Clare Wadd relishes the ever-increasing evening light.
Now that the clocks have gone forward and the evenings are getting lighter, my thoughts turn to walking home from work. When I lived in central London it was all the way home but now, in Kingston, it’s part-way – a Friday evening thing, to set the weekend off nicely, with a pint at the start or at the end.
We meet at stations; sometimes we try new routes, but there are old favourites for the weeks when imagination lets us down – Mortlake for Richmond Park and Richmond for The Thames Path. The river is a longer way round and if it’s been wet the banks on the south side are often flooded, but we’ll see cattle grazing on the historic Petersham Meadows, one of the last smallholdings in London – always a curious sight from the top-deck of a London bus. The north bank is drier but more urban, and takes us past Eel Pie Island and back home over Teddington Lock.
The park is better for the first few walks home of the year, April when it still gets dark early, because we can stick to the roads and big tracks – it’s beautifully quiet with just a few cyclists, a handful of cars and a few joggers – never any other walkers. We usually, but not always, see a herd of deer. From Mortlake station we stroll up suburban roads, past large detached houses with tidy front gardens which change from bright spring blossom and bulbs, stark against dark earth and branches, to bedding plants against a backdrop of green. Early in the season the park is the dull brown of bare branches and the tangle of last year’s bracken and brambles but, as time passes, we watch the green spread out and then darken from the first bright tips. Exiting at Ham Gate, we can cut through mock-Tudor and modern estates to home, or take one of the quiet roads through the woods of Ham Common, past elderly mansions to The New Inn on the village green with its duck pond, spring daffodils and and Sunday cricket. One night last year, from the upstairs front seat of the 65 bus, I saw a badger crossing Richmond Road near here.
Other times we try new routes, experiment. The walk from Berrylands takes us on the London LOOP footpath, though not on its most picturesque section, and the Thames Path into Canbury Gardens, where The Boaters Inn is handy for home. New Malden takes us through Coombe, a world of un-made-up private roads with an air of seaside, where the houses are in individual styles and one has a lake; this is a place of prep schools, and exclusive golf-clubs. Cutting into Richmond Park at Ladderstile Gate we pass a plaque commemorating where Eisenhower lived when he was planning the D-Day landings (and his troops were camped out on the marshy ground in nearby Bushy Park).
Hampton Court and Surbiton both take us straight along the river, but on different banks. From Hampton Court you’re onto the Thames quicker, along the Barge Walk, which is a nicer length and more rural. But Surbiton has better trains and, if you get the timing right, you can watch the sun set over the filter beds at Seething Wells. Along Queen’s Promenade we might see a rat and, in Kingston town centre, where the Hogsmill meets The Thames at Charter Quay, there’s a waterfowl conservation area where swans nest.
Kew Bridge takes us along the Thames Path again, but most likely with a bus home from Richmond three miles later. This section bordering Kew Gardens and the Old Deer Park has few ways on or off the path, so is quiet, especially at Kew. Wimbledon means over the Common on the Capital Ring, past the windmill and the circular World War I Memorial Gardens, and then through Richmond Park back home – it’s long but it’s lovely.
So, now it’s April and I’m starting to make plans, to think of new idea: we haven’t tried Putney or Fulwell or Isleworth yet. We could walk from Hammersmith to Kew Bridge and then get the bus home. Or we could just get the train to Mortlake and head through the park – it’s dry underfoot, easy to follow in the half-light, and not at all boring because I haven’t walked home from work since August last year.
Clare Wadd has lived in London for 20 years, where she is an active rambler, and a regular contributor to South East Walker magazine. Prior to moving to London, from 1987-1995, she co-ran Sarah Records, recently the subject of a book and an award-winning film. She was also a contributor to Matt Haynes and Jude Rogers’ Smoke magazine.