South to the sea - part 1

I must have been reading too much Laurie Lee. It’s the only explanation for why I woke up one morning with the strange idea to walk out of my door and keep walking south until I got to the sea.

In Laurie Lee’s book As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, Laurie walks out of his house in Gloucestershire and keeps walking until he reaches the sea. I loved the idea of just stepping out of my house in the heart of London and walking south, picking my own route along footpaths and through fields until I saw the sea.

Ordnance Survey mapsI laid out every Ordnance Survey map of the southeast on the floor to plan the adventure. I had people in Kingston, Dorking and Crowborough that I wanted to stay with and I knew I wanted to see some fracking, play pooh sticks and avoid Gatwick airport. My route straight south ended up being more of a zig-zag south.

Day 1 – Embankment to Kingston

My walking companion for the first day was my housemate. Despite Day 1′s route being pretty urban she soon got into the spirit of the walk. She’d waterproofed her walking boots and was decked out in full rambling gear. We were ready to ramble!

I’m lucky enough to live around the corner from Trafalgar Square, so my walk really was from the centre of the big smoke to the sea. My original idea was to walk south through some of the grimy bits of London until I was in the countryside. However, after being offered a bed in Kingston, I decided to take a more scenic stroll along the second greatest city walk in the world (as voted by Lonely Planet) – the Thames Path.

I walk along the Thames Path every day and I love it. It takes you on a tour of London’s greatest attractions – old and new – from The Shard to St Paul's, and then on to quaint towns like Windsor and Oxford before heading to the rolling hills of the Cotswolds. As a Rambler, I feel proud to walk along it, knowing that it was a fellow Rambler, David Sharp, who created the idea of a Thames Path Trail, wrote a guidebook for it and pushed for it to be better promoted and signposted.

Our walk along the Thames Path kicked off with the ultimate London attraction – Big Ben. We pushed past the tourists and had a semi-smug conversation about our adventure being better than their London one.

The nice thing about walking along the Thames is the bridges. You can tick them off, knowing you’re getting a teensy bit closer to your destination (lunch). They’re all different and have unique selling points and little known secrets. There’s a statue on Vauxhall Bridge of a woman holding St Paul’s Cathedral, soldiers on Albert Bridge are asked to march out of step so that they don’t make the bridge wobble and the lanterns on Battersea Bridge make it look particularly eerie on a misty evening.

Fun Fact: Do you know why Westminster Bridge is green and Lambeth Bridge is red?

Westminster is closer to the House of Commons and Lambeth is closer to the House of Lords. The colour of each bridge reflects the colour of the seats in each chamber.

Flats alongside the ThamesYou’d think that walking along the river you wouldn’t be able to get lost. Unfortunately, there are so many new yuppie flats being built that the Thames Path weaves inland and can get a bit confusing.

The inland bits do provide a bit of variety on the journey though. For the first time I saw a helicopter take off from Battersea Heliport, it’s weird seeing something so big just float into the sky. Just after the Heliport we were passed by a group of Elvis Presley lookalikes on a cycle ride. When we stepped out of the way to let them pass they muttered “Thank you, thank you very much”. It made us chuckle.

After Putney Bridge, we followed the Beverley Brook walk south to Barnes Common for a bite to eat.

Deer seen on a walkOur afternoon stroll led us through Barnes and into Richmond Park. Richmond Park was as fun as I remember from my childhood and now is the best time of year to experience it. Autumn leaves are everywhere so we did a bit of jumping in leaves and hunting for conkers.

There were clumps of mushrooms growing which we enjoyed kicking at the same time (a bit destructive and bad of us, but really good fun). It’s also rutting season which means there were deer everywhere! There were lots of stags giving us dirty looks.

Rule number 1 of a good walk – it must end in a nice pub

To celebrate our day's ramble, we headed to a lovely pub in Kingston, the Wych Elm, with the nicest beer garden I’ve ever seen.

By the end of the walk we were exhausted. We’d walked over 16 miles and I knew I still had another six days of walking ahead of me, I was not looking forward to it. The cider made it all a little bit better.

Day 1 facts and figures

AM – Embankment to Putney, 9.14 miles
Lunch – Half Moon Pub in Putney
PM – Putney – Kingston, 7.10 miles
Total – 16.24 miles
Number of people saying hello – One group of Elvis impersonators
Best spot – A garden full of gnomes in Wandsworth

Anastasia French is the Ramblers campaigns officer. Find out more about her role and read more of her blog posts.