Tag Archives: thames path

A common treasury for all

When I’m at home it’s a rare day that I don’t walk down the Thames Path. True, more often than not, it’s the same stretch  that takes me to and from the station or Sainsburys or my local, The Boaters Inn, or sometimes all three; rather than the Simon Armitage, 268 mile Pennine Way challenge of Walking Home. Nonetheless it makes the subject of National Trails very dear to my heart. So if I didn’t exactly experience fear when I heard the government was conducting a review of England’s National Trails it wasn’t unbridled happiness either. Regular readers will know I occupy a different space on the political spectrum but after 2 years of this coalition my default reaction to almost any government initiative is to recall some lines from Woody Guthrie’s Pretty Boy Floyd:

As through this world I’ve rambled I’ve seen lots of funny men;
Some will rob you with a six-gun and some with a fountain pen.

And if you forgive the historical anachronism not to mention the absence of rhyme I take this to include cybercrime and BlackBerry these days.

As well as thoroughly trashing the economy – who has a good word to say about Osborne now? – they keep tinkering with the environment. (And I probably don’t need to remind you what a success they made of their plan to sell off our forests.) So let me make this plain – I see the implementation of this report as it stands as a clear and present danger to the majority of walkers in England.

It is difficult to see how any of those who devised this plan have laced up boots let alone walked along any one of the thirteen English National Trails. As Roly Smith puts it so much more eloquently than me: “I was privileged to know Tom Stephenson, the creator of our first National Trail, the Pennine Way, as a friend, and I think I know what he would have said about these new proposals to create National Trail Partnerships. ‘Ee lad,’ he’d say in that warm, Lancashire burr, ‘that’s not what I had in mind at all.’ National Trails are a national, i.e. Government, responsibility – that’s after all why they are called “National” Trails. To entrust their management, protection and promotion to these proposed new voluntary bodies ignores the fact that they are a national, indeed, international, asset in our increasingly-beleaguered countryside. The Government should live up to its responsibility and not leave their management to already hard-pressed local authorities and volunteers.”

And it is the ‘National’ in National Trails that is at the heart of these dangerous proposals. Natural England, who currently manage and maintain National Trails, have begun discussions to hand this power to new Local Trail Partnerships made up of local authorities, business and volunteers. The Ramblers, who played a key role in establishing the trails, is concerned that the lack of a national champion to oversee, guide and support these Local Trail partnerships will leave them vulnerable; resulting in a fragmented network with inconsistent quality between trails and cash strapped Local Authorities unable to sustain funding.

I don’t know about you but I often struggle to articulate the joy, experience and worth of walking. As a result I often fall back on a variation of the Albert Einstein quote and end up saying: ‘Not everything of value can be counted and not everything that can be counted has value.’ Strangely in the case of the National Trails we can mount a formidable case of proven value that can be counted. Lets bullet point:

  • Over 2000 miles of National Trails in England
  • Attract over 12 million visitors each and every year
  • First (Pennine Way) developed by the Ramblers and established in 1965
  • This spans 10 local authorities, 3 national Parks & 1 Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
  • The South West Coast Path generates over £300 million for local communities per year
  • And supports over 7500 jobs

Or as Stuart Maconie says: “I have walked several national trails, both for recreation and as two major outside broadcasts for Radio 2 on the Jurassic Coast and Hadrian’s Wall. I’ve seen firsthand how they increase people’s enjoyment, understanding and appreciation of our countryside and how much they benefit the economy by attracting tourists from across the world. I am therefore very concerned about any moves that will affect their upkeep, access and quality. I hope Natural England will make a sensible decision with regard to this. These are precious assets hard won and we should cherish them”.

And let’s not forget these proposals also fail to incorporate plans to integrate the English Coastal Path – which will be designated a National Trail in its own right when it opens in full – this will see a doubling of the number of miles of National Trails in England.

Walkers tell me that they cherish our National Trails because they showcase much that is worth experiencing environmentally, historically and culturally, in England. They also love the fact that they can rely on the fact that these paths will be, in the main, well maintained and signposted. We often hear exotic foreign climes exalted as once in a lifetime destinations. In my experience this is far outweighed by walkers setting aside time to walk our National Trails from start to finish and achieve a lifelong dream.

The Ramblers played a pivotal role in establishing the National Trails and today is seriously concerned that government’s hastily conceived proposals could see a dramatic fall in the quality of the Trails. Paths could fall into disrepair, potentially obstructing access for the millions of people who enjoy the trails and who generate significant revenue for the local economy. They would like to see government rethink its plans and are ready to work with them to take a leading role in the future support and promotion of these national treasures.

Back in the 17th century Gerard Winstanley was expressing a much more extreme radical idea when he called for the land to be ‘a common treasury for all’ and it seems absurd that this limited, yet significant, successful application of his dream is under threat from an idiotic government that shows daily it has no concept of how normal people live and enjoy their lives. Let’s make sure that the future still sees a national body to champion our National Trails, they are after all, national treasures!

Don’t let the English National Trail network go Titanic – here’s how you can help:

  • Join the Ramblers here
  • Donate to the campaign here
  • Sign up for campaign updates here
  • Let Natural England know what you think of our National Trails here
  • Contact The Ramblers to find out more about becoming a National Trail Champion here
  • Share your National Trail photos with the Ramblers (here’s some of mine of the Thames Path)

Listen to:

Marvin Gaye – Whats Going On

Ramblin’ Jack Elliot – Pretty Boy Floyd

Gruff Rhys – Follow The Sunflower Trail (Theme Tune For a National Strike)

The National – Walk Off

Attila The Stockbrocker – March of the Levellers – The Digger´s Song – The World Turned Upside Down

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Hotter than July

30 June & 13 July 2010

All I see turns to brown
As the sun burns the ground’

Well it ain’t that often you’ll see Led Zeppelin lyrics quoted here (Kashmir in case you’re asking) but summer is definitely here and definitely hot. Before I get on talking about the 2 evening strolls this blog is about I s’pose I ought to say sorry that we’re still in London but like people say a lot these days, ‘We are where we are’, and I do live here.

 

The first stroll is more like stroll+ because it’s a 12k Richmond circular – down to the river, up to the park via Ham Common and then back for a few beers at the White Cross. All very standard stuff but no less enjoyable for all that and 28 other people obviously thought so too. Metropolitan Walkers are trying out new ideas to make their already incredibly successful evening strolls programme appeal to yet more London walkers.

The Thames is always a delight to walk beside but as we pass by Twickenham on the far bank I’m reminded that Alexander Pope made his home there from 1719, where he created his famous grotto and gardens. (They must be famous because there’s a pub, The Alexander Pope, commemorating them.) Pope’s entire life was affected by the penal law in force at the time upholding the status of the established Church of England, which banned Catholics from teaching, attending a university, voting, holding public office or living closer than 10 miles from the centre of London on pain of perpetual imprisonment. (Those were indeed harsh times.) Pope decorated the grotto with alabaster, marbles, and ores such as mundic and crystals. He also used Cornish diamonds, stalactites, spars, snakestones and spongestone. Here and there in the grotto he placed mirrors that were very expensive embellishments for those times. A camera obscura was installed to delight his visitors, of whom there were many. The serendipitous discovery of a spring during its excavations enabled the subterranean retreat to be filled with the relaxing sound of trickling water, which would quietly echo around the chambers. Although the house and gardens have long since been demolished, much of this grotto still survives and now lies beneath St James Independent School for boys, open to the public once a year.

We return leaving Richmond Park and take time to admire the view from Richmond Hill down to the Thames. In spite of the words introducing this blog the scene is still remarkably verdant. The front markers had set a cracking pace and we polished off the 12k in two and a half hours leaving me plenty of time to enjoy some welcome Staropramen in the pub.

A coupla weeks later, with the ceaseless sun giving way to some light drizzle, (not enough for my garden I fear) I’m waiting outside Norbiton station just before 7 pm.  Clare’s leading this stroll as well and this time the invitation has been extended to the other London Rambler groups so we’ve got some representatives from South Bank, Hammersmith and Hampstead there as well. And very welcome they were too.

As we enter Richmond Park using the Kingston Gate we are welcomed by the gleeful cacophony of a flock of ring necked parakeets. These colourful birds thrive round here lighting up the skies with flashes of luminous green while dominating the dawn and dusk choruses with their airborne shrieks. There are estimated to be at least 6,000 Rose-ringed Parakeets (Psitticula kraneri) – often referred to as the Twickenham or Kingston Parakeets – flying wild in the South London suburbs. Their specific origins are unknown, but most likely they originated from a single pair of breeding parakeets which escaped or were released in the mid-1990s. Other origins, however, have been attributed to them: the most popular theory is that they escaped from Ealing Studios, during the filming of The African Queen (which was actually made in the Isleworth Studios) in 1951; they may have escaped from an aviary during the 1987 hurricane; and it has even been suggested that the pair released by Jimi Hendrix in Carnaby Street in the 1960s is to blame. (I really want the Hendrix urban legend to be true and vow to propagate it at every available opportunity!)

We exit the park at Ladderstile Gate and cross the road to the Coombe estate. Coombe is one of the more affluent private estates in south west London and is home to television personality Jimmy Tarbuck, tennis player Annabel Croft, while Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood also lives in an estate on Kingston Hill, located opposite to the entrance of Coombe Park. One of Saddam Hussein‘s daughters had a house in Golf Club Drive for a number of years, and Elisabeth Murdoch also lived here for several years. Dwight D. Eisenhower, when Supreme Allied Commander during WWII, lived at “Telegraph Cottage” in Coombe, which was adjacent to the golf course which he used at weekends. We finish the walk back at the station and then a good few of us repair to The Albert for some well earned London Gold.

View the routes:

Richmond Circular

http://www.mapmyrun.com/view_route?r=266127911585125559

Norbiton Circular

http://www.mapmyrun.com/view_route?r=104127911628073221

More information:

For a similar route to the Richmond Circular (and 40 others) see here:

Listen to:

 

 Stevie Wonder – Hotter Than July

Led Zeppelin – Kashmir

The Faces – Richmond

The Isley Brothers – Summer Breeze

Seals and Crofts – Summer Breeze

Jimi Hendrix Experience – Little Wing

Camera Obscura – Tougher Than The Rest

 

 

 

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Sweet Thames Flow Softly

Thursday 24 June 2010

A picturesque scene it made, too, with Wandsworth dairy farms visible on the far bank; cows roaming the yellowed fields between the cottages, and a church spire rising in the distance.’

This 1849 description of the Thames comes from Matthew Kneale’s novel Sweet Thames . It’s quite surprising to think of Wandsworth being so pastoral just 160 years ago. Surely Victorian London was all teeming slums, smelly sewers and the poor dying in their hundreds of cholera. I’m in Wandsworth to join some friends who are walking the Thames Path. This is the same lot who knocked off the London Loop last year. They’re either obsessive completists  or David Sharp fans (maybe both). I head down to the river from Wandsworth Town station through the pedestrian underpass where several scenes for A Clockwork Orange were filmed. It’s 7.30 in the evening, bright and sticky because the sun has still got plenty of needle in it and the landscape isn’t anywhere near as threatening as that portrayed in the film. The dairy farms, roaming cows and cottages are long gone, replaced by block upon block of luxury riverside apartments.

It’s a fairly short stroll tonight – about 6 km down to Vauxhall. And after starting off the path mostly hugs the river. We pass the London Heliport and are soon approaching St Mary’s Battersea. A striking Grade 1 Georgian building in a spectacular location on the banks of the river. William Blake was married here, Joseph Turner painted here and Benedict Arnold is buried here in the crypt. Then it’s through Battersea Park past the Peace Pagoda. The Duke of Wellington fought his famous duel with the Earl of Winchilsea over Catholic Emancipation in the park (or Battersea Fields as it was then) in 1829. It was reported at the time: ‘The Duke of Wellington and Lord Winchilsea met at the appointed place. The parties having taken their ground, Lord Winchilsea received the Duke of Wellington’s fire [apparently not aimed at him] and fired in the air. After some discussion the accompanying memorandum was accepted as a satisfactory reparation to the Duke of Wellington.’

Once we leave the park we reach a stretch of the path I must have travelled down over a thousand times. When I used to work at the Ramblers I used to jog most lunch times down to Battersea Park and back.  That’s almost 10 years of the Battersea Dogs Home, Battersea Power Station, Tideway Walk and crossing Vauxhall and Chelsea bridges. The major change in the last year is work on the new American Embassy. It is to be built on Nine Elms Lane on the site of the old (now demolished) HMSO offices. Returning to the riverside we see a cormorant perched on a buoy spreading its wings to catch the dying rays of the sun. They’ve been back on the Thames for the last 10 years or so – a daily sight swooping low over the water and catching eels. In fact these days the river is a twitcher’s paradise. It reminds me of the RSPB’s excellent Letter to the Future campaign currently running – please give it a look and then sign the letter.

We finish most appropriately at the Riverside pub in Vauxhall. We started by going through a St Georges Homes riverside development and we end in a pub in a St Georges Homes riverside development. The 3 pints of Youngs London Gold was very welcome and provided a link to our start point. From 1832 to 2006 Youngs had been brewing their famous London beers at the Ram Brewery just down the river in Wandsworth. All our walking was done on the south bank this evening – I’m sure my friends will only feel they have completed the Thames Path when they walk both sides of the river. Visitors to Tower Bridge will have the chance to travel the full 215 miles of the River Thames in just 200 feet when they visit the new photographic exhibition River Thames: Source to Sea this summer. 

More information:

The Thames Path by David Sharp

The London Loop by David Sharp

Walkers London & the South East in a Box

 

 

 

 

Listen to:

 

Cherish The Ladies – Sweet Thames Flow Softly

Peter Dawson – Old Father Thames Keeps Rolling Along

Big Audio Dynamite – Stone Thames – 12 inch Remix

Starsailor – The Thames (Acoustic)

Nigel Hess – Thames Journey

Beans On Toast – The Peaches Of Wandsworth

 

 

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