Monday, July 20, 2015

Thames Path Walk from Putney to Hammersmith And Fun Times with Friends

Friday, July 17, 2015:
The Thames Path Walk from Putney to Hammersmith and Fun Times with Friends

            On yet another pre-dawn rising, I awoke to the discovery that the cold that had plagued me for the past three days was history. It left residual signs of a cough behind, but, for the most part, my familiar high-energy levels returned and I was ready to rock and roll. And good job too! For the day promised glorious sunshine and perfect mid-summer temps—read no humidity and the coolest of breezes playing off the river.

Morning Mass at St. Paul’s Cathedral:

            With the sun shining down on High Holborn outside my window, it seemed like the perfect morning to leave Llew at his lie-in and get to St. Paul’s Cathedral for Mass—something I did want to fit in on this trip. By 7.40 am, I climbed into casuals and rode the elevator downstairs. When a No.8 arrived, in a couple of minutes, I hopped right into it, and within five minutes, I was in St. Paul’s Cathedral where I have worshipped at daily Mass on countless occasions. In the little side Chapel, there were just 2 other folks when I arrived and within five minutes. Mass began—said, as it is done apparently every Friday—by the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, whom I have had the privilege of meeting on a couple of occasions in the past through my friend Bishop Colclough (not that I expected him to remember me at all!).

Still, it felt odd to attend a Mass at which I was one of four members in the congregation. Later on, after Mass began, a couple of black women joined in, but it was a very quiet service indeed although beautifully said by the Bishop. For me, being at Mass in this beloved church, was an opportunity to thank the Lord yet again for the gift of my health and for bringing me again to my most beloved of cities.
              Outside, on the Square, Life raced on as office-goers clutching their coffees, entered corporate buildings to begin their day. I took the bus back for two stops and joined Llew, who had awoken for Brekkie of Sainsbury Fruit and Nut Muesli with Yogurt and coffee. We showered, got dressed and left High Holborn for the Tube ride to Putney Bridge for we were going to mess about on the river. At Putney, which is essentially a part of the city of London although it was once thought of as the countryside, the river takes on a countrified air and the suburbs that embrace its banks are upper crust: Hammersmith, Barnes, Chiswick, Kew, and finally the ritziest of them all, Richmond. The Plan of Action was to get to Putney and then start the stroll along the Thames Path all the way to Richmond—approximately 10 miles. From Richmond, we would take the Tube back home. Llew was game: we both donned comfortable walking shoes, our hats, carried bottles of water and we were off. This was something I had never done before—so I was doubly glad to have Llew’s company and to share the river with him.

Thames Path Walk from Putney to Hammersmith:

            So we Tubed it to Putney and using a local map at the Tube station, found our way to the River Thames. There is a Thames Tow Path on the opposite side but it is not as accessible as the Thames Path which provides for both walkers and cyclists. Although the walk we were roughly following started on the opposite side, we chose to stroll along the bank that passed by Bishop’s Garden and Fulham Palace. If one were to walk on the opposite bank, one would come across a plaque marking the start of the famous annual Oxford VS Cambridge Boat Race.

            As it turned out, we found ourselves walking on one of the loveliest pathways we could have taken. It was asphalted and lined by enormous London plane trees that were probably planted in the 1700s when the Embankments were built—walled and lined with brick to prevent flooding. The trees create marvelous dappled shade as their branches spread their embracing arms out to the sky. In-between each grand plane tree, there were fruit trees that were laden with sweet small stoned fruit that tasted plum-like: a cross between cherries and plums. I put a few dark red ones in my mouth and they were delicious but then because I could not really identify the fruit, I stopped eating—the last thing I wanted was to be poisoned!

Bishop’s Garden:

            Bishop’s Garden is so-called because it borders the property belonging to the Bishops of Fulham who once occupied Fulham Palace which was the official residence of the Bishop of London. We were delighted to find the Garden well-used mainly by toddlers and their mothers who had brought them out to enjoy a particularly fabulous day. There were amusement areas with swings and sliders and see-saws. There were sand pits where kids were hard at work building castles. In one part of the garden, there were fountains and a sand bank so kids could pretend they were at the beach. They could fill their pails with water, wet the sand with it and create more sand pies. The entire operation was a delight to observe. Loads of dogs and their walkers bounded along, there were strollers like us and there were joggers and cyclists. Londoners were making the most of a lovely day and getting some fresh air and exercise in the process.

Fulham Palace:

            As we walked, we noticed Barnes' London Wetland Center on the opposite bank—evident by the lush green plantings that line the Thames Bank. On our side, there was the entrance to Fulham Palace which I had visited a few years ago when my friend Shahnaz and her daughter Azra were in London from Bombay at the same time that I was. We had taken the Tube and buses to get to the Palace entrance. This time, Llew and I walked in through the lovely Tudor Gateways and across the shallow dry moat to enter the property. Built in the Tudor period, the old buildings that comprise the Palace are merely a museum today. The gardens are open for the pleasure of passers-by and we stepped in to use the rest rooms as well as take in the two rooms that were once the Library and Drawing Room of the Bishops who had occupied the building. We walked out into the sunshine to enjoy purple wisteria vines climbing the burnt brown Tudor walls. There were lots of opportunities to take pictures in a lovely brick courtyard with its fountain and its urns filled with summer’s hydrangeas.

            Leaving Fulham Palace behind us, we continued along the Thames Path. The banks were soon lined with yuppie blocks of flats with glass panes offering uninhibited views of the river. And what views they were too! In the distance, we could already see the green expanse of ornamental Hammersmith Bridge spanning the river which at low tide had distinct beaches on both sides. There were dozens of crew on the river practicing their oarsmanship. There was also abundant bird life and we saw ducks of every kind. And every so often we heard planes flying low overhead. This made us realize that were definitely on the Heathrow Flight Path and I could quite understand that because I have had dozens of sightings of the Thames’ bridges upon take off or landing into Heathrow and it is always the Thames that provides for me the point of reference I need to enable me to grasp my location. For example, on landing into Heathrow on this trip, from the aircraft I got a brilliant picture of the Chinese Pagoda in an expanse of green and I knew immediately that we were flying over Kew Gardens because I could also see Hammersmith Bridge from above.

            Occasionally, we had to get off the Thames Path and take an interior detour and when we did so, we added more interest to our wandering. For we passed by beautiful Victorian terraced housing with its lovely exterior carved details that I always find fascinating. We also passed by pubs and tea rooms and coffee shops for the area has been taken over by young London professionals who make a pretty buck or two and are looking for close proximity to the city in their accommodation.

Viewing Harrod’s Depository:

But soon we were back on the river and within sighting distance of Hammersmith. On the opposite bank, we saw the famous Harrods’ Depository that was erected in 1894 in the same golden stone that forms the façade of the department store in Knightsbridge. It was built on the site of a candle factory mainly for the benefit of British families returning from long stints of Empire-building who would store their belongings here and live in a temporary Harrods' flat in the back of the Brompton Road store whilst looking for a permanent home in London. The river frontage is a famous Boat Race landmark and since the building has a silhouette and a color similar to the Knightsbridge store, TV viewers are often confused when the commentator announces that the crews are “passing Harrods”. The outer façade of the building has the words 'furniture', 'Harrdos' and 'upholstery' on it and, oftentimes, orders placed at the Knightsbridge store are dispatched directly from this venue.

Lunch at Food Market at Hammersmith:

Once we arrived at Hammersmith Bridge, we decided to go out in search of lunch. We had been walking for two hours and had covered 5 miles with the various detours we had made en route. We decided at this point to cut our plans short and to leave the Thames Path segment from Hammersmith to Richmond for a future visit to London.
We needed to get something to drink as well as lunch and as we walked away from the river and towards the Hammersmith Tube station which also houses a shopping mall, we noticed large numbers of young folk carrying take-away food containers with them and heading for the lawns of the Church of St. Paul at Hammersmith. I inquired of one group of office-goers and he directed me to “a big food market just around the corner”. We dodged traffic around the islands of Hammersmith and found the Food Market in the plaza outside the Kings Mall. As we surveyed the offerings, we were stunned: every kind of takeaway ethnic meal was available. We had a choice of Polish kielbasa sausage on a roll, Jamaican jerk chicken, Argentinian empanadas, Indo-Pak rice and various curries, Chinese noodles, Vietnamese pho, Korean barbecue, German bratwurst, Greek souvlakis—you name it, they had it. We decided to get a large serving of the Mediterranean Mezze Luncheon which had a little bit of everything: Zaatar Chicken flavored with sumac served over couscous with every kind of sauce poured over it: tahini (sesame paste), lebnez (spicy yogurt sauce), cucumber tzasiki, chick peas, a bean salad, olives and pomegranate salad, dolmas (rice stuffed vine leaves). We bought a can of Diet Coke and taking our heavy food offerings with us to the gardens at St. Paul’s Church, we found ourselves a lovely place to picnic on a day that was made for enjoying the sunshine.

Since Hammersmith Mall was so conveniently located, we walked into M&S to do some food shopping as well as into Sainsbury and then laden again with our buys, we took the Tube home to relieve ourselves of the load. Back home, we decided to take a short nap until our next appointments.

Tea at Peter Jones with Roz:

            I had not yet met one of my closest London friends Rosemary (whom I know as Roz) yet as she had been busy with a conference she was organizing. It was her suggestion that we meet at the café on the top floor of the famous department store called Peter Jones at Sloan Square in Chelsea as she had about two hours to spare before rushing off to her next appointment. Besides, we had a dinner appointment close by with our friends the Colcloughs who lived on Sloan Street—overall, it was the most convenient venue for a natter, a cup of tea and a scone with clotted cream and strawberry jam and I made the most of it.

            Roz was waiting by the splendid picture windows in the rooftop cafes when we got there. We admired the view for a while taking in the domes and spires of well-known landmarks that seemed near enough to touch. We picked up lovely pots of tea—a most civilized way of serving the beverage and somewhat unknown in the States—and sat down for a long catch up. Time simply flew and with Llew around, a rare appendage, he was a very avid part of the conversation as well. But soon it was time to leave and Roz hightailed it off to her next appointment.

I left Llew on a bench watching shoppers at Sloan Square as I hurried off to Waitrose on The King’s Road for more food supplies to carry back to the US and about half an hour later, the two of us were walking to our next port of call.

Dinner with the Colcloughs:

            We were ringing the bell at Grosvenor Court not too long after and had a lovely and very affectionate reunion with our friends Bishop Michael and his wife Cynthia dressed nattily in a Singaporean sarong kebaya. As Michael had recently recovered from surgery, we asked after his health. They suggested we take a walk in the garden downstairs for their building is one that surrounds Cadogan Square (coincidentally this is exactly the venue in which my American friends the Hardings had once spent several years in London). The gardens were fully laden with blooms and we enjoyed the agapanthus, tall hollyhocks, roses, fragrant bushels of lavender. We passed by the tennis courts and walked beneath the giant spreading trees that give the squares and their gardens so much character in London.

            And then we were back home enjoying wine and a G&T for me and sitting to one of Cynthia’s typically English meals: excellent Shepherd’s Pie with vegetable slaw and for dessert, there was Eton Mess: that interesting English concoction of fresh strawberries, crumbled meringues and cream or ice-cream which we enjoyed with coffee. During the evening, we were joined by the Colclough boys, Edward and Aidan, both up and coming lawyers, and in catching up with them, we had a most interesting time among some of our fondest London friends.

            It was way past 10.30 pm, when we left to walk to Knightsbridge Tube station to return home to High Holborn and at 11. 00 pm, we called it a night. Our stay in London was swiftly drawing to an end and with just one more day and night to go before we departed, we were determined to cram it well with all the things we wished to accomplish.

            Until tomorrow, cheerio!     

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