Is this wise?

2. Vauxhall to Putney Bridge: a bit of a rant.

On my first day of properly walking the Thames Trail, I was at Vauxhall Bridge early, ready for the off. I didn’t want to look too outdoorsy in the middle of Central London and I thought I’d nailed it with my outfit until I caught sight of my reflection at the Tube station. Masked up as required, I looked less flaneuse and more gentlewoman bank robber.  The dark glasses didn’t help. Still at least I had competently packed my bag. Apples, twice as many as I could eat in a day. A large cagoule, three maps and a guidebook, none of which I needed. And no sun cream, which I did. Plus a candle for a birthday cake. With nine holders.

No idea. Absolutely no idea. Carried them 30 miles before I found them.

I had, I realised, forgotten how to walk.

I set off with another look at MI6 and a bit of wondering about how anyone could ever find their way about in there given what appears to be the odd structure of the place.

Then I realised that I couldn’t actually find the river. I was standing on a bridge approach so I had to be warm but I couldn’t see how to get to it. I dived into a modern residential development, all multi level flats and small neat squares of gardens. Fenced gardens. Gardens which separated me from where I could see people cycling and jogging along the riverside. Not a good start. Nothing for it but to go back to MI6 and begin again. This time I waited until a swingy pony tail type ran past. I followed her and yes, there were the steps and there was the path. Ingenious. Surprised I didn’t get a call from the people over the road.

Plain sailing from here on, I thought. Keep the river on the right and straight on until Putney. 

After 100m the riverside way was barred and the trail diverted back through the flats to the main road. It was to happen over and over again. This stretch of the path passes through areas in transition;

the redevelopment of Nine Elms – look at the vehicles on the road to get an idea of the height of the buildings,
the construction of a mighty cross London super sewer, (great that they honoured women in this way but did they have to do it with boring machines?),
and the transformation of the former Battersea Power Station. How does anyone know what is going on here?

I got heartily sick of all the enormous residential developments, way out of human scale and devoid of signs of life, overlooking a river on which nothing was moving on this Saturday morning, and with a view across to more of the same on the other bank.

The developers of twenty or thirty years ago provided small – very small – public spaces, sculptures, and benches for passers by to appreciate, but today’s developers seemed intent upon designing out the person altogether. Or the person who hasn’t paid for the space, at least. Yes, I know that there can be major issues with antisocial behaviour but this privatisation of space was way beyond what is needed to mitigate that.

And the quality of the build is questionable too. Another diversion took the path away from the river as a newish development was undergoing what was signposted as facade remediation.

They’re either falling down or the cladding is unsafe.

I was not enjoying this walk. You’ve probably got that. I was getting crosser and crosser.

But if it was the inhumanity of the increasing scale of the cityscape which irked, it was the smaller signs of people living their lives which cheered. There was Battersea Park – quiet and beautifully maintained with manicured rose gardens interspersed with wilder woodland, sports pitches with boating lakes, expanses of grass to kick a ball about with traffic free roads to learn to ride a bike, and cafes with (hallelujah) loos.

Wandsworth Park was another delight, as was St Mary’s, Battersea, where a profits to charity coffee van outside the Church door and a few benches in the Churchyard provided a perfect spot for lunch.

Boat dwellers moored on the tidal reaches created their own ad hoc riverscape

and just occasionally a resident on dry land made their mark amidst the uniformity.

I had a long conversation with a lovely man leaning over his garden wall – how he’d come to be living there, how he’d met his partner, how they’d only moved in back in December, how he’d started his working life taking hundreds and hundreds of cuttings at a specialist shrub nursery in Shropshire and how excited he was about his plans for the garden which – he told me with can’t quite believe how lucky I am glee – was a whopping 200 sq m. We agreed that it was the most phenomenal stroke of luck, not to mention inexplicable, that the developers had chosen to leave this little patch of land free. Then he turned to ask me about my walk. Where does the Thames go?   Are you doing it for charity? Then Why are you doing it then? Tricky. Ask me when I’m done.

So today was a stretch to be ticked off rather than a great walk. What I do remember now is how, despite the almost total erasure of this part of London’s past and its replacement with the ersatz and the short term and the out of scale, the odd remnant that is particular to the city survives. The sign on Albert Bridge may look twee,

but the platform at Putney Bridge station has great charm.

The arcane bale of straw law had me fascinated. Yes, I know it’s nerdy to the point of tedium but I’ll be looking out for it for ever more.

See the bale of straw? According to a contractor’s notice Ancient laws about bridges and bales of straw are enforced for the next few months as repair works are carried out on Wandsworth Bridge. A navigation law requires that any bridge over the River Thames that is open to river traffic but has its clearance reduced must hang a bundle of straw from the bridge as a warning to boats… Whatever the origins of the law, it’s still in effect, and it is enforced.

And I’ll just shoehorn Battersea Dogs’ Home in here. It’s a workaday modern building constructed around a courtyard in which stands the cattery. But what a cattery…

Cats always find the best billets.

4 thoughts on “Is this wise?

  1. What an incredibly varied walk. The bale of straw was brillant. Yes, I felt annoyance at the massive buildings going up – no thought for what it might be like to actually live in these places. I always love glimpses of the older parts of the city.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you. Yes in hindsight it was a rich and varied walk but I’m really glad that it was at the start of the walk and not at the grand finale. It’s interesting to see how quickly areas change from one bridge to the next. All to do with planning zones, I guess, but all very intriguing in a what comes next way to me.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. An interesting walk even if frustrating at times and despite all attempts to eliminate the history of London you did manage to find some quirkiness. Does this mean you have moved to London? Or are you doing this walk in phases?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Jude. No, we’re still in Bristol. I have a place where I can stay in London so I’ve had a couple of weekends up there. Holidaying anywhere else this summer is not straightforward. Lucky you being in Cornwall with all that loveliness on your doorstep and your beautiful garden just outside the door.
      In real time, I’ve got to the edge of London where it’s as easy to do my next walk as a day trip from Bristol rather than approach it from the London end.

      Liked by 2 people

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