Wednesday, November 16, 2016
Throughout most of London, the official Thames Path runs along both sides of the river. But if you're trying to walk it, which side is better?
I've attempted to answer the question by splitting up the river into sections, bridge to bridge, and comparing north with south.
What I've done...
• I've colour-coded each section of the Thames, from west to east, using traffic light colours.
• Green means good access to the riverside, amber means intermittent access to the riverside and red means poor access to the riverside.
• Bold text indicates the riverside path with the better walk.
A few caveats...
» This is all about riverside access, not about how good the view is.
» But if access is a tie, then it's about the scenery.
» Yes, it's a bit subjective.
» From Westminster Bridge to Blackfriars Bridge I think it's a tie.
» Yes, I know it's not possible to cross the river at all the points I've mentioned out east.
But blimey, when it comes to walking the Thames through London, there is a very clear result.
SOUTH BANK Hampton Court Bridge NORTH BANK Mostly inaccessible in Surrey, but better in Kingston Lovely walk around the edge of Hampton Court Park Kingston Bridge A little built-up, but full Thames-side access Mostly private and inaccessible Teddington Lock Top stroll around the Ham Lands Nature Reserve Mostly private and inaccessible Hammerton’s Ferry Petersham Meadows – one of the best sections Good, but not as good as the other side Richmond Bridge Along the edge of old Richmond Mostly confined to an alleyway Richmond Lock Attractive hike round the Old Deer Park and Kew Gardens Brief access at Isleworth, but otherwise no Kew Bridge Open access past the National Archives along a broad path Lovely to start with, then diverted through residential Chiswick Chiswick Bridge Along Mortlake's picturesque riverfront Rowing club territory, with river views blocked by trees Barnes Bridge Full access to quiet, undeveloped riverside Includes the historic waterfront streets of Hammersmith Hammersmith Bridge A long quiet stretch leading to Putney's boathouses Modern development with inland diversions, then Fulham Palace Putney Bridge Wandsworth's new riverside quarter is the first lowlight Progress entirely blocked by the Hurlingham Club Wandsworth Bridge A short heliport diversion, else full modern riverside Luxury flats, and a long diversion round Chelsea Creek Battersea Bridge Relentless modern riverside The classy Chelsea Embankment Albert Bridge The glories of Battersea Park Further Chelsea Embankment Chelsea Bridge Blocked at Battersea Power Station, then nouveau Nine Elms The Pimlico riverside is half accessible Vauxhall Bridge Round MI6, then the Albert Embankment Millbank past Tate Britain Lambeth Bridge Peak Albert Embankment Blocked by the Palace of Westminster Westminster Bridge The ever-popular South Bank (London Eye) The Victoria Embankment (Charing Cross) Waterloo Bridge The ever-popular South Bank (National Theatre) The Victoria Embankment (Temple) Blackfriars Bridge The ever-popular South Bank (Tate Modern) Confined riverside walkways Southwark Bridge Shunted back along Clink Street Confined riverside walkways London Bridge The Queens Walk, past City Hall Diverted from the river, then cobbles by the Tower Tower Bridge Mostly riverside, with developmental diversions Mostly back from the river through Wapping Rotherhithe Tunnel Occasionally interrupted round the tip of Rotherhithe Quite good access, except through Limehouse Canary Wharf Pier Good access, except around Deptford Dockyard A couple of riverside promenades, and some road walking Greenwich Tunnel Maritime Greenwich, and the post-industrial peninsula Quiet walkways skirting postwar estates Blackwall Tunnel Peninsula east, then a big detour near the Thames Barrier Apart from the odd park, almost completely inaccessible Woolwich Ferry Modern flats from Royal Arsenal to West Thamesmead Gallions Point, then a surprisingly bleak lonely footpath Tripcock Ness A long unloved walk past Thamesmead and Crossness One unwelcoming path at Creekmouth, otherwise inaccessible Rainham Grey estuarine approach to Erith Dystopian industrial, then landfill Coldharbour Point Out of sight through industrial Erith, then open marshes An isolated hike alongside landfill heaps Crayford Ness SOUTH BANK NORTH BANK
Blimey, there is a very clear result. South wins, by a landslide.
Look at the green. Most of the south bank is accessible, including the entire stretch from Kingston to Putney Bridge. There's not much green on the north bank, except from Battersea to the City. South wins.
Now look at the red. In outer London a lot of the north bank is inaccessible, particularly from Kingston to Chiswick, and from the Blackwall Tunnel to Rainham. There's not much red on the south bank, and when Battersea Power Station reopens there'll be almost none. South wins.
Now look at the bold. Almost the whole of the south bank is bold, and very little of the north bank. Throughout almost all of London, the south bank of the Thames has better public access than the north. South smashes it.
In conclusion, if you're ever planning to walk the Thames Path through London, walk the south bank.
And a final question. Why does the south bank have so much better access than the north? Is there a reason, or is it just a coincidence?
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