London is not such a big city. I walked from the east-end to leafy Surrey in a few hours – and that’s including the river’s meandering along the way. Starting point was of course the last leg’s end-point, The Prospect of Whitby. Had it been open and serving breakfast, this day may have turned out entirely differently. But it was shut, so following a quick trip to the Thames foreshore via Pelican Stairs (the pub’s original name was The Pelican) I was on my way, and soon into familiar territory.
I paused to photograph two blonde ladies (it’s OK, they knew I was doing it and I used their camera) before stepping up onto Tower Bridge, and for a while the walk became a quick-fire series of London Landmarks: Tower Bridge, the Tower, The Gherkin, HMS Belfast, The Shard, The Golden Hinde, The Globe, Tate Modern, St Paul’s, Millennium Bridge, The Eye, Parliament, Lambeth Palace, Battersea Power Station.
On a warm weekend you might – as I did – expect the whole of the Embankment from Tower Bridge to Vauxhall to be thronging with tourists but in fact they were confined to a small stretch from the London Eye to Lambeth Palace, near where the coaches park up. Admittedly in that area the tourists were pretty dense – I mean in terms of their numbers, not necessarily their intellect – but in other areas by far the majority of people I came across were out for exercise. Running, cycling… and I like to think that I count as one who was exercising.
I crossed the river at Vauxhall Bridge because on the south side you have to leave the river and walk through Nine Elms. This was a brief excursion to the north side and I crossed back at the first opportunity over Chelsea Bridge to Battersea. For old times sake I stopped to go to the loo in Battersea Park, but this time I used the facilities provided. Last time the circumstances were somewhat different. It was the middle of the night; my sister-in-law Sarah and I were doing the Moonwalk (yes, I was wearing ladies’ underwear. But only because it was expected…) and were in need of a comfort stop. Rather than queue up at the portaloos with hundreds of other Moonwalkers we dived into the bushes (separate bushes) where Sarah was surprised by a sheep. In daylight it is clear to see that the bushes actually provide very little cover, and that there is a children’s zoo. With sheep.
From Battersea via Wandsworth to Putney the landscape changed dramatically. From the historic monuments and cityscape of central London, I entered a significant stretch of posh riverside apartments. Mile upon mile of them. All with floor-to-ceiling windows to make the most of the views of that sweep of river, and with restaurants and gyms at ground level. Michael Caine has a penthouse apartment near the heliport. I know he’s not posh but that’s a measure of how much money you need to live in that area.
Before reaching Putney I emerged into Wandsworth Park to a quintessentially English scene – cricket being played on what was almost a village green. At Putney everything changed again. There was an interesting looking seafood market but I decided that anything I bought would be a health hazard by the time I got anywhere near a fridge. The church has a sundial with the inscription “Time and tide stay for no man”. I noted that the sundial showed the time accurately, whereas the clock above it was an hour out.
I waited to cross the road at Putney Bridge, behind a woman with a tattoo on the back of her neck. The tattoo read “Your with the Angels now” (sic). I was sorely tempted to tap her on the shoulder and discuss grammar, but I figured that anyone with a tattoo on the back of their neck must be much harder than me, and must have a much higher pain threshold, so I let it go.
West of Putney Bridge I entered rowing territory. Lots of boathouses belonging to all sorts of schools and colleges, some a long way from Putney, and populated by fit looking people rippling their muscles. I rippled mine back at them and walked on to rural Barnes. Craven Cottage – Fulham’s football ground – came into view; I was surprised that at the same time I was looking at Craven Cottage I could also see Wembley Stadium. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been so surprised as I now know they are less than six miles apart. Like I say, London is not such a big city.
For a few years I worked at an office in Chiswick, so I could see on the opposite bank some familiar places; pubs we used to go to of a summer evening, a very nice par 3 golf course where I played a few times, the Fuller’s brewery which has a blue plaque on the wall commemorating my personal contribution to their profit margin. I also worked in Richmond for a while and soon came to the green with its village feel, the shopping streets that immediately tell you this is a very affluent area, and the ubiquitous “chuggers”.
I chose to have a late lunch at an Irish pub, mainly because it was closest to where I had left the car. I sat close (well, not that close, but then I didn’t need to be) to two men and one woman who were all very drunk – it was about 3pm – and who were discussing all manner of subjects in very loud voices. The only subject I can possibly relate here is that one of the men bought a pair of shoes from the other. They were size nine and he paid his friend £15. I imagine he woke up on Sunday morning wondering where they had come from and why they were two sizes too small.
Mileage today: 22.23
Mileage to date: 101.16
Mileage to date, as the crow flies: 44.25 miles
Mileage to go, as the crow flies: 75.56 miles