Beginning at Mortlake, itself noted in the Doomsday Book, this is a walk through the pages of history. Taking in fascinating Kew Palace, majestic Richmond Park and a veritable procession of kings and queens, if you can ignore the constant Heathrow traffic, you might almost expect to hear a royal hunting party galloping by.
This walk along the Thames Path from Kew Gardens to Richmond Park is one of the the very best routes in London, offering both city residents and tourist alike a chance to escape the bustle of the capital.
Kew Gardens and Richmond Park walk
On exiting Mortlake station, turn left, crossing back over the tracks at the level crossing. A short distance on is Mortlake Green – take the path across it. Cross the main road, then take the brewery access road. Turn left at The Ship pub, then bear right on to the old towpath.
This part of the route, flanked by alder, ash and willow trees, follows the Thames Path National Trail – watch out for birdlife, including herons, cormorants, kingfishers and squawking ring-necked parakeets. Continue along the path, passing under Kew Bridge. Turn left here for Kew Gardens (signposted) and Kew Palace.
2. Kew Palace
The compact brick villa of Kew was built in 1631 for a Flemish merchant. In 1729, the family of George II and Queen Caroline moved in and, at the end of century, George III spent time recuperating from his ‘madness’ here. In 2006, Queen Elizabeth II’s 80th birthday party – an intimate dinner hosted by Prince Charles – was held at the Palace. Remember to visit Queen Charlotte’s rustic cottage while you’re here: during the 1790s it was home to a royal menagerie that included kangaroos.
3. Park life
Rejoin the Thames Path where you left. Continue along the path. The Duke of Northumberland’s Syon House occupies a commanding position on the far bank, while Richmond Old Deer Park is now on the left. The path crosses the Meridian Line here and again just before Richmond Bridge (look for the Portland stone obelisks). Before the Greenwich Meridian was established in 1851, time was set from the Royal Observatory in the Old Deer Park, a building commissioned by King George III in order for him to watch the 1769 transit of Venus.
Pass under Richmond Bridge and the railway bridge. One of the ‘great trees of London’, Asgill House’s copper beech, is on the left. Continue along Richmond Riverside Waterfront. At the flight of steps on the left, follow the path through the little park. At the top, cross the road, then follow the path up the bank on the opposite side. At the top, turn right onto Richmond Hill.
4. A royal view
Further up Richmond Hill, Terrace and Buccleuch Gardens fall away down towards the Thames. A fabulous view here offers a distant glimpse of Hampton Court Palace, the favourite residence of Henry VIII. Continue up Richmond Hill into Richmond Park. Richmond’s royal connections go back to the reign of Edward I (1272-1307).
A palace was built at Richmond by Henry VII (c1501); Elizabeth I spent long periods there and died at Richmond in 1603, and Charles I brought his court to Richmond Palace in 1625 to escape the plague. He also built the park’s walls – an unpopular move with the locals. Richmond Palace was largely demolished after Charles’s execution in 1649, but its walls, and its free-roaming red and fallow deer, remain.
For the shortest route, go straight over at the roundabout immediately inside the park entrance and follow the path to the left of the road. Turn left along the access road to Holly Lodge, then, shortly before you reach it, turn right across the park. Exit the park at Sheen Gate and continue along Sheen Lane, crossing the main road at traffic lights. Mortlake Station is another 300m.