us to walk), and it took place on a Saturday.
I have dallied with walks along the Thames, mainly between Wandsworth and Chiswick, but never properly explored this part. Richmond was busy, but we soon left the town centre, heading along the river to the ever popular Petersham Nurseries. There is an unusual field (I think it is called Petersham Meadows) but it really does look like an out-of-place field, that you must cross before you reach the actual Nurseries.
Petersham is Petersham, it’s clever, and very beautiful, old green houses turned into trendy coffee shops, and a restaurant, with all sorts of plants and interior things you probably don’t need, but will look very pretty for a year or so. We did not stop to have a coffee and some cake, but if you were in need of sustenance, this would be a nice place to stop, but beware, there are queues.
Leaving Petersham we followed a narrow path between high walls with beautiful old houses behind them, and then came out into some woodland, past the local scout hut and eventually out onto the river. We past Ham House on our left, a grand house built in 1610 for James I by Sir Thomas Vavasour.
On we went, and on the other side of the river appeared Marble Hill House – far more my type of architecture, a splendid white Palladian villa, almost doll’s house-esque in it’s architectural symmetry, built between 1724-1729 for Henrietta Howard, Countess of Suffolk (King George II’s mistress) from the designs of Roger Morris and Henry Herbert, 9th Earl of Pembroke. (I do feel Henrietta Howard and Henry Herbert should really have been item, all those ‘H’s’ – and just to make it even better, Henrietta’s father (who died in a duel when she was 8) was named Sir Henry Hobart).
After Marble Hill we came across the Hammerton Ferry, a people ferry which ferries people right across the Thames for just £1 each. A very exciting find! So across the Thames we were, not really meaning to be, but on we went, and made a very exciting discovery. I had never heard of Orleans House, but there were signs to it, and there it was with more welcoming signs asking us to come in. And so in we went. There isn’t actually much left of Orleans House (another Palladian villa – I really would love a Palladian villa) as, having been built in 1710 by John James for the politician James Johnston (it’s almost as if in Twickenham in the 18th century it was a requirement that you architect had the same initials as you), it was then mostly knocked down in 1926.
However some outbuildings and an octagonal room that had been designed in the baroque style by James Gibbs was saved by a nice lady called Nellie Ionides. I wasn’t going to show you too many photos, but I really must share this wonderful photo of Nellie and her poodle Cliquot:
Nellie’s second husband was Basil Ionides, he was High Sheriff of Sussex in 1944 and they lived at Buxted Park in Sussex a Georgian Mansion built in 1724. She collected art and oriental porcelain, and left her collection to the Borough of Richmond, where some of it now resides in the gallery at Orleans House. Lucky Richmond!
After Orleans House (they have a small but considered gift shop, I resisted), on we went. I have never been to Twickenham, but as we followed the road away from the river, we passed under a beautiful stone footbridge. On the right behind a high wall could be seen a grand house and to the left a glimpse of some statues (splendid horses, and figures of ladies in different poses) that wouldn’t look out of place in an Italian renaissance garden.
The house it turns out, is Yorke House, built in the 1630s for Andrew Pitcarne a courtier of King Charles I, but the statues in the gardens really are something quite mysterious.
They are known as the Naked Ladies, and they sit in the part of the garden that adjoins the river, connected to the main garden and house by that footbridge we wandered under. They are comprised of eight Ocenids (the nymphs who were the three thousand daughters of the Titans Oceanus and Tethys – these eight must have been particularly outstanding), and accompanying them are two horses. They are carved from Carrara marble in the fin de siècle style, possibly in the workshop of Orazio Andreoni, and were originally part of a much larger set of statues.
The original owner was fraudster Whitaker Wright, who lived at Witley Park, and after his suicide by cyanide, the statues were sold – some went to Beale House and the others, The Naked Ladies, were bought by the then owner of Yorke House in 1909, Sir Ratan Tata, and installed in the gardens. There they witnessed many high society parties – Sir Ratan and King George V were pals of sorts.
What I find the most intriguing and rather fun, is that when they were installed, the original instructions as to their correct layout was long lost (another story says that the designer did not speak English and was helpless in helping with the installation by the British installers). At any rate, they were installed in really quite an unusual way, one lady recling idly over the rockery, another about to dive into the pond, another clambering half-heartedly up the rocks. I think they are wonderful and I am so pleased they are still there.
Leaving the Ladies behind, we skirted around St Mary’s church, and the past Radnor House School, I thought it must be rather nice to go to school right on the river. And then we left the Thames and headed towards Strawberry Hill House, which was one of my enroute destinations. Max by this point was getting a little grouchy – there were mutterings of ‘can we stop stopping, this isn’t vey efficient’ but I persevered as really Strawberry Hill is not to be missed – it is just so bizarre.
A gothic revival villa built by Horace Walpole from 1749 onwards, with help from John Chute and Richard Bentley, the self-proclaimed ‘Committee of Taste’. The important part to note is that rather than being built in a ‘Gothic Style’ it was based on actual historic examples (think Westminster and Canterbury Cathedrals), and is therefore seen as a starting point of the Gothic Revival in architecture. The white wash and crenellations, towers and battlements feel rather peculiar, lost in the heart of suburbia. To me it looks very Disney-esque, almost like a set, and if you were to give it a gentle push you might expect it to simply fall over. Attached to it is St Mary’s University which seems like a nice place to study, although it looks like it’s mainly sporty type things that you can study, if you were to study there.
The rest of the walk, once we had found the river again, was very pleasant, a highlight being the Teddington Lock Footbridge. It is actually two footbridges, with a small island in the middle, built in 1887 and 1889, the western bridge is a suspension bridge and the eastern is an iron girder bridge – you will have to ask Max for the full ‘difference in type of bridge’ explanation – I am sure at some point the word ‘catenary’ will be used.
Now I may have said at the beginning that I had never been to this part of the river, and I am going to tell you now that this isn’t entirely true. This specific part of the Thames, running past Kingston to Hampton Court, I have been to before. Almost a year ago I did a half marathon in exactly this spot, however this time our journey was far far more pleasant, although probably not too dissimilar a pace. I am still in awe of anyone who runs a full marathon, and I’m certain my feet have still not forgiven me for those 13.1 miles of slow plodding.
Over the bridge at Kingston and into the park at Hampton Court Palace at dusk. It was deserted, and peaceful, but also a little bit eerie. Leaving behind the thrumming traffic over the Kingston Bridge, we walked purposely through the parkland as the light faded. We passed the end of the long pond, with the view of the Palace in the distance, and where some well-to-do youths were larking about with their bicycles, and turned a sharp right along the side of the pool. We then headed south again, past some curious deer, towards the river, where thankfully the gate to the park was not locked.
This is important, before starting any walk, check what time park gates are locked – the fences in Hampton Court Park are pretty spikey, it might been uncomfortable.
Along the river in the dark, past the Palace Privy Gardens and then the glowing ice rink. And almost there! Across the bridge to our end point, Hampton Court Station, which is at the end of the line, and really really doesn’t feel like London at all. Everyone else was clearly very excited about getting the train into Waterloo for a night out on the town. We were very happy to eat some orange polenta cake acquired in a nearby coffee shop, and drink disappointing hot chocolates – the ones that are just cheap powder and milk, you know the ones.
And homewards! On the train back to Clapham Junction. Walk 1 completed. 8.8 miles in total. A Saturday very well spent.
Below is a map of the route, but if you would like any further pointers, do let me know.