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Along the Thames to the Gardens at Kew

View the famous Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew from a surprisingly peaceful stretch of the Thames Path.

Distance 7.5 miles (12.1km)

Minimum time 3hrs

Ascent/gradient Negligible

Level of difficulty Hard

Paths Mainly tow paths and tarmac

Landscape Riverside gardens and pubs

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 161 London South

Start/finish TQ 192767; Kew Gardens tube

Dog friendliness No problems (guide dogs only inside Kew Gardens)

Public toilets Syon House

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1 From the tube, follow the road ahead past the row of shops and turn right along Sandycombe Road, which becomes Kew Gardens Road as it bends to the left. At the main road opposite the Royal Botanic Gardens, turn right and continue ahead to the traffic lights. Cross Kew Green and head towards the church on the green.

2 Take the path to the left of St Anne's Church, which was built for Queen Anne in 1714, and with your back to the church columns follow the main path to the right. Once across the green, continue along Ferry Lane which leads to the Thames Path.

3 Turn left here following the river along an attractive stretch of the path that borders Kew Gardens and offers the outsider a tempting view of the famous botanic gardens from the other side of a formidable ivy-clad walled ditch.

4 Just after a field, cross a ditch with metal gates to the left, signifying that this is the boundary of the Old Deer Park, which is now the home of the Royal Mid-Surrey Golf Course. Continue walking ahead for a further mile (1.6km) on the obvious track and cross Richmond Lock to reach the other side of the Thames.

5 Follow the riverside path past a boatyard where the Capital Ring path veers away from the river to run by the Twickenham Campus of Brunel University. When you reach the road turn right and just past the convent, Nazareth House, turn right at a mini-roundabout, signposted 'Thames Path'.

6 Turn left alongside the river towards the popular chalet-style Town Wharf pub and here, bear left and turn first right into Church Street. Go over a bridge, past the riverside London Apprentice pub. After a church the road swings to the left along Park Road. Enter Syon Park and follow the wide, tarmac road.

7 Exit the park via a walled path and turn right at the road. Cross a bridge and, if this path isn't flooded, turn right for a detour along the Grand Union Canal. Otherwise continue along the road ahead bearing right to go through Watermans Park and then rejoining the Thames Path.

8 Past an ever-present row of houseboats, turn right to cross Kew Bridge. Cross the road at a pedestrian crossing, continue ahead and bear left into Mortlake Road. Turn right into Cumberland Road and left at the end to retrace your steps along Kew Gardens Road back to the tube station at the start of the walk.

Kew Gardens began life as a royal front lawn for Kew Palace, where George III lived during his years of mental illness. The collection of exotic plants here was started in the 1740s. Nearly a century later, in 1841, Queen Victoria handed the 300 acre (122ha) site to the nation as a public research institute. Since then it has grown from strength to strength, and is now the world's leading botanical research centre. Although this walk allows a glimpse along its boundaries, a visit inside is highly recommended, for which you should allow a few extra hours.

With the largest, living plant collection in the world, you'd expect there to be a lot of green fingers at Kew Gardens and there are. In fact 200 horticultural staff are responsible for mowing the lawns, looking after the tropical plants in the glasshouses and the Herbarium, where more than 6 million specimens of dried plants and fungi are stored. There are a further 100 scientists studying the medicinal importance of plants and many others based at one of the most visited parts of Kew, the Palm House.

Depending on the time of the year, you may be able to see part of the Rhododendron Dell from the Thames Path. The river provides these spectacular shrubs with the humidity they love and although the soil is not naturally favourable, it has been treated with high-acidity mulch and sulphur to reduce the pH level. Rhododendrons are native to the Himalayas and were introduced to this country by the intrepid Victorians in the 1850s. There are now over 700 specimens of hardy species and hybrids in this Dell, some of which are unique to Kew Gardens. Flowering can extend from November to August but the best time to see the vivid array is late May.

Further along the Thames Path is the Syon Vista, an opening that affords views of the long, straight avenue leading to the Palm House. In keeping with the Victorian love of all things iron, the entire structure was built of iron and filled in with curved glass. However, in the mid 1980s it was deemed necessary to conduct some major restoration work and all the plants were removed and taken to a temporary home. It was not an easy task and the oldest pot plant in the world, the Encephalartos altensteinii, was enclosed in a special scaffold to avoid damage.

The Palm House contains a tropical rainforest where plants are divided into three sections: African, American, and Asia and the Pacific. A central area displays the tallest palm trees. If you decide to visit, you'll see not only some rare tropical plants but also ones that are now actually extinct elsewhere.

While you're there

The beautiful Great Conservatory in Syon Park was built in 1820 for the 3rd Duke of Northumberland by the designer of Covent Garden Market, Charles Fowler. The present Duke of Northumberland still owns Syon House but prefers to stay at Alnwick Castle in Northumberland, which is where the broomstick sequences were filmed in the first Harry Potter movie.

What to look for

About 440yds (400m) past the ditch marking the boundary of the Old Deer Park, you'll come to a silver column showing the Meridian Line. The vista across to the King's Observatory includes the original Meridian Line that was used to set the King's time at the Houses of Parliament before 1884 when the Greenwich Meridian Line became the standard.

Where to eat and drink

The Kew Greenhouse, which was once the village bakery, has a quaint, refined atmosphere and serves steak pie, flans, quiches, Scotch beef and vegetarian dishes to a background of classical music. If it's a fine day, there are plenty of riverside pubs such as the Town Wharf and the London Apprentice, to choose from halfway through the walk.

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