Thursday, 2 January 2014

Thames Path - Staines to Windsor

Tuesday 31st December, 2013

First view of Windsor Castle
Leaving friends in Kent, I drove to Windsor and parked in the long-stay park and ride car park. At only £3 a day including the shuttle bus in to town it was a bargain. I didn't need to take the shuttle bus as I walked a short way along the Thames Path from the car park to the Windsor and Eton Riverside train station where I caught a train to Staines.

Staines was a major linoleum producer
I was a little confused exiting the station and so used the GPS on my new smartphone to guide me in the right direction for the river. One of my objectives on this trip is to learn how to use my phone and to figure out all the different things I can do with it. I've brought my big camera, but want to use my phone as much as possible to take photos to check out its ability.

I soon found the path where I'd left it last new year and crossed the road bridge to follow the continuation of the path on the other bank. The weather forecast hadn't been good and there have been more flood warnings on the radio, though not for the part of the Thames I was walking alongside. It was a dry start to the day though, but as soon as I started walking on the path proper the heavens opened. I sheltered by some trees and struggled to get my waterproof trousers on and put the cover over my daypack. That was the rain set in for the rest of the day. It did ease a bit but never really stopped. I struggled with my waterproof pants all day. As it is a flat walk I wanted to take big strides, but each time I tried, the lack of flexibility in my trousers acted as a barrier my legs were pushing against. I felt like I was getting an extra workout and could feel my legs getting quite tired towards the end.

I was also trialling my Sealskinz socks on this walk. I've always been dubious about paying nearly 30 quid for a pair of socks, but several people have raved about them to me and I've read good reviews online so I'd decided to try a pair. They really got put to the test and failed miserably. As well as the Sealskinz socks, I was wearing gaiters and waterproof trousers and had waxed and sprayed my boots. I'm sure it all would have been fine if it wasn't for having to wade through water that came halfway to my knees on more than one occasion. As water poured in over the tops of my boots I knew the socks would have no chance and the 'test' was probably a bit too extreme.

The river was very deep. Even the boats were underwater

One of the flooded bits I had to wade through
Besides flooded bits of path, there were also a few parts blocked by trees which had fallen in the recent gales. Each time I was able to get around or under though, including one time where I had to force my way through the middle of what had become the equivalent of a very thick hedge across the middle of the path.

Leaving Staines behind, I passed under the busy M25. This is the motorway encircling Greater London and the first sign that I'd really left the city behind. The first bits of it were built in the early 1970s, but it wasn't completed until 1986. At 117 miles (188km) long, it's Europe's second longest orbital road, beaten only by the Berliner Ring which is a mere five miles longer. As one of the UK's busiest motorways it often seems more like a car park than a high-speed roadway, particularly the stretch near Heathrow Airport. 

Passing under the M25

Passing below, I could hear the hum of traffic above, but felt like I was in a different world. I walked on towards the day's second landmark: Runnymede.

Runnymede is a flood plain now in the ownership of the National Trust. The name is possibly derived from the Anglo-Saxon 'runieg' which means regular meeting and 'mede' which today is written as mead or meadow. This meeting meadow is considered to be where the signing of the Magna Carta took place in 1215. This charter was instrumental in the development of the parliament and laws we have today. 

There are several memorials in area including the Air Forces Memorial commemorating the men and women of the Allied Air Forces who died in the Second World War. Another memorial is that dedicated to former US President John F. Kennedy.

Continuing, the path heads towards Old Windsor and alongside Old Windsor Lock. Old Windsor is the original Windsor and only became 'Old' when the newer town of Windsor was built near the castle a few miles away. Elton John apparently lives in Old Windsor. Although I looked, I don't think he was one of the people I saw out walking their dogs.

Heading back to Windsor

At this point, it's possible to walk directly to Windsor. But as I was following the Thames Path my walk looped round via the village of Datchet. I crossed the Albert Bridge and had a bit of road walking before joining a riverside path again just before Victoria Bridge. Then it was past Romney Lock before following a lane back to the car park and my van.

Distance: about 8 miles

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