The Thames Path - a Lifeline Through London

The Thames Path is the only National Trail to pass right through the middle of London. The 80 km route links up several World Heritage sites with numerous local parks and green spaces to form an essential ‘blue space’ element within London National Park City.

During the Covid-19 pandemic the Thames Path is providing a vital lifeline for thousands of people seeking solace as they walk, run and cycle beside the River Thames. We want to see more people having equal access to the Thames Path.

The Thames Path enters London at Hampton Court Palace in the west and continues through the city to Greenwich. It runs along the north bank from Hampton Court to Kingston, where it crosses the river and runs along the south bank to Teddington.

Here the tidal Thames begins and the Path runs along both banks of the river, giving more people from London’s communities access to the riverside. The north bank route finishes at Greenwich Foot Tunnel, the south bank route finishes at the Thames Barrier.

The Thames Path comes under three separate policies in the Draft London Plan.

If a Definitive Map and Statement can be created for the whole of the Thames Path in London, it would have the protection as a Public Right of Way that it deserves through the London reaches.

Fourteen London borough councils are responsible for maintaining the Thames Path as part of the Public Rights of Way network, which in some places also includes cycling. I support the boroughs with additional signing of the Thames Path using the black and white versions of the National Trail acorn icon.

Some of these boroughs are represented on the London Working Group for the Thames Path.

This group engages agencies such as the London Ramblers, River Thames Society, Port of London Authority and Thames Estuary Partnership, and also the Landscape Strategy groups for Kew to Chelsea (hosted by Hammersmith & Fulham council) and the Arcadian Thames.

We are all committed to encouraging and enabling more people to have equal access to the Thames Path and discover the pleasure and enjoyment of being beside the River Thames.

A good example of a project to allow better access along the Thames will be the
redevelopment of the Albert, Swedish and Comley’s Wharf next to Wandsworth Bridge in south Fulham.

Currently the Thames Path goes inland, because historically there was no tow-path along the front of the wharves. We’re taking the opportunity of the redevelopment for lifts and stairs to be installed. This will enable safe access to the Thames Path from Wandsworth Bridge.

I’ve contributed to planning consultations and look forward to working with landowners and developers so that we can do more projects like this before development takes place.

The London Borough of Hounslow has an innovative design for a ‘floating’ route taking the Thames Path beneath Barnes railway bridge. This will improve access to Dukes Meadow, a really popular open green space, for the local community. In Greenwich there are riverside access improvements and pocket parks.

There’s so much to see from the Thames Path in London: wildlife, river traffic, views changing with clouds and sunlight on buildings, the riverside sculptures and historic buildings.

The Thames Path can become part of people’s daily commute, giving them fresh air and tranquillity away from stressful work, and it’s the perfect outdoor gym for walking, running – and in some places – cycling.

One Thames Path walker in London said recently: “It’s good for the body and great for the soul. Fascinating, invigorating, soothing and inspiring in equal measure.”

Beautiful yellow wagtails were a familiar sight in fields alongside the River Thames

the Yellow Wagtail Project aims to bring them back

Yellow wagtails eat small insects and spiders found where cattle graze, and dip into the muddy edges of streams, the river and ditches foraging for insects. They nest on the ground in open fields.

The Yellow Wagtail Project is studying the insect population of fields alongside the Thames at Clifton Hampden and Little Wittenham with the aim of restoring insect-rich habitats to bring back the yellow wagtails.

Dr Robin Buxton of Church Farm Partnership, working with researcher Sophie Cunnington, has set up the project supported by Wild Oxfordshire. They aim to find out more about the insects that live here now and what improvements could be made to encourage the yellow wagtails to return to these meadows.

Watch the Yellow Wagtail Project video

Photo of Dr Robin Buxton and researcher Sophie Cunnington carrying out the invertebrate survey.

Yellow Wagtails ( photos RSPB)


Celebrate Stanley Spencer's birthday on 30th June

walking along by the River Thames inspired some of his most famous paintings

‘A crow fell down the chimney at Fernlea on Cookham High Street, flapped around the room, flew out of the window and Stanley Spencer was born. The date was June 30th 1891 – and the family thought it was a good omen. He was the eighth surviving child of Annie and William Spencer, and he was joined a year later by his younger brother Gilbert.’ From ‘Stanley Spencer – a short biography’.

Spencer adored the Thames-side village and throughout his life walked beside the river and across the meadows. He painted the houses, gardens and people of the village throughout his life. As a student at the Slade School of Fine Art he travelled daily on the train into London, and was fondly known as ‘Cookham’ by his fellow-students.

The importance of Cookham as his spiritual home comes through his paintings of landscapes, activities on the river such as Swan Upping, and settings for religious paintings.

The Thames Path in Cookham passes the small, former Wesleyan, chapel which is now the Stanley Spencer Gallery. This chapel and the services there which Spencer attended as a child made a deep impression on him. He felt a great spiritual significance within the building that is now home to exhibitions of his work and archive.

Although the Gallery is closed, you can see photographs of Spencer at work and his paintings online There are also videos of the new exhibition ‘Love, Art, Loss – The Wives of Stanley Spencer’ which the Gallery hopes to open as soon as possible.

Follow news about the Stanley Spencer Gallery on Twitter @SpencerCookham

Below Stanley Spencer Self-portrait 1923 (Stanley Spencer Gallery)

Steve Tabbitt Trail Manager's Latest Blog

There's still a lot happening behind the scenes on the Trail - news from Steve Tabbitt, Thames Path Trail Manager

I don’t know about you but I’m looking forward to a time when we can not only get out and enjoy our Thames Path but also stop off at one of those amazing beer gardens along the Thames for a well-earned pint or two.

Virtually together

To aid with the management of the Trail we’ve moved to the various video conferencing packages available. Normally It would be logistically impossible to attend London Meetings and then a Visit Thames meeting in Henley, but MS Teams has allowed these meetings and more besides, helping to ensure the management of the trail continues! It’s certainly saving a lot of time and diesel, and for the most part is working very well.

Just want to say to all our volunteers’ ‘Thanks for bearing with us through these strange times, hopefully we’re beginning to see life returning to some sort of normal.’

Covid 19 and Walking the Trail

When out walking along the Thames and other footpaths please follow the official Government guidance, and be aware of the local restrictions and closures listed below.
Due to social distancing there are a few London Closures in place which some closures and restrictions are currently still in place through London which are:
• Teddington Lock footbridge.
• Restrictions for Runners and Cyclists along the Thames Path in the Royal Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham
• Royal Palaces have currently (May 2020)  closed Tower of London Wharf which also carries the Trail
• 2 Closures at Greenwich near the Naval College and another further downstream.
All known closures can be found on our interactive map.

Visit Thames Recovery Plan

Just to let you know though, we sit on the steering group of Visit Thames and we are working on the first draft of our Thames Recovery Plan – here is a brief extract from the Draft Plan:

Visit Thames Marketing Partnership wishes to support its partners and businesses along the River Thames, assisted by local destinations: the Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead, Reading, Henley on Thames, Marlow and Runnymede as well as the Thames Path National Trail and British Marine.

Visit Thames is developing a recovery plan following the Covid-19 pandemic and will work with businesses as they prepare to adapt for the different phases of recovery and ‘safe tourism’. Days out and staycations are likely to be the first travel steps in the domestic market.

We know travel will be different in a post-COVID-19 world and this will be a starting point as there are likely to be more questions than answers as the restrictions start to lift and a ‘new normal’ appears.
Things to consider are:
• Communication: With destinations, businesses and local communities
• What is available now locally e.g. home delivery services, marinas, water sports
• Readiness of businesses for the “new normal” and the possibility of a new charter mark for ‘safe tourism’
• Digital Information and innovation
• Phases
• Messages and marketing plan that will build trust and confidence with visitors

GIS Update …better maps for our trail monitors

We’ve been busy working up an on going project looking at our Geographic Information System called CAMS – Countryside Access Management System especially looking at how we can get better maps to our trail monitors, we’re not there yet as it’s an on going project but fortunately we have some excellent GIS volunteers helping out..

Website Update

For those of you who have logged onto the website recently you’ve noticed that our website looks totally different. Working with other National Trails and Natural England we have now merged 2 websites into one. We would love to know what you think of it.

Works Along the Trail

After the endless flooding events of last winter and before the restrictions came into place, we managed to mobilise some heavier machinery onto the riverbank to repair an eroded section or riverbank in Tilehurst, Reading.

We’d just like to let you know that whilst our volunteer tasks are currently on hold as I write this, with some restrictions lifting we are planning to start up some of our volunteer mowing tasks and hopefully you all have received emails about this, we of course still need to follow Government guidelines so the mowing may feel a little different this year.

As with all years, there are also several grass cutting contracts which are let out which cover other enclosed areas along the Thames, this allows for a good spread at the crucial times for this vital work or Soft Vegetation Management as we call it.

We have several trusted contractors who have beefed up their Risk Assessments to include Covid 19 requirements, and so ensure we are able to keep the Thames Path open and allow for as wider widths as possible to aid with social distancing.

Unlike a lot of the downland and upland Trails, we really do need to keep on top of the vegetation growth that takes place along the riverbank. We’re also noticing an increase in wild oil seed rape growing along the riverbank especially in the Oxfordshire Gloucestershire reaches. I have been told that a very woody virulent rape seed has been planted for biomass!

I’d like to thank all the trail monitors who reported back to us during the autumn and winter. These reports not only help to shape the Volunteer tasks but also the larger contractor works.

We do have a work programme lined up for the Thames Path 2020/21 and, as long as restrictions will allow, we have already let out some surface improvement works for sections of the trail near to Benson, Oxfordshire and also near Streatley in West Berkshire.

We are also working in partnership with Richmond Council and the Thames Strategy Kew to Chelsea on surface improvements along the Thames Path in Richmond, which will hopefully take place in the near future.

A new Creation Order was approved in Shiplake, Oxfordshire. Instead of walking along minor roads beyond Shiplake Lock, you can now follow a Restricted By-way underneath the railway bridge to turn right onto our newly-created path and then follow the river round the ‘Wargrave bend’ Our volunteers have been out installing signage and adding new towpath gates where needed.

Other Trail Improvements  before Lockdown

• Working in Partnership with Hounslow Council saw the borough installing 12 new destination signs and a full waymarking of the Trail through the Borough. The north bank of the Thames in London has less riverside walking than the Southbank and so where the Trail leaves the river, we have had complaints from the public when they get lost. New signage in Hounslow includes 12 specific destination signs and 6 generic Thames Path (black and white London signage). All were installed by the Borough Council.

• The London Waymarking project is on-going and is supported by the Thames Path National Trail Tidal Group and Abundance London. The boroughs which have been waymarked include Greenwich, Lewisham, Southwark, Tower Hamlets, Kingston, Richmond and Wandsworth. Of the areas waymarked there are a few opportunities to run the Trail along the river, and we’re continuing discussion with these riparian London Borough Councils.

Thames English Coast Path Project

Although the new Thames English Coast Path sections in north Kent have now been approved by the Secretary of State, we had hoped that the Development stage would be complete and the new Thames ECP Woolwich Foot Crossing to Isle of Grain would be completely open by the end of this year. Unfortunately, the development stage has now been put on hold and we are now hoping for a Thames ECP Spring 2021 opening.

The new Thames ECP like all the new English Coastal National Trails is governed by a new piece of legislation.Within this legislation a Coast Path can legally come up into an estuary as far as the first foot crossing, and for the Thames that’s the Woolwich Foot Tunnel.

Under our existing legislation for the Thames Path (The National Parks Act 1949) we are undertaking a Variation Order to link up with the Thames ECP at the Woolwich Foot Tunnel. On the ground it will be a seamless link, it’s only the legalities that might seem confusing! To learn more about The English Coast Path  

Trip Advisor

We though it important to finish with these superb and appreciative responses from visitors who’ve posted on Trip Advisor.

Thames Barrier to Tower Bridge

Walked this first section of the Thames Path with my wife in early March (before Covid-19 shutdown!). We took a leisurely approach, covering the distance over two days and staying at a convenient Premier Inn at Waterloo (separate review).
We thoroughly enjoyed the experience, with plenty of interesting and historic sites along the way. Also, great views of the river and convenient lunch stops along the way.
Remains true to the riverbank for much of the way, apart from occasional diversions where the riverbank is inaccessible or privately owned. Generally, I would say it is well signposted and has plenty of route markers……I am giving the attraction 5 stars due to its unique and historic nature. Some walkers may be slightly deterred by the industrial landscape at the start around the Thames Barrier (my wife wasn’t overly enamoured at walking through a concrete factory!) but that is only for the first couple of miles and has a charm and history of its own as a working dockland.
I am thoroughly looking forward to walking the remaining 170 miles in a similarly leisurely fashion in stages over the next two years

Brilliant walk along the Thames

The Thames stretches out a very long way. There are Thames paths on either side of the Thames. We start at Rotherhithe village and then walk all through the wharf of Bermondsey to Tower Bridge. Continue along to South Bank and past the London Eye and over Westminster Bridge. Walk back down the Embankment and the north side of the Thames back to Tower Bridge. Cross over and then back down the South Side of the Thames back to the start. Great way to spend your Saturday with everything open along the way.

During a recent holiday to London, I decided to do some early AM running. Upon arriving at Canary Wharf Pier via the ferry, I noticed signage for “Thames Path.” I thought to myself, “Hmmm…I wonder what this this could be? Is this going to be an amazing course to run?” Guess what…it is……Overall, this Thames Path going each direction from Canary Wharf pier provides a walker, runner, or bicyclist with epic views of London