Slow Boat to Hampton Court – South London from the Thames

Is there something you always mean to do, but never seem to get round to actually doing? Our editor, Natalie, wrote her own South London ‘To Do’ list when she first started South London Blog, and one of the South London things I’ve never done is take a boat trip up the Thames from central London all the way to Hampton Court, so a visit by my Melbourne-based sister prompted me to finally organise this outing.

By coincidence, our last blog post was about a famous ship coming up the Thames to Rotherhithe – The Fighting Temeraire. The craft taking us up-river on this occasion was much less famous – The Cockney Sparrow, run by Thames River Boats. Nevertheless, we were about to re-trace the steps (oar-strokes?) of the Tudor monarchs from Westminster to Hampton Court and the famous palace built by Henry VIII.

Familiar landmark – Battersea Power Station under re-construction

Boarding at Westminster Pier opposite the London Eye, we made our way westward through familiar territory at first, with an informative and often amusing commentary by our host, telling us about the various notable buildings and where the rich and famous live. Even here, there were new things for me: Vauxhall Bridge has a series of interesting statues on the pillars, and a monk actually lives in the Peace Pagoda in Battersea Park.

The changing face of South London – Apartment buildings near Wandsworth Bridge

The stretch of river between Battersea and Putney Bridges took me into less familiar territory, however, as I’ve never walked or cycled this section and no road gives you a clear view of it. There’s an amazing number of new apartment blocks lining the river on both sides and penthouses with vast terraces worth mind-boggling amounts, no doubt. Also along here is the Battersea Heliport, which juts out on to the river on pylons.

The Rural Contrast – the south bank of the Thames near Richmond

Passing Putney Bridge there’s an altogether more rural feel, with large stretches of parkland such as the Wildfowl & Wetland Trust in Barnes and of course Kew Gardens, where there’s a stop to drop off and pick up passengers. The tide was right out and we could actually hear the boat touching the bottom in places, so shallow was the river. Approaching Richmond we pass through Richmond Lock, a Victorian structure which is used only at low tide to maintain the water level for navigation up to Teddington.

Richmond Hill from the Thames

Another stop at Richmond is followed by Petersham Meadows looking back up Richmond Hill to the park, and shortly after by the once-famous Eel Pie Island.  Along this stretch there are lots of beautiful houses with gardens coming right down to their private moorings on the riverbank. We reach the end of the tidal Thames as we pass through our second lock at Teddington then meander around the grounds of Hampton Court Palace until the Palace itself finally comes into view.

Passing through Teddington Lock

No matter how well you know any of the areas along the river, seeing them from on the river itself gives you a totally different perspective.  It was a really interesting trip which both of us thoroughly enjoyed and would highly recommend.

Fares: Adult £17, with discounts for Oyster Card & Freedom Pass holders, child £8.50. Trip takes approx 3 hours. Drinks and snacks available on board. Return via train from Hampton Court to Waterloo.           Many thanks to the crew of Thames River Boats for an enjoyable trip!

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