Sunday, 31 May 2009

Section 8: Kingston Upon Thames to Bourne Hall Park, Ewell

Living so close to Kingston, I caught the bus into town this morning to walk my first section of the London Loop. Rather than begin at the Clattern Bridge, I strolled down to the wetlands area where the Hogsmill flows into the Thames. At 9am on a sunday there are very few people about, so I spent 15 minutes checking I had packed everything, and enjoying the scenery. The new apartments of Charter Quay stand guard like sentinals at this point, their imposing and less than sympathetic facades casting huge shadows over the wetlands.

I walked towards the Clattern Bridge, pausing to take a photo, before crossing the road and walking down to the Coronation Stone. It is claimed that seven of the Saxon Kings were crowned on this very stone, but apparently it's a common misconception that the name "Kingston" is derived from this stone (in fact "ton" meant "farmstead, so Kingston would appear to mean "The Kings Farmstead"). Underneath the gaze of the Guildhall, the Stone sits quietly. I met a security guard at the gate who mentioned that the stone was somewhat underwhelming. Personally I like that. It means that, far from being a "disney-fied" version of history, it was actually a practical relic, something that was actually used.

I followed the course of the River as far as possible, although there are several small little detours around roads and through housing estates. Just twenty minutes along, and I began to feel underwhelmed by spending more time walking alongside roads than the river. Past the sewage works (where trade is booming judging by the smell) and beyond Berrylands Station I found the river once again. Elmbrigde Meadows has been rather cleverly managed by the local authorities, plants being left to seed in the majority apart from the small grassy paths. Gone are the wide open meadows that I used in play in (in my younger days), instead plantlife covers the greater area allowing refuge for an abundance of wildlife. I paused for a while to take some more snaps and to top up on water.

At this point the A3 crosses the river, forcing you into a small detour but nothing requiring any great orienteering skills. I particularly enjoyed walking this part of the Hogsm
ill, having been the area I used to take my dog for a walk. As with Elmbridge Meadows, what I first took to be the park looking overgrown is apparently planned. The tree's provide lot's of shade and the abundance of foliage creates some pleasurable smells. I even know people who have seen deer in this area and Kingfishers have enjoyed nesting, so the local nature management is obviously working well.

Beyond the railway bridge of the Chessington South line I took a short detour over a conveniently placed bridge to find Six Acre Meadow. This was the site that the Pre-Rap
haelite painter Sir John Everett Millais chose to set his well known work "Ophelia". Millais at first did not recieve positive reviews of his work, but in later years he has won admiration for his attention to natural landscapes, and Ophelia is now estimated to have a value of £30 million!

Returning to the Loop, the path reaches its first (and only) hill of any note, at the top of which sits the St. John the Baptist Church. The small cemetry looks wild and overgrown, but not unpleasant on the eye in the bright summer sunlight. The Church istself is famed for having been mentioned in the Domesday Book, and as you look at the exterior you can clearly see several different styles of architecture, from weather worn flint walls to the 2004 extension.

Beyond the church, you must walk above the level of the river, and the road has no footpath so the occasional jump into nettles is necessary to avoid oncoming traffic. Along this stretch there used to be several gunpowder factories, supplying equipment to the Napoleonic era forces of Wellington, although I could only see evidence of much later discarded farm equipment.

I rejoined the path near the Hogsmill Tavern, and soon found myself passing a go-kart track and emerging onto the A240. Beyond this, the meadows are wide and open, and the Bonesgate Stream feeds into the Hogsmill. At this stage I found the first major discrepancies between my map (last revised 1997) and the actual path. There were several bridges, and I knew I had to cross one, but I lost the now familiar markers and found myself confusingly wandering over a smaller stream and beyond a lake. Hoping to find a seat on which to take a break, I fortunately wandered back onto the path, and congratulated myself with a cereal bar.

One particular feature of this walk was the rather unique solution to a railway line crossing. Rather than taking a longer detour, a wooden footpath has been built a few feet above the river, underneath the railway. Expecting to emerge into sunlight, I found myself walking in the shade of numerous trees. You must cross the river several times here, but it's very easy to follow.

Shortly after the Mill House, I emerged at a set of traffic lig
hts. Crossing these, I caught my first sight of the source of the Hogmsill at Long Pond in Ewell. The impressive gates of Bourne Hall Park feature a large stone dog, rumoured to have saved a young boys life. Upon entering the gates, you are met by the lake on your right, with attractive fountain, and the futuristic and unconventional civic centre of Bourne Hall. Being late morning of a warm bright sunday, families were out playing ball games and feeding the birds on the lake. However, having walked from Kingston, I contented myself by laying in the shade of a small tree and dozing whilst waiting for my lift home.

On reflection, I have learnt a few things today. Firstly, buy a modern mapbook or route guide. I already knew about half of this section of the Loop, but still managed to wander off track, so a guidebook is a must. Secondly, I think I have become less critical of modern buildings. Whilst they are often uncompromising and unsympathetic, every single one that I walked past was in use, even on a sunday, be it as homes, a place of worship, or as a place to relax. Finally, I learnt that I can walk. I'm neither sunburnt, blistered or aching, so I think I need to plan the next section of the Loop (as soon as my guidebook arrives).

Saturday, 30 May 2009

What am I doing?

It's a saturday evening & I'm bored. I've spent the day doing very little of any note, much the same as quite a few recent weekends. I'm at a loose end.

I don't have any hobbies that take up my free time, and I'm not a fan of spending every evening in the pub drinking away my savings.

But hope is at hand. The sun is shining, and earlier I took a walk down by the local river, the Hogsmill. In the space of 45 minutes I met some young lads fishing, came face to face with a fox in broad daylight, and watched the parakeets whizz between the trees. I've found some inspiration at last.

I'm going to get my walking boots on and spend some time in this beautiful weather. Tomorrow I plan to walk from Kingston to Ewell, following the route of the Hogsmill river, from where it meets the Thames up to it's source at Bourne Hall Park, 7.3 miles (11.7km) away.

On further reading I discover it is part of something called the London Loop, Section 8. A loop! Around London! This catches my imagination, and straight away my mind is filled with thoughts of walking the entire Loop. Not all tomorrow, obviously. But something to aim for, something to plan, something to do.

It's discoveries like this that keep me going sometimes. I've been at a loose end for a long time, but maybe that's about to change. Or maybe I'll get home tomorrow, sunburnt, blistered and aching. We'll have to see.