Richmond Park and the Thames Path

A real roots run yesterday around Richmond Park, then back along the tow path to Putney Bridge. All in all 20 miles at 5 m.p.h. Not quick, but testing and enjoyable in the most beautiful weather. The sky was blue, the air fresh, the blossom and bulbs were out.

After a delicious hot Cornish pasty at the station, I headed off into the rush of traffic in the town centre, squashed as it is between the river and Richmond Hill. Luckily, I escaped the fumes of the cars and the crowds on the narrow pavements by ducking up The Vineyard and emerging on the top of Richmond Hill to admire the fabulous view west over the bend in the river. Heading past the Star and Garter home and into the park, I turned back east and followed the beautifully laid out cycle and pedestrian track that now circles the park. The sun was shining, quite a few people were out cycling and running, mothers pushing prams and everyone luxuriating in the spring loveliness. I trotted past the Le Corbusier style residential blocks at Roehampton, along to Robin Hood gate, which is now closed to car traffic. This is where the Proustian remembrances of times past began.

Across the A3 was my native childhood haunt of Wimbledon Common. When I was about eight years old, my parents gave me a little black reel to reel tape recorder. My friend Paul and I were in his parents’ yellow mustard Volvo estate. His mother, Wanda, was trying to break into the traffic at Robin Hood roundabout and I caught her saying “Shit” on tape. She had a great sense of humour and was quite daring. At that time, my parents would never have used such language, at least not in front of children. We blackmailed Wanda quite gleefully. After Robin Hill the path climbs quite steeply and had my heart pumping. Only about mile 5, but beginning to feel it in my legs. I meandered in a hopeless circle for a while after passing the little pedestrian gate on Kingston Hill, looking for the Isabella Plantation. When we were wayward teenagers, Paul, Mark and I would hop over the gate at night and go and smoke in the Isabella Plantation, enjoying the wilderness and transgression. As I ran round in the sunshine I remembered another occasion about 35 years ago when we had a breakfast picnic there with Lucy and Sarah and saw Paul’s dad, Peter, riding past on his horse. Another era.

Back on track now to Kingston Gate, having run about 7 miles, and beginning to feel discomfort in my legs. Focus on the breathing and the chi; run from the spine, let my legs dangle off and touch the ground as lightly and gently as possible. Fuelling up on dried mango to avoid The Wall later on.

At Petersham Gate, I left the park, crossed the road and found a footpath to the riverside with beautiful views up the hill to the elegant Georgian terraces. I thought of Saskia’s mother, Mie, who lived at Ham to the west and back to Kingston where I lived for a while with my mother before leaving home. But I was heading back into town along the towpath, past the glittering lunchtime cafés in Richmond. No sign of the credit crunch as well-heeled diners ate in style, enjoying the river views. Leaving the town behind I passed the Old Deer Park and Isleworth on the other bank, catching a glimpse of of Syon House as well. Although I was using the Jeff Galloway run-walk (one mile run, one minute walk) technique, I was feeling the pain and slowing down after about 15 miles. Better not to think about running, just focus on the breathing and enjoy the scenery. Alongside Kew Gardens I saw the quaint overly-painted Kew Palace, but enjoyed the relative quiet on this stretch of the river.

As the pain began to nag I wondered whether to leave the Thames Path at Hammersmith Bridge and jump on a bus there or persevere until Putney, which should take me to my target distance of 20 miles. As I approached Hammersmith Bridge, I nodded across the river to George’s house in Chiswick with the garden that goes down to the river. I couldn’t face the idea of noise and people and traffic, especially the urban hell of Hammersmith roundabout, so decided to press on to Putney. Since Barnes I had been passed by boats of rowers and their coaches, shouting encouragement and instructions through loudhailers. They whizzed past, easily twice as fast as my snailspace five miles per hour. A bit early for the Oxbridge boat race I thought, and by the time I got to Putney I encountered German and French crews. They must have been taking part in the Head of the River race
which took place on Saturday.

Finally with Putney Bridge in view I felt the pain had been worth it, especially as my distance was exactly 20 miles. The superfluous circles looking for the Isabella Plantation had added just the right amount. And yes, as the adverts now say on the buses, “There Definitely Is A God“. In this case, He took the form of a Food & Wine shop on Lower Richmond Road, where I purchased the most delicious bottle of Lucozade and one of water to quench my thirst. And lo and behold! A Number 74 bus that picked me up on Putney Bridge and dropped me at Marble Arch. Another short bus trip down the Bayswater Road and home and hot bath.

Twenty-six will be a challenge, but should be fun!