diamond geezer

 Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Random borough (25): Kingston (part 3)

Having spent rather too long in the northern third of Kingston, because that's where all the interesting stuff is, I thought I'd better go and explore the remainder. So I took a five mile walk from one side of the borough to the other, from the Thames to the A3, along an especially river-y section of the London Loop.

Somewhere pretty: Hogsmill Valley Walk
The Hogsmill River rises on the North Downs, round about Ewell, then flows roughly northwards all the way down to the Thames. I walked the valley in the opposite direction, starting at Charter Quay on Kingston riverside. All busy with bars and restaurants it was, and in complete contrast to medieval Clattern Bridge which carries the High Street over the river a hundred yards later [photo]. Then past the Coronation Stone, through the Guildhall and out across Kingston's main ring road. Don't worry, that's as built-up as the walk gets.

This was a not-quite-along the river walk for the next couple of miles. There were glimpses of brook through the backstreets of Kingston, notably alongside the University and its well-hidden art gallery, but then the London Loop diverted me away. Lower Marsh Lane went on and on through increasingly depressing scenery - unless, that is, you like being sandwiched between a cemetery and a sewage works. Not all river valleys are sweet fragrant backwaters! Next up was Berrylands station, a remote halt serving the commuterfolk of an aspirational estate, although I suspect they have to keep their windows closed more often than they'd like. The Loop wove past an under-frequented shopping parade and an overspilling pub before finally returning to the stream.

At last, proper greenery and proper riverbank. A thin mile-long strip of meadow has been left undeveloped, providing sanctuary for wildlife and a good place to exercise dogs. I was especially chuffed to spot a flash of blue skimming across the water - the first time I've ever seen a kingfisher within the bounds of Greater London. Upstream the Hogsmill gets to dip beneath the concrete scar of the A3, but I had to make a detour to the nearest subway to get across this ten-lane arterial. And then back to peaceful meadows, alone this time apart from rather a lot of magpies (I counted thirteen - that's not good, is it?).

The path left the river at Old Malden, at the reputed spot where Millais painted his ever-so famous painting Ophelia. No dead Shakespearean heroines in the water when I passed by, you'll be glad to hear [photo]. Artistic inspiration also struck at the Gunpowder Mills a short distance upstream, in whose doorway William Holman Hunt famously painted Jesus knocking. Those mills are long gone, but The Light of the World shines on. One last stretch of Hogsmill awaited my weary feet, enlivened first by a field of grunting footballers, then by the whine of a major karting circuit. I even earned sight of a flapping heron ascending from the riverbed. But this was as far as I was going because a sign at the next road junction announced "Welcome to Surrey", and that wasn't on my agenda. Ewell'll have to wait.
by train: Kingston, Berrylands, Malden Manor, Tolworth

To reach my final stop...
... I nipped into Tolworth, whose slab-like tower is a landmark for miles around. This was the first Outer London skyscraper, formerly with a Fine Fare supermarket at its base, now propped up by an M&S Food Hall. [photo] [photo]
... I rode on the K2, which is surely the only London bus named after a mountain.
... I hopped off to see the big house in Hook where Enid Blyton first became a governess and started writing [photo]. Today there's a bus stop outside, a skip in the garden and a union HQ nextdoor, which aren't really the ingredients for any jolly adventures.

Somewhere famous: Chessington World of Adventures
Britain's first theme park sits in the very southwestern corner of London, almost as if the capital's boundary was especially extended to include it. Initially a zoo, Chessington relaunched in 1987 as a souped-up fairground, and punters have been flocking back ever since. There are 27 rides altogether, plus significantly more monkeys, as well as all the opportunities to buy fizzy drink a visitor could need. One of the oldest coasters is the Vampire, a dangly whizzabout with a Transylvanian theme. It was my favourite ride when I first visited, on a quiet day when making repeated trips was delightfully achievable. I also enjoyed Professor Burp's Bubbleworks nextdoor, with its swirling waters and light-hearted humour, although it seems a 2005 refit has turned it into a characterless advert for Imperial Leather shower gel.

But I didn't venture inside on this occasion. It was already late afternoon by the time I arrived, and a few families were starting to dribble out back to their cars. All I could do was eye up the empty queueing slalom, and peer through the railings beyond the ticket line as the occasional monorail chugged by. And I could stare at the noticeboard which listed admission prices, and quietly gasp, and realise how out of touch with entertainment prices I've become. It's £34 to get in, or £23 if you're under 12, which soon adds up to a substantial sum for visiting families. There are slightly better deals if you book online, and greatly reduced rates if you stay for two days, which is no doubt why a vast Holiday Inn recently opened across one edge of the car park. In a couple of months an African Savannah Experience opens too, which sounds like a perfect opportunity to watch shivering zebras from a plywood walkway. But it probably won't tear the majority of visitors away from the thrill of a big coaster ride, and then a box of soggy chips to follow.
by train: Chessington South   by bus: 71, 465

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