WALKING BEYOND LONDON’S WATERWAYS…Surprise Delights on the Isle of Sheppey

To find out what happens to the River Thames once it has left the confines of London, we headed for a day’s walking on the Isle of Sheppey. It’s only an hour’s train journey from Kings Cross or Victoria, and looks look appealing on the OS map: an island of wild sea shores, marshland and fields in the wide blue of the Thames estuary.

Too late, I learnt that it is a mecca for East Enders who decamp in droves to dreary gridlines of mobile home parks, promenades of fruit machines, and shabby resorts  odour of fish and chips and stale alcohol. Rural footpaths over the island are limited to the nature reserves and around Sheerness.

Nevertheless there were surprising delights, especially when the sun escaped from heavy clouds. We were advised to take the local train from Sittingbourne to the halt of Swale and walk over the Sheppey Crossing to turn East where Elmley Nature Reserve edges the the shores of the River Swale. A mistake, at high tide, the shore is inaccessible, and the marshland is networked with channels and ditches. We landed in a flat wilderness of marshland and had to hike along the motorway access to the island looking for a pedestrian escape. The only vertical elements were stands of teasels in lilac flower, roaming cattle and far horizons, and got stuck there for a couple of hours as coastal routes were covered by high tide, dogs were not allowed on the nature reserve, and no Sheppey taxi-driver would leave his Sunday lunch. The one that came from the mainland charged £30 for the 10-mile journey to the furthermost headland. But here there is no vestige of seaside resort:  the Thames estuary fades into pale blue sea and sky; soft clay cliffs actively erode above a low-tide beach strewn with banded quartz and fossilised wood. The clouds retreated and the sun shone over nuggets of rural England in deep summer green between the regimented camps of prefabricated holiday homes. Finally, we strode the longest of  promenades to Sheerness, above beaches where the steps and railings leading down to them were all but submerged between tidal waves of brown shingle.

Train from London Victoria or St Pancras International to Sittingbourne, local train to Sheerness. Best reference for walks www.bertuchi.co.uk, combined with OS Explorer Map 149


A striking new boardwalk zig-zagging over the marshes at Morden Hall Park makes an exciting start to the Country Wandle route in Walking London’s Waterways. The 200m walkway is banned to cyclists (but there’s an alternative route for them that skirts the marshland boundary), and provides a firm dry surface above the braided channels of the River Wandle. Marshland vegetation was cleared to provide more open water.

Landscape contractors Groundwork London www.groundwork.org.uk gave an estimated cost of £200k cost; the project was funded by the National Trust, the Heritage Lottery Fund-supported Living Wandle Landscape Partnership Scheme, with contributions from Viridor Credits Environmental Company and the SUEZ Communities Trust. 




Blossom brightens a bleak January aspect of the Lee Navigation on the Short Cuts to Limehouse route in Walking London’s Waterways. There’s plenty of interest in the industrial and  transport history of the canals, docks and riversides to tempt you out for a winter walk and take your mind off the weather. The 19th-C warehouse hasn’t been converted into flats, Old Ford Lock bestrides what in Roman times, was a shallow river crossing on the route between London and Essex, and the Olympic Stadium is just ahead.

A warehouse that hasn't turned into apartments and Old Ford Lock

Blossom, a barge, a warehouse that hasn’t turned into apartments and Old Ford Lock add interest to a winter walk


Wet-weather walking

A goose reflects on a very large puddle on the London waterway walk near Lee Navigation and Bow Creek. It’s not impassable for winter walkers, though: a round trip starting and finishing at the River Thames at Limehouse Basin has minimal mud, and firm surfaces. Skies may be grey and visibility low, there’s lots of interest on the route to brighten the outing. You’ll be following in the steps of Viking invaders, King Alfred the Great, alongside the waterborne routes of traders and farmers, and bordering the Olympic Park,  London’s oldest public park, and Dr Barnardo’s Ragged School, now a museum. Many of the routes in Walking London’s Waterways motivate you to get out for some interest-packed exercise in winter.








Jean Ettridge
 followed part of the ‘Sporting Thames’ walk in Walking London’s Waterways, and took some cracking winter photos.  You don’t actually need route directions on this walk, but had Jean been following the ‘Sporting Thames’ chapter , she would have gained some insight into the idiosyncrasies of the river  along the University Boat Race course, anddiscovered that Hammersmith Bridge was designed by Sir Joseph Bazalguette, the extraordinary Victorian engineer responsible for the Embankment and London’s first effective sewerage system. 

First sun of 2017 along the River Thames between Putney and Barnes

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Image may contain: sky, cloud, outdoor, nature and water


Crime thriller author of  ’A COLD DEATH IN AMSTERDAM’
Anja De Jager
 did the  ’Flight of Locks’ walk, which passes Brentford (a fortified ford in Roman England), hanging warehouses, surprising pockets of rural green, and explains – with the visual aid of the flight of locks at Hanwell  - how boats go up and down hill
Lovely sunny winter’s day, so ideal weather to take Gilly Cameron Cooper‘s great guidebook for a spin. Walked from Kew Bridge to Hanwell.Perfect walk – didn’t get lost once!
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Image may contain: sky, cloud, bridge, outdoor and water


640px-Westminster_Hall_and_Bridge_editedIt would be worth getting up at dawn to do the ‘Bridging the Thames’ walk in Walking London’s Waterways, and take a photo that captures the mood of William Wordsworth’s sonnet  ’On Westminster Bridge’. Look out for the plaque engraved with the poem , which was written in 1802 – some time before the present cast-iron bridge was built in 1862. The picture above by Thomas Rowlandson,  is how the bridge looked when Wordsworth composed the poem.

Earth has not anything to show more fair:Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth, like a garment wear
The beauty of the morning, silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie

Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless sky.

Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! The very houses seem asleep;

And all that mighty heart is lying still!



Why Walk London’s Waterways at all?! See Daily Telegraph online

Greenland Dock in the hinterland of Rotherhithe, on the south bank of the Thames, takes its name from the Greenland whaling ships that docked here.

Greenland Dock in the hinterland of Rotherhithe, on the south bank of the Thames, takes its name from the Greenland whaling ships that docked here.

National UK newspaper, the Daily Telegraph online has given a boost to the new edition of Walking London’s Waterways on its online version, asking me to write an article for their online edition. Interesting how they intertwine ads and their own sourced pictures. Here’s the link:

The quayside of what used to be Russia Dock is now a footpath beside  a park.

The quayside of what used to be Russia Dock is now a footpath beside a park.



• NEW routes where paths have opened up along the Thames, the Bow Back Rivers and the Lee Navigation
• VITAL revisions, additions and updates
• NEW  photos reveal surprising perspectives of London


(NB: If you have a previous edition, it needs replacing!)

This combination of route guide and travel narrative provides the motivation to get up and go – for a walk, a run or a bike ride, to discover parts of London and its story you never knew existed
Themed chapters include: A Flight of Locks, Georgian Dock Boom, Sporting Thames (the boat race course), The Ebb and Flow of London’s History, Rural Brooks (Folly, Dollis & Mutton), The Working Wandle, Reinventing the Landscape (of Greenwich), Old Rivers for New (and the Olympic legacy)

TO ORDER through your local bookshop or online,  quote ISBN 9781504800556 to make sure you get the new edition.

Already a well-respected example of creative book publishing in North America, Fox Chapel Publishing has become a truly global company with an international team based in the UK and a new imprint IMM Lifestyle Books formed in 2014.