KEW GARDENS (District Line) LONDON TUBE RAMBLES WALK
(about 4 miles)
Although most people visiting this area make for the Royal Botanic Gardens, there are other (free) things to do. You can walk to Richmond along the Thames Path, have an architectural potter round Kew Green – or combine the two. To get to the delights of this amble along the riverbank, walk through the pleasant little square directly outside the Tube (there's a mini ‘hot-house’ café building attached to the station). Continue straight ahead and turn right at the sign to Kew Green (1/2 mile). You are now in Leybourne Park. Follow this residential road, passing a handsome classical style R.C. church (1906), until it joins Mortlake Road. Go left here and continue walking until you reach Kew Green. Cross at the lights and walk round the green. At first there are Georgian terraces, then red-brick Victorian housing. At the end of this is a large pond with bull-rushes etc. Over the road are some alleyways with pretty cottages.
Walk to the left and continue round the green. After the sunken cottages of Waterloo Place (1816) cross the bridge and follow the curve of the road as it goes past a series of beautiful Georgian houses. Cross the green to St Anne’s .This underwent a major restoration in 2010. The standard of work is impressive - in the photograph you see the real lead (as opposed to the previous fibreglass) roof to the apse. Perfect symmetry.The tomb of Thomas Gainsborough, surrounded by low railings, is on the south side of the church. Another painter, Johann Zoffany who lived at Strand on the Green, just over the bridge, is also buried here. Beyond the church are more grand houses. The one with the covered way (a 19th century addition) that stretches right to the pavement belonged to the Earl of Bute, who was Prime Minister for a short time. He was a keen botanist and had a private gate into the grounds of Kew Palace enabling him to help Prince Augusta in her development of Kew Gardens. Once past the houses you will see the wrought iron gates of one of the entrances to Kew Gardens. Turn right and walk past the impressive Herbariam complex which houses thousands of dried specimens to help identify plants and funghi.
Ferry Lane comes just after this. Go down here and after a few minutes you will be at the river. Follow the Thames Path sign to the left. At first you are opposite Brentford Ait (‘ait’ =small island) where for centuries osier willows were cultivated for basket-making. Next come Lots Ait. These islets are home to a variety of river birds and you will almost certainly see herons flying pterodactyl-like over the water. Soon you will see the bright red Kew Palace, looking remarkably like an antique dolls’ house. (I'm afraid it really is that colour). At this point you can see quite a bit of the Royal Botanic Gardens over the wall that runs by the river. The River Brent joins the Thames near here where it has a role as part of the Grand Union Canal. From the mid 19th century it was an important transport link with the Thames for the distribution of cargoes such as hay for London’s working horses, market-garden produce, coal and lime. By the 1960’s all this had changed and now a small marina and modern waterside development occupy the area where wharves, warehouses and a railway freight terminus were once a hive of commercial activity. The wall of Kew Gardens continues on your left.
The Duke of Northumberland's estate now stretches for 40 acres on the opposite bank, and eventually you will see Syon House itself. The stone facing is Georgian, but the building actually dates from the 16th century. Cattle roam the tidal meadow in front of the mansion adding to the atmosphere of rural tranquility. A little further on in the park is a delicious pink and white pavilion (1803). The way becomes increasingly countrified, the trees arching overhead to form a green ‘tunnel’.
Now comes a surprise – a Meridian line – and we’re not in Greenwich! George III commissioned an observatory to be built to see the transit of Venus in 1769. He had it lined up with three obelisks along his personal Meridian. The observatory set the official time for London throughout the 1770’s ( a standard national time was not necessary until the coming of the railways). If you look between the modern steel markers by the path you will be able to line up the observatory and one of the obelisks, though the view may be largely obscured by foliage in summer. There is another marker further along the path at Richmond which has clearer site-lines.
After the Syon Park estate comes what seems like a small riverside village – this is in fact Isleworth. The most obvious building, the stone church, was rebuilt in the1960’s (Michael Blee) after fire damage in 1943. Pevsner describes the large red brick addition as ‘an uncompromisingly original 20th century statement’. More of a shout, really.
Continue along the riverside path and the boats moored at Richmond will come into view. The way swings to the left and you will see a series of bridges ahead and the vista on the left opens out - this is the vast green space of the Old Deer Park, part of the large royal estate that included what is now the Royal Botanic Gardens area. Still Crown property, much of it is open to the public. Finally, the fascinating Richmond Lock, (1894) the last one downstream. Techno- buffs will enjoy going on to the elegant bridge and seeing the 32 ton barrages that are lowered into place between the arches as the tide begins to ebb. Their purpose is to maintain a regular depth of water between here and Teddington Lock whatever the state of the tide. Up to 1938 there was a fee to use the lock - hence the funny little railway-style ticket office.
Return to the towpath and go up to Twickenham Bridge. On the way you will pass the other pair of siting posts for the Meridian obelisks. Just after the bridge turn left and pass Asgill House, a Palladian villa which was the summer residence of Sir Charles Asgill, Lord Mayor London 1761-2. Now you can wander through Richmond (MAP) and re-join the Tube network there. Be warned, there is much of interest to be seen in Richmond, and you may wish to leave a proper exploration of its many architectural gems for another day. However, for the energetic here is the link for the full town trail.
Click on photos to enlarge
KEW GARDENS AREA MAP
Access note. The Thames path is reasonably OK for wheels, being mainly a level gravel/concrete path. On balance, I wouldn’t recommend wheelchair users to attempt the whole route. It should be borne in mind that once you’re on this path and past Kew Gardens, there is no way off the path until Richmond. It is quite narrow in places and although the many cyclists who use the path are a courteous bunch, almost invariably ringing their bells to warn of their approach, please be careful especially if you have children with you - though this trail should only be undertaken by the older ones, as it is quite long (about 4 miles in total).
Kew Gardens is just one walk from the many to be found at London Tube Rambles. There are architectural gems, beautiful country views, historic places and quirky buildings even in the most unpromising areas covered by the outer London Underground stations. Usually the discoveries are within a mile of the Tube - often only five minutes walk away. If you reached this as an individual page via a search engine, you might like to go to www.londontuberambles.co.uk to see the other destinations explored . You'll be amazed at what's out there!