Searching for start and end of the Thames

Sailor Caroline Crampton who has known the tidal River Thames since childhood set out to explore upstream and downstream.

Her book is called The Way To The Sea which means that she starts at the source rather than following the water to see where it comes from.

She describes setting out by train to Kemble to begin at the official source. Like most people she is disappointed that the field in front of the stone marker appears to be dry.

Caroline’s problem is that finding the start is uncertain most of the year. It is possible to visit the stone many times and never see water.

On eventually finding it at Ewen she feels obliged to paddle.

“If the source of the Thames is elusive its ending is even more so,” she writes 283 pages later. “There is no definate point at which the estuary finishes and the sea begins.”

Is it Tilbury where pilots hand over to the sea colleagues, the London and Crow Stones line, the Nore Lightship position or back upstream at Teddington?

This matters because Natural England’s England Coast Path project intends bringing the continuous path up the Thames as far as Woolwich. We may be talking about walking from Margate to Kemble one day.

This book reminds us that most of the Thames population and heritage lies in the tidal Thames valley to the east.

Coming downstream that major heritage begins at Runnymede where Caroline is convinced that the location of the Magna Carta agreement is the meadow and not the island.

She suggests that this cornerstone of liberty has now shifted east to Westminster adding the interesting reminder that Augustus Pugin travelled to that riverside building site from Ramsgate by water.

Before reaching central London Caroline pauses at Putney which she finds has an attractiveness easily missed on Boat Race day. She sees old Putney as a tiny village like Cricklade in the upper reaches.

However, it is not the obvious places that take up most space in this well-researched book but the lower reaches where you find Grays, Mucking Marshes and Shivering Sands. They will become more familiar as the Thames Path lengthens.

Prince Edward at Downings Roads

Downings Roads is Wednesday’s drizzle

The Earl of Wessex, Patron of the London Gardens Society, visited the Floating Barges Garden on Wednesday.

The garden barges, just downstream of Tower Bridge and Butler’s Wharf, are converted from a variety of vessels including lighters.

Yesterday was a dull day but even at low tide the green growth was a striking contrast to the City skyscrapers.

The gardens, known as Downings Roads Ancient Moorings, are best viewed from the wharf at the end of East Lane (by East Lane Stairs) on Bermondsey Wall West or further upstream where the path runs alongside alongside Jacob’s Island.

Court Circular 12 July
Swans are back in the Pool of London

Barnes pub re-opens

Re-opened Watermans Arms (Photo: Emma Robinson)

“I’m pleased to report on a pub that was turned into a restaurant and has now reverted to being a pub,” writes Tony Hedger in the London Drinker magazine.

“The Watermans Arms, an ex-Watney pub next to the Bulls Head in Barnes, closed in the 1980s and became a succession of chain restaurants. It has now been reopened as a proper pub.”

The pub, dating from 1850 and on the corner of Barnes High Street, faces the river.

Stone-baked pizza and home-made dishes is the food feature as well as sandwiches and jacket potatoes.

Tony Robinson’s TV Thames series

Tony Robinson at the O2, the former Dome, in episode 2.

On St George’s Day last year Tony Robinson was breakfasting at the Thames Head pub near the source of the River Thames.

This week the first of his four films on the river will be on Channel 5.

The opening of the series takes him from Kemble in Gloucestershire to Oxford.

In episode two he will reach London and its Docklands before exploring the rest of the tidal Thames and estuary.

The Thames: Britain’s Great River With Tony Robinson is on Channel 5 on Tuesday at 8pm.

St Saviour’s Dock Bridge still closed

Looking upstream across St Saviour’s Dock to Butler’s Wharf

Additional work on St Saviour’s Dock in central London has been found necessary so there will have to be a longer than expected closure closure of the footbridge.

The earliest that the crossing can be reopened is probably mid July.

The alternative route is:

At the west end of Bermondsey Wall West, bear left to follow Mill Street past Vogan’s Mill to the main road.

Holy Trinity Church Dockhead is to the left. Go right past the Co-op to have a good view (right) down St Saviour’s Dock.

Go right again to enter Shad Thames which into the late 20th century was noted for a strong smell of spices. Here are Jamaica Wharf, St Andrew’s Wharf and Java Wharf.

At the far end the road bears round to the left past Tea Trade Wharf (right) and under a bridge (the old Design Museum) to a junction. Turn right up steps for the River Thames and rejoin the main route on Butler’s Wharf.

Go left towards Tower Bridge.


William Morris & The River

Wandle textile by William Morris 1883 (©The William Morris Society)

Victorian designer William Morris was greatly influenced by the River Thames. He had a house by the river at Hammersmith and another near Lechlade on the Gloucestershire-Wiltshire border.

In 1880 he spent week sailing upstream from Kelmscott House in London to Kelmscott Manor in rural Oxfordshire.

“Here we were in the Thames that is the Thames, amidst the down-like country and all Cockneydom left far behind and it was jolly!”, wrote Morris about this first house to house travel by water.

This all recalled in An Earthly Paradise: William Morris & The Thames exhibition at the Rowing & River Museum on the towpath in Henley.

William Morris is maybe best known for his textiles and wallpapers. The designs are named after Thames’ tributaries such as the Rivers Cray, Evenlode, Kennet, Lea, and Lodden.

He established his dyeing and printing works at Merton Abbey on the River Wandle so his Wandle pattern was made “elaborate and splendid in order to honour our helpful stream”.

Original wallpaper designs, wooden printing blocks and books feature in the compact but fascinating exhibition.

Morris’s journal of his progress upstream is open at the page recording his pause at Henley. His houseboat, The Ark, caused surprise at Maidenhead by passing through the Regatta but at Henley he was surprised to be invaded by swans.

Progress next day seems to have been slow. The family, including a housemaid, gathered to embark at 10am and only reached Sonning by evening.

Windrush drawing by William Morris 1883 (©The William Morris Society)

An Earthly Paradise: William Morris & The Thames is at The River & Rowing Museum, Henley; open daily 10am-5pm until 14 July william morris Society 2019; admission £12.50 (conc £11.50). Tickets valid for 12 months.

Kelmscott House on Hammersmith riverside

Meanwhile there is a free exhibition ‘The dear warp and weft at Hammersmith’: A History of Kemscott House in the coach house of William Morris’s London house.

It was whilst living at this house in Hammersmith’s Upper Mall that Morris began carpet weaving, wove his first tapestry and continued developing his approach to design, printing and dyeing.

Morris’s wife Jane thought the house to be too far from London but he maintained that Hammersmith was in the capital and the situation to be “certainly the prettiest in London”.

When away he longed to return saying: “Lord bless us how nice it will be when I can get back to my little patterns and dyeing and the dear warp and weft at Hammersmith”.

As at Henley, this William Morris Society exhibition also features Morris designs and offers the opportunity to see permanent exhibits in the basement.

‘The dear warp and weft at Hammersmith’: A History of Kelmscott House is in Kelmscott House’s coach house, 26 Upper Mall, Hammersmith, London W6 9TA (just west of The Dove pub); Thursday & Saturday afternoons 2-5pm until 26 October; admission free.

Details from design for Bird Woven Wool by William Morris 1878 (©The William Morris Society) on show at Hammersmith.
  • When walking along the towpath from Putney one could cross the traffic free Hammersmith Bridge to continue on the opposite bank to visit Kelmscott House. Be warned that on Saturdays The Dove is usually very crowded with food already ordered by others in advance. But there are two other riverside pubs on the way. The Old Ship, with often more room, is short walk beyond Kelmscott House.

Weekend path closure near London Bridge

Hay’s Galleria

The riverside path on Hay’s Wharf  downstream of London Bridge is closed for maintenance until Monday 8 April.

The closure is between Hay’s Galleria and London Bridge Hospital.

The diversion is via Hay’s Galleria and right along Tooley Street. Stay on the right side of the road as the main road divides to be able to rejoin the Thames Path just before passing under London Bridge.

Southwark Cathedral is to the left after a few yards.

Barrier at Hay’s Wharf
Barrier at London Bridge Hospital

Sinodun Hill in Southwark

Sinodun goats’ cheese from Shillingford

No need to wait until you reach Shilllingford in Oxfordshire to enjoy Sinodun Cheese with your picnic.

It is on sale this week at Neal’s Yard in Borough Market behind Southwark Cathedral.

The prize-winning goats’ cheese is made by Rachel Yarrow and Fraser Norton of riverside North Farm below the landmark Wittenham Clumps which are also known as the Sinodun Hills.

The twelve Anglo Nubian goats, known for their rich and creamy milk, graze on the right bank. Their hay is wildflower from the immediate area.

The towpath, on the opposite bank, runs between Shillingford Bridge and the confluence of the Rivers Thames and Thame close to Dorchester Abbey.

Rachel and Fraser at North Farm were featured on Countryfile this week.

A bridleway runs through the farm which was once an early bed & breakfast for the newly opened Thames Path.

Sinodin Hill cheese in Borough Market
Sinodun Hill highlighted in Borough Market’s Neal’s Yard dairy

Teddington path closure

The towpath upstream of Richmond is due to be closed this week during daytime between the Thames Young Mariners’ Bridge and Teddington Lock.

The closure for path upgrade work is between 8am and 4pm.

The suggested diversion, which is pleasant, runs inland from Ham House riverside car park and along Ham Street. Go right into Riverside Drive. After just over a mile go right down a road with a barrier. A sign points to Teddington Lock. There are houses on the left and open ground to the right.

From the Sea to the Source