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With the Wetland Birds of Barnes

Explore the award-winning London Wetland Centre and join the course of the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race.

Distance 3.7 miles (6km)

Minimum time 1hr 30min

Ascent/gradient Negligible

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Riverside tow path, muddy after rain

Landscape Views across Thames

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 161 London South

Start/finish TQ 227767; Barnes Bridge rail ¾ mile (1.2km) or bus 283 (known as 'the Duck Bus') from Hammersmith tube

Dog friendliness London Wetland Centre (LWC) is no-go area for dogs

Parking At LWC (pay if not visiting)

Public toilets At London Wetland Centre

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1 Turn left out of the London Wetland Centre and follow the path, initially to the left of the Barnes Sports Centre and then beside some sports fields. At a T-junction turn left along the well-signposted Thames Path, alongside the river in the direction of Hammersmith Bridge.

2 About 100yds (91m) along the path on the left is a stone post, denoting the 1 mile (1.6km) marker of the Oxford and Cambridge University Boat Race. Steve Fairbairn, who was born in 1862, founded the Head of the River Race and this was the start of the world-famous, annual boat race that traditionally takes place in March.

3 The landscaped area of smart flats on the left is called Waterside and, a few paces further, a red brick building bears the name Harrods Village. Once past this, as if replicating the trademark Harrods colours of green and gold, is Hammersmith Bridge. Follow the path past St Paul's School, where Planets composer Gustav Holst was a music teacher. On the opposite side of the river, Chiswick Church's green roof is visible.

4 Turn left through a wooden gate into the Leg of Mutton Nature Reserve. Continue along the path to the right of this stretch of water, which was once a reservoir. When the path swerves to the left, leave by a wooden gate to the right. Turn left and follow the riverside path towards Barnes Bridge.

5 Just past the Bull's Head pub turn left into Barnes High Road. At the next junction, by the little pond, bear left into Church Road. Past the Sun Inn is a row of village shops and 100yds (91m) further on, the lychgate to St Mary's Church. At the traffic lights continue ahead to return to the London Wetland Centre and the start of the walk.

Rowing boats, like birds, glide gracefully through water and also, like birds, you'll see plenty of them during this easy walk. Barnes has long been associated with the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race. Indeed, the footbridge, added in 1895, was specifically designed to hold the crowds watching the last stage of the 41?3 mile (7km) race to Mortlake.

The riverside functions rather like a wildlife highway, providing a natural habitat for birds. There are plenty of them to see without having to put a foot inside the London Wetland Centre (LWC) - but to omit it would be to miss out on a very rewarding experience. So why not extend the walk and visit the LWC? There are more than 2 miles (3.2km) of paths and 650yds (594m) of boardwalk to explore once you have paid the admission charge.

The mother hen of all bird sanctuaries is the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust at Slimbridge in Gloucestershire. It was founded by Sir Peter Scott, son of the great explorer, Scott of the Antarctic. One of his father's diaries carries the words: 'teach the boy nature' and this was indeed achieved, for Peter Scott became a renowned painter and naturalist. In recognition of his achievements, a larger-than-life sculpture of him stands on a raised gravel island at the entrance to the LWC, the only inner city wetland reserve in the world.

There are now nine wetland centres in the UK. This one began with four redundant reservoirs owned by Thames Water. They formed a partnership with the housing developer, Berkeley Homes and donated £11 million to help construct the centre. The 105 acre (43ha) project took five years to complete. In 2001 the centre won the British Airways Tourism for Tomorrow award.

Once inside, there are three main sections: world wetlands, reserve habitats and waterlife. The first contains captive birds from around the world - North America is accessed via a log cabin complete with authentic furniture. There are information panels too. One of them contradicts the popular belief that swans mate for life. Another tells us about meadowsweet, which is found in damp woods and marshes and used in herbal teas, mead flavouring and even air fresheners.

Back to birds, and why do they make so much noise? The dawn chorus is their way of telling other birds where they are - 'keep off my patch!' is the message - but it's also to attract a mate. Some birds with colourful plumage find this easy, but others have developed a distinctive song to attract attention, of which the cuckoo is a good example.

While you're there

Chiswick church could once be reached by a ferry across the Thames, but since 1934 the only way is by bridge. The artist William Hogarth (from whom the Hogarth Roundabout takes its name) is buried in the churchyard. At the rear of the Sun Inn is Barnes Bowling Club, where Sir Francis Drake is said to have taught Elizabeth I the game of bowls.

Where to eat and drink

Unlike many on-site cafés, the Water's Edge Café at the London Wetland Centre is a delight. It's bright and spacious, serves good quality soups, sandwiches, salads and cakes, and has outdoor seating on large, wooden tables with umbrellas. There are also newspapers to read. The south-facing Sun Inn on Church Road, opposite Barnes duck pond lives up to its name - it's quite a suntrap in summer. The usual home-cooked food with a choice of vegetarian options is available here, as is a selection of Tetley's ales and Fuller's London Pride, which is brewed in nearby Chiswick.

What to look for

The development, Waterside, was constructed by Berkeley Homes after the company purchased 25 acres (10ha) and built the luxury homes that have a unique, bird's eye view of the centre and its wildlife. Adjacent, the Harrods Village building was once used to store furniture by those taking up posts in the British Empire. Derelict, it was also sold to Berkeley Homes and it now contains 250 flats with green window frames. Even the security guard wears a Harrods green and gold uniform.

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