One of London’s finest bridge-to-bridge pub strolls is one the most understated, offering a sense of the riverine gentility on offer a few miles further upstream. The best place to start is Battersea Park, the most European of all London’s parks, with its grand fountains, activity areas and sense of purpose, as opposed to the usual patch of grassland with the odd ice-cream van chucked in.
From here, you stroll past Fosterville-on-Thames, where if you dare, you can peer in and watch the hundreds of eager, exotically-named building designers putting the final touches to their latest steel-n’-glass box. You then reach Battersea Bridge, one of a triumvirate of two-laned bridges over this sweep of the river. The lamp-posts remain old-fashioned, their palling light evocative on a misty November evening. But the best time to hit this crossing is at dusk in early September. Get there before time to spot the first arrivals. There they are, swarming clouds of them: starlings and swifts, almost careering into each other – but not quite, never quite – swooping down, under, round, over, and down again, and back, and back again. The preternatural speed of movement takes the breath away, the weight of numbers inspiring. The rush-hour traffic, bane of a wanderer’s life, is outdone by these avian pyrotechnics.
Eventually, they find their roosting spots. If you stand on the walkway to either side of the bridge, these gregarious birds offer you a glimpse of your London life from a planet abroad: a mass, convulsive, competitive twittering to find the perfect perch. It is uplifting and depressing in equal measure.
The River Thames. Interesting shot.
Then on, past the plaque commemorating the apt death of the head of the Thames Water Board, who drowned on this riverside embankment one severely wet Spring in the 1980s, to one of Obyto’s favourite London churches, St Mary’s. Poking out from the armpit of Richard Rogers’ metal cheesecake, the Montevetro, its simple portico opens out onto a small gravel driveway, with views across the yawning bend in the Thames that so inspired artists such as Turner and Whistler. A few houseboats bob in the foreground, shaded by a willow tree. You can sense the drift of silken hems, the crunch of Victorian boots, the chatter of a congregation on a spring day. It’s all very sprightly and modest. So you’d best plough on past the cascading towers of hubris that line this part of the river. Hold your nose, study the swirling depths, do all you can to avoid personal integration with these soulless developments, the heart-achingly inevitable arrivals on what was a scene of scrubby decay and quiet.
Soon enough, you reach the aimless gyroscope in the middle of the Wandsworth roundabout. Just over the road lies a possible pitstop – The Ship. Nestled in the lee of a concrete factory, this breezy, happy place serves up Young’s to the crowd of young professionals who most likely descend from those lifestyle eyries you have just passed to enjoy a slice of ramshackle bonhomie, sitting in the ample outside space to enjoy a shot of springtime smuggery.
From here, the journey turns up past home improvement caverns and the Wandle recycling megalith, and over the Wandle Delta creek. Now, there’s a name. A delta creek. In London. When I first saw the sign, oh! The flights of fancy that invaded the mind. A lazy, serpentine arc spewing out topsoil from surrounding hills into the swampy estuary, whilst catfish-hawkers chewed tobacco on the banks; a steamy, mangrove-strangled swamp where hucksters, shamans and mad lepidoptetrists scuttled about. Or a bedraggled, muddy sewage outlet where one or two bastardy barges lay impossibly far from the concrete sides, resigned to rot in ignorance. But it deserves a mention for the sheer optimism of the name. I’m sure you agree.
Thence through a happily uneventful industrial park, onwards past more vainglorious quik-bild flats, to one of the great pubs in London, the Cat’s Back. Own this discovery, dear walker – make it yours. And get like totally hammered for a bit. It’s explored elsewhere, and we’re running out of time. Not that we’re following any sort of chronological imperative here, but there we are.
Beautiful riverside strolling. NB: do not do as the man in the photo. It’ll give you arthritis.
I guess the main impetus of this site is a lifetime away from any ambition for self-improvement, but really, we’re left with only one option: that is, to run, run as fast as you can, through Putney. Oh alright, we’ll allow you a determined stride through Wandsworth Park, with its grand guard of beech trees, but from then on, it’s all we can suggest. Putney High St is one of god’s less impressive endeavours, relentless in its drive to resemble a Surrey market town high street.
Thankfully, from this moment on, it all becomes more amenable. Slouching past the boat clubs lining the river, taking care to look out for Skippy, an apparently resident seal who tends to hang out in this stretch of the Thames, you have in front of you a good mile of tree-lined strolling. If you happen upon this walk in Spring, your eyes will be bathed in luminous first-growth green; in autumn, the same leaves manifest a blissful yellow. In between – well, it’s the sights and smell of English hedge and bush, a homely, evocative fragrance that leads you along past the Harrod’s furniture depository and out onto Hammersmith Bridge, where it is the work of a moment to cross, dip down onto the northern embankment on the west side, and choose one of a number of pubs to cheer your endeavours – the Dove being the pick, I guess, although the Blue Anchor draws fewer crowds, and has a pleasing tartan motif. Congratulations for getting this far. In this article, I mean. It’s not as if you’re ever going to travel halfway across town just to walk down a bloody river, is it, you feckless urban mong.
41 Jews Row Wandsworth SW18 1TB Tel: 020 8870 9667