Sunday, 13 January 2013

Thames Path - Shepperton to Staines

Looking back in my Thames Path guidebook I can see that it's over 11 years since I arrived in Shepperton on the Kingston to Shepperton leg of my Thames Path walk. I left London almost 11 years ago and so this was one of the last walks I did before I left. Since then, on brief visits back, I've filled in a few of the gaps I had on the London stretch of the walk but I've done nothing further up river. Part of the reason for this is feasibility. Once out of London public transport connections get a lot more tricky. Also I can't do the walks as part of a day out in London as they're too far away, so I have to have the time to factor in an extra day just for this.

Over New Year I had just such an opportunity. I stayed with friends in Kent for New Year and had a day in London using their house as a base. The following day I was due to leave, but rather than driving straight home I decided to spend the night with another friend who lives in Buckinghamshire. The logistics of getting from one friend's house to another (basically a drive round the M25) meant I could have a day walking the next section of the Thames Path without having to go much out of my way.

The length of the walk I could do was determined by rush hour traffic, bus timetables and early dusk. I didn't leave Kent until 9.30am as to leave any earlier would only have meant me sitting frustratingly in traffic and probably not arriving any earlier in Shepperton despite my earlier start. I'd planned to walk to Staines as from here there is an hourly bus back to Shepperton where I could pick up my car. However, rather than driving straight to Shepperton I detoured to Runnymede to see if it would be possible to leave my car in the National Trust car park there, catch a bus to Shepperton (possibly via Staines) and then do a slightly longer walk by walking to Runnymede instead of having to finish in Staines.

However, as I drove along what seemed to be a main road to get to the NT car park I didn't spot any bus stops or any buses. When I arrived at the car park a sign informed that the gates would be locked at 5pm. I really needed to finish my walk by 4pm as after that it would be too dark, but I like to have a safety net of extra time if need be (and I did have a head-torch) and so the 5pm gate-locking worried me. Reluctantly I realised I'd have to stick to my original walk of only about 6 miles.

Old Shepperton
I drove to Shepperton and found the car park I'd earlier googled. It wasn't too far from the river and the old part of Shepperton and only cost £1.50 for the day. Booted up I left the car park and had my first look at the village and a wander round the outside of the church (it was locked so I couldn't get inside). This old part of the village is quite quaint with a few pub/restaurants. According to the Domesday Book Shepperton originally belonged to Westminster Abbey and has had a church for many centuries. The original church was destroyed by flooding in 1605-6. The present church is its replacment and was built in 1613. The rectory behind the church was often visited by Dutch theologian Desiderius Erasmus who was a friend of the rector.

It's not possible to walk along the river from here, so I backtracked along the road for a few minutes and then back down to the river by the ferry pier.

The ferry takes passengers and cyclists across the river on a regular basis throughout the day. Usually. When I'd arrived in Shepperton 11 years ago and needed to get across the river it was the end of the day and the ferry had stopped running, so I'd needed to detour over a bridge. This time the ferry wasn't running because of flooding. The heavy rains meant the river was in full spate and the little jetty leading out to the ferry was well under water. Fortunately, for this leg of the walk I was on the right side of the river and so it didn't matter.

For most of the walk I was wandering along a path with the river on one side and very large houses with equally large gardens on the other. As the trains into London only take 48mins from Shepperton this is well within the wealthy commuter belt. The first point of interest I came to was Shepperton Lock. There were no boats in sight and so I continued walking.

Pharaoh's Island
Pharoah's Island soon appeared on my left. It was named after the Battle of the Nile when it was given to Lord Nelson. It is a relatively large island for the Thames, with 23 houses built along the water's edge; apparently they all have Egyptian themed names such as 'Sphinx' or 'Thebes'. There is no ferry or bridge and so access is only by personal boat or dinghy. Two years ago a dinghy capsized here, costing two people their lives. Today the high water was lapping at the edges of the residences and they didn't seem quite as desirable as they probably do in summer.

Pharaoh's Island

Flooded path
The path became very flooded and I waded through glad I'd re-proofed my boots before Christmas. The locals had decided the flooded path was not enough of a challenge and had arranged the ropes tying their boats across the path at various heights meaning I had to work out whether to go over or under whilst still picking the shallowest part of the path and walking on tip-toe to keep the water from flooding over the tops of my boots. 

This challenge surpassed, the path then became a track through a meadow which was very flooded and I had to pick my way through the driest bits detouring away from the river a little. 

Which bit's the path?

The path's this way

As I reached Chertsey Bridge the signposts for the Thames Path directed me to walk underneath it. This was impossible as the water was lapping high up the sides of the bridge. I walked up onto the bridge and looked down at the river, taking some photos of the benches that would normally be quite pleasant to sit on alongside the river. Today, only the tops of the back of the benches could be seen. Similarly, only the very tops of the litter bins could be seen. I took the opportunity to cross the bridge and follow the road 100m or so towards Chertsey to a garage where I bought a sandwich for lunch.

Spot the benches and the bin

Water park
Back on the path I walked towards Laleham. Laleham is home to the Lucan family; as in the family of the missing Lord (this site has the story and conspiracy theories). The road ran alongside the path and as it was quiet I found it much easier to walk along the road as the path was a quagmire of slippery mud and water. I stopped in the park at Laleham to have lunch at a sole non-waterlogged picnic table. I took photos of the swing park which had become a  water park and was amused by the frog shaped bin whose open mouth seemed to express surprise at suddenly finding himself in a pond. 

Penton Hook Lock (island on the left)
At Penton Hook Lock I was able to walk over the lock and briefly explore a couple of little islands. The river loops so much here that it actually takes half a mile to travel 20 yards. The lock opened in 1815 thus saving boats tedious journey time and in the process creating the islands out of the land inside the loop.

From Penton Hook I could feel I was getting closer to Staines as the path became busier and busier with people out strolling, pushing prams, walking dogs, jogging, cycling and so on.

Staines itself is a modern, built-up town with ugly shopping malls full of chain shops and teenagers hanging around in groups smoking. After a quick walk around I headed for the bus station and the bus back to Shepperton. 

Welcome to Staines

The bus dropped me near the train station which is in the modern part of Shepperton and I followed the busy main road back down towards the old town and my van. 

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