Posts made in July, 2013

Chaiman’s Tour: Day three – Teddington to Thames Ditton via Hampton Court

No more purple prose about the weather, now rather dull and humid. Teddington is very down to earth compared to the exotic, foreign air of Richmond in the bright light and searing heat a few days ago. The 281bus took me from the station to meet the others at Floating Cloud café, still missing Meg, my poor old dog. She is still limping, but eating well and cold nose. It is a proud moment to be meeting where so many little boats gathered in 1940 for Dunkirk. The footbridge is familiar from the movie. I wonder what they felt, setting off across the Channel to the rescue. Apprehensive might be an understatement.  Odd rain drops, thick humidity, distant rumbles of thunder, ominous start as we cross the bridge. The bike/buggy access is a fine piece of TLS work, and the much appreciated. If my term as chairman produces just one thing as practical, and attractive as this I will not have wasted my time. A touching meeting with some local volunteers gathering wild flowers for the funeral of someone who has worked so hard on keeping Ham Lands attractive. It is sad to hear of her passing, but good to be able to add a tribute from TLS to the many tributes that will be paid.  There are some temporary moorings opposite to upstream end of the lock. They are not much used because a little further upstream there is a collection of residential boats, many unlicensed. This stretch is not designated for residential mooring and is a cause of some controversy. It is strange that some, not all, people should add to their illegal occupation of moorings offensively unkempt appearance of boats, and untidy colonisation of bits of river bank. Good neighbourly behaviour would aid their case. We see many which, were they houses, would be subject to planning enforcement. The legal matters around the illegal moorings are the subject of a discussion at the Hawker Centre with a local ward councillor, David Cunningham. We hear that Richmond have a new by law in course of adoption, and that he is concerned about the effects on the Kingston stretch when it is enforced. It is distressing to hear reports of more conventional residents being harassed by some from the illegal moorings. An upside of the discussion is that we are under cover for a significant downpour, and emerge as it finishes. We inspect a hedge planted by TLS that has suffered from lack of watering, and talk about acquiring a portable pump. The approach to Canbury Gardens is along as narrow and crowded stretch of path as any encountered so far, but it seems to work. We have to step aside for cars and bikes, but no one actually runs us down. Maybe living in Kingston teaches one tolerance. Canbury Gardens has long been at the top of the agenda at TLS. Jason has devised schemes, and even had funding bids accepted, but we have yet to make a start. It is a park with a lot to offer, and much of it is excellent, but the edge of the Thames is eroding and shabby. The plans we will carry out when we get funding will give a new and much more natural bank, which will offer more to the many thriving boating groups along this reach.  Much has been done along the link to Kingston Town Centre, a splendid new Sea Cadet building warms the heart. It does need to be an inviting and vibrant pedestrian route. It is not at the moment, but work is still...

Read More

Chairman’s Tour Day two – Richmond to Teddington

If anything, the weather was even more glorious that the first day.  Richmond had an exotic, foreign air in the bright light and searing heat as I walked from the station to meet companions at the Tide Tables café. How I regret saying on that first day that the pace would suit Meg, my poor old dog. The day almost finished her off, she has been limping ever since and the vet says no more long walks for a while, perhaps never. For a dog-owner without a dog, any walk is rather unsatisfactory. At least this time, with plenty to look at and talk about I would notice her absence less. Tide Tables café is a good place to meet. I was introduced to Ann Sayer of the Teddington society and, beneath the shade of the enormous planes, we talked of what we were to see that day. Setting off, with Jason and Becky, was like “Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.” For a moment there was no breeze, and I was reminded of the North African desert, oven-like at half past ten. What was it going to be like at noon? The first thing to catch our eye was Richmond landing stage. Extensive and well used by trip boats, but in need of TLC. Not all of it is in use currently, and some temporary mooring for private boats could be provided if the whole thing were given a makeover.  Temporary moorings are in very short supply on the tidal Thames, and there is always the worry that they will be squatted by homeless residential boats. A town centre mooring like Richmond landing stage would be very popular. Boat owners would think of Richmond as a destination, and be able to visit the town by water. Every point of interest on the river needs moorings so that leisure boating can extend to visiting places on the river, instead of sailing past unable to stop. We passed sad little GothicGarden, left out of the Arcadia project because the ancient rear wall, which supports the highway behind would have cost too much to repair.  There will come a time, when it is close to collapse, when we can seize the opportunity to restore this quaint little patch. A much larger open space lies a little further upstream, within it two commemorative gardens. One, touchingly, in memory of a young woman killed nearby, the driver did not stop. The last photo in her camera, minutes before her death, was taken from this spot.  Her family helped design the planting with her favourite plants, and still visit. Memories of the Three Pigeons pub come back as we pass the site, now occupied by mundane flats as a result of one of the longest ever planning battles. We bravely decide to head up the famous Richmond Hill, so we duck under the Duke of Buccleuch’s famous arch. It is amazing that this classic folly is not a listed monument. It is made of a collection of bits and pieces collected from all over Europe, the capitals from Tewkesbury Abbey are especially interesting. It has recently been pointed by what looks like the correct lime putty, but cannot be. It is both cracking off and attacking the ancient statuary. Something must be done! The formal gardens we emerge into from the tunnel glow like Persian carpet. The planted beds just blaze with colour under the bright sun. This is the heart of the landscape changes made by the Arcadia project and, later TLS, to restore the famous view from Richmond...

Read More

Chairman’s Tour Day one – Kew Bridge to Richmond

It was such a beautiful day, I felt churlish to be wondering if it was actually going to be too hot. The change of the route to end at Richmond on the first day instead of pressing on to Teddington Lock, caused me no distress whatever. You may think that it is an easy stroll, but doing it “site-visit” pace, slowly and stopping to look at things and make notes is actually more tiring than striding out at a good pace. At least the pace would suit my elderly dog. As I waited for the others in the car-park by the Brentford Gate at Kew Gardens, I was slightly unnerved to see visitors to the gardens lathering on the factor 25, and checking their survival gear, like explorers of the Upper Nile. It took me back to a walk I did up the Kafue River, in Zambia. Only sun-cream whose smell did not alarm wild-life was permitted. When Hilary Pickles of the Royal Thames Society, Ian Bruce of the Richmond Society and Dido Berkley of Thamesbank had joined Becky, Jason and me, we heard about the grand plans for that very car park. It was to be relocated and replaced by a showcase garden, but the visionary plan, widely applauded but not yet quite fully funded, is for a bridge to Brentford joining to the new access to Syon House. Visitors would be offered a ticket for both sites, although it would be a heroic effort to get around both in a day. Heading along the towpath proper we pondered the growing threat of flooding. The flood wall finishes at that car park, upstream is unprotected. King George’s ha-ha ran along between us and Kew Gardens. The grade one listed brickwork was hardly visible among the wild greenery. If it is to be a part of flood amelioration, should it not be better kept? On the other hand, it would be shame to be too neat and tidy and lose all the charm of the wild. This is a theme which sounds through everything TLS does and in almost every part of the strategy area. It was a constant thought the whole of the walk, and, on balance on the Kew to Richmond stretch at least there was plenty of scope for what gardeners call a “good cutting back.”  Having known this part of the towpath for years I was saddened to find how very much growth was in between a pedestrian and the river. A horse could not tow a barge along very much of it, not that it should be the standard, but brambles six foot high completely hiding the river is too much. Local Authorities can be too sensitive to those who hate to see any tree cut. It is wonderful that people want to protect trees but along our walk we found features completely obscured and vistas blocked by uncontrolled growth. There is a worry about the right balance of habitat if previously open areas are choked and darkened.  At least the marvellous spot between Kew Gardens and Syon House was wide open. It was just grand to be alive to see it on such a brilliant day. One could for a short moment put aside important considerations like the Water Framework Directive, and enjoy the view. Always learn something new. Repton designed the grounds of Syon and Kew Gardens to be all of a piece. Kew Gardens has been altered out of all recognition, but I will always treasure that nugget, and maybe win a pub quiz with it. Beyond Kew Gardens the revetment...

Read More