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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.