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Off the water or on it, you'll find plenty of interest on this fascinating section of the Thames Path between Walton-on-Thames and Hampton Court.
Distance 5 miles (8km)
Minimum time 2hrs
Level of difficulty Easy
Paths Level, well maintained tow path walk, ideal for young families with a pushchair, and active wheelchair users
Landscape Thames scenery, colourful houseboats, riverside pubs
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorers 160 Windsor, Weybridge & Bracknell, 161 London SouthTQ 093664TQ 152683
Dog friendliness Good, but do remember to scoop poop
Parking Behind Hampton Court Station at finish of walk
Public toilets Cowey Sale (adjacent to Walton Bridge) and Molesey Lock
Notes Catch bus 451 or 461 to start, then walk back to car park
1 Cross the road in front of the station, and catch the bus to Walton on Thames from stop J, outside the Joshua Tree bar & brasserie. The bus will drop you in Hepworth Way. Continue walking in the same direction, and follow the road round to the traffic lights. Cross over, and bear right into Bridge Street; then, just before the main span over the river, drop down the steps to your right, signposted 'Thames Path'. (You can avoid the steps by turning left here, into Walton Lane; at the bottom of the slope, double back onto the Thames Path and continue under Walton Bridge.
2 At the foot of the steps turn left, then right, onto the riverside path. Climb over the ramped footbridge at the entrance to Walton Marina; then, from here to the end of your walk, all you need to do is to keep the river on your left.
3 There are no worries about route finding, so you're free to look around at the delights that the river has in store. Sunbury Lock with its massive electrically operated gates is always a pleasant spot to watch the boats. Then, as the bustle of the lock slips behind, you'll be walking beside the low brick walls of Molesey Reservoirs. Beyond them, you'll pass a few houses set back from the water's edge before the river divides around Platts Eyot. The word eyot - pronounced like the alternative spelling 'ait' - derives from the Old English word ieg, and simply means a small island. Next comes Hurst Park, now predominantly an area of 1970s period housing separated from the river by wide lawns. Across the river lies Hampton, with its sailing club and the prominent landmark of St Mary's Church. The historic ferry here is a delightful way of crossing the river to explore the historic area on the other side. Just beyond the ferry lies Garrick's Ait. Behind it, on the Middlesex bank, the small domed building is Garrick's Temple, built in the mid-18th century by the actor David Garrick in honour of William Shakespeare. Then comes Tagg's Island, followed by the tree-lined section that leads you past Molesey Boat Club to Molesey Lock.
4 From the lock, the footpath runs briefly alongside Hurst Road to Hampton Court Bridge, just across the road from the car park at the end of your walk.
By the time you reach Walton Marina on this walk, you're almost certain to have seen a few swans. This part of the river is an important place for them, for Sunbury is the starting point of the traditional annual census of 'Swan Upping'. In medieval times swan meat was an important part of any royal banquet, and all swans were considered to be Crown property. Swan Upping also dates from this time, but although the colourful royal ceremonial still takes places each year in late July, the modern 'Uppers' are more concerned with ecology, conservation and animal welfare than with stocking Her Majesty's larder.
Hurst Park has a colourful sporting history. Cricket and golf were both played here in the 18th century, and prize fights during the early 19th century attracted crowds of up to 10,000 people. For over 200 years, Hurst Park was also a popular horse racing venue, and the course was only closed as recently as 1962.
This vicars of Hampton's St Mary's Church are known as far back as 1342 and, although the present building only dates from 1831, the triangle of streets around the church has been familiar since the early 16th century when Cardinal Wolsey began work on the great palace of Hampton Court. There's been a ferry here since that time, too, and it's still a delightful way of crossing the river to explore this historic area.
You'll be spoilt for choice! Along the route, the Anglers and the Weir are both large, riverside pubs with extensive menus and outside tables overlooking the water. A little further on, a short ferry ride to Hampton brings the Bell, the White Hart or the Jolly Cooper's within your grasp. At journey's end, you'll find Pizza Hut's Streets of London pub and the Joshua Tree bar & brasserie.
Just across the river at the end of this walk, Hampton Court Palace needs no introduction. But for less than the cost of family ticket to the Palace you can pilot your own four-seater motor launch from Hampton Ferry Hire Boats for a pleasant couple of hours on the river.
Tagg's Island, connected to the Middlesex bank by a bridge, is now a popular houseboat mooring. Tom Tagg had a boatyard here in Victorian times, and he opened the Island Hotel in 1872. By the dawn of the last century business was slack, and in 1912 Fred Karno took over the lease. He demolished the building, and in its place constructed 'the finest and most luxurious river hotel in Europe'. But his timing was unfortunate; the First World War was imminent, and the initial popularity of his 'Karsino' was never repeated in the post war era. After several changes of name the building was demolished in 1971 to make way for a landscaped lagoon.