After the relatively short London Day Walk Lindsey and I did last week, this is the first really long walk we have done together in preparation for the Thames Path Challenge in September. A test of many, many things: our feet; our various long standing ailments; our stamina and above all our tolerance of each other (I am fully expecting to be chucked in the Thames at some point).
I had spotted the little green tiles marking the route of the walk dotted along the Thames Path in Southwark during my usual lunchtime strolls and thought what super idea it would be to do the whole thing in one go. Having found the route on the Transport for London website, I thought, at 37 miles (60 km), that this would be achievable and in fact if it wasn’t, we would be pretty screwed for September.
The walk is broken down in to 9 sections and each is published on the TFL website as a separate PDF file so if you didn’t feel like a day of extreme walking, you have everything you need to do the walk over several weekends. Apparently this is a thing: people enjoying short, leisurely walks; taking in the sights; enjoying a beer or two en route as part of a day out. Who knew!
As it was, we really weren’t there to enjoy ourselves. We both had to wake up earlier than we would have done if we were going to work in order to meet up at Green Park at 7am and, as if to reiterate the point, Lindsey made me do some stretching before we started (which to be honest wears me out more than the exercise itself).
So, making our way toward Buckingham Palace, maps in hand, we headed off on our, erm, adventure! Now, generally the signposting for this walk is excellent, the tiles point in the direction of travel and for the majority of the walk you don’t even need the maps provided you keep a beady eye out. However, you should take them: they are detailed enough to get you by, have larger scale inset maps for the more complicated parts and have basic directions to help you on your way . . . what could possibly go wrong? Well, one thing to note is that the tiles aren’t so prevalent in the first part of the walk, seem non-existent in Hyde Park and only really pick up when you cross in to Kensington Gardens. Also, the walk isn’t signposted in the traditional sense so you need to look for the tiles on the floor. Having said that, south of the river, you can use the Thame Path signs if you are lost as the routes for both are pretty much the same.
Our Stage One to Little Venice via Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens and Paddington Station actually started over the road from Buckingham Palace on Constitution Hill as we (actually Lindsey) really couldn’t be bothered to cross the road to the start just to cross the road again immediately afterwards. This had consequences as Lindsey was insistent on destroying each map after we completing a section. I was equally insistent on keeping this map until the end when we had reached the golden start/finish tile.
So, the stages rolled on, two and three following Regents Canal all the way to Victoria Park (watch out for the runners and cyclists who don’t slow down for anybody). Four started promisingly with a pleasant stroll through the length of the Park to the Olympic Stadium before it all went hideously wrong with the dullest of sections on the whole route. If you decide to do the Jubilee Walk over several days, skip this section and do the alternative Section 10 from Victoria Park to Limehouse Basin. I can not stress really how dull walking 3 miles over the top of one of London’s sewers is, even if the blurb does describe its importance in combatting the ‘big stink’. The most exciting part of the whole experience was calling the Fire Brigade about a bush fire near Abbey Lane/Statford High Steet.
Section 5 on the other hand got a bad pre-walk reviews, but in actual fact, once we got away from the houses, the walk was a very pleasant jaunt through Beckton District Park. I say pleasant, I was attacked by Yorkshire Terrier who stood on my foot and tried to bite my leg, I went in to the most disgusting toilet I have ever had the misfortune to frequent and, rather sadly, absolutely none of the building in the parks were occupied with shops or cafés. This is an important point actually: Saturday was a really hot day and the lack of shops to restock could have become a problem. So ice cream vans and small corner shops were all we had between Stratford and Greenwich were the order of the day – the sort of places that require cash rather than credit cards. Be warned.
So after the Woolwich Ferry (frankly we didn’t fancy the foot tunnel), we were just over half way and were heading back towards our destination instead of away from it. Sections 6 and 7, at around 6 miles each took, took us from Woolwich to Tower Bridge via the Cutty Sark (where there are proper shops) and were generally very good parts of the walk . . . however: The Section 7, inset map 2 doesn’t take into account the fact there is now a footbridge over Deptford Creek, so when we had to deviate away from the river, as the Thames Path does from time to time, we were (I was) slightly misreading the position on the map and ended up going through a not very pleasant housing estate away from the Thames Path. Having a GPS enable phone with maps saved the day.
Then we turned the corner, quite literally. Once we finally had the Isle of Dogs/Docklands at our back, suddenly we were in the territory of my lunchtime walks. The maps went away because we knew where we were, I had a new found spring in my step, our morale went up slightly and we practically floated along the remainder of Section 7 and the short 2.5 mile sections of Sections 8 and 9. The final stretch along The Mall felt as if we had achieved something big today, however, with aching ailments, sore legs, feet and the prospect of performing minor surgery on blisters in the morning, the feeling that the 62 mile Thames Path challenge is going to be BRUTAL was never far from our minds. We are just hoping that the majority of our pain can be attributed to the fact that it was at least 27 degrees Celsius pretty much all day.
And then it ended. We found the golden tile, we crossed the road to ‘our start’ and warmed down in Green Park (which I moaned about, but in reality was quite grateful for) before some more enjoyable warming down with a couple of pints in the first pub we found in Victoria followed by a Wagamamas.
37 miles / 60km
Buckingham Palace to Little Venice (3.7 miles)
Little Venice to Camden Lock(2.3) miles
Camden Lock to Victoria Park Canal Gate (4.7 miles)
Victoria Park Canal Gate to Stokes Road, North Beckton (5 miles)
Stokes Road, North Beckton to Woolwich Foot Tunnel (4.1 miles)
Woolwich Foot Tunnel to Cutty Sark (6.2 miles)
Cutty Sark to Tower Bridge (5.9 miles)
Tower Bridge to Westminster Bridge (2.4 miles)
Westminster Bridge to Buckingham Palace (2.2 Miles)
Victoria Park Canal Gate to Limehouse Basin (2.6 miles)