Richmond was our base for a couple of nights, a trip to Hampton Court and a boat ride down the Thames were on the agenda so this seemed like a good place to stay. Utterly gorgeous I thought – dare I say this might be one of London’s most beautiful boroughs. Plenty to do as well with heaps of history, lovely places to eat, fabulous shops plus leisurely riverside walks right on the doorstep, it was perfect for us. We actually didn’t get to explore enough and would most definitely go back. An added bonus too the sights of central London are less than half an hour away by train – Richmond ticks all the boxes.
That boat trip was the first thing for us. We easily made our way to the river from the centre of Richmond and found St Helena Pier at Richmond Bridge, departure point for our trip down the mighty Thames. Having discovered Turks Launches on Tripadvisor, we opted to use them for this expedition. Their boat was right outside the White Cross Pub, we thought we had arrived in plenty of time for the sailing but found a rather worringly lengthy queue. We did (just about) get onto the boat, no choice of seats though with only three left we took them gratefully.
Our plan was to sail all the way to Hampton Court and back again, staying onboard for the hour and three quarter round trip. Most people seemed to disembark at Hampton Court or Kingston. Tickets were bought on board and I have to say, although we had to settle for the last three seats they were perfect. On the left side of the boat we had great views, better at the front for sure but with strong sun and not a pick of shade I would have been frazzled there in minutes. Our seats had a little shade and were steps from the on-board bar – win win as far as I was concerned. Beverages and snacks in hand we settled down to enjoy the views. A commentary on the way down river pointed out places of interest and was excellent. I did though enjoy the lack of commentary on the way back – the best of both worlds.
The first part of the journey down to Kingston was scenic, very relaxing and the perfect way to explore the river. We glided out of Richmond with stunning riverbank views. They pointed out Mick Jagger’s house on a hill – lots of huge mansions but not so sure which one belongs to him.
Passing through Teddington Lock was a highlight, on the way downriver the water levels were very different and it was quite the experience to watch the lock gates shut and feel our boat rise about six feet. Son was intrigued. On the way back the river levels were more equal, not so exciting but a chance to take in the lovely lock-keeper’s cottage and pretty views.
We got a peek at Eel Pie Island, an island on the Thames only reached by footbridge or boat. It was a major jazz and blues venue in the 1960’s and today has houses, boatyards and a few artists’ studios. No public access, it is private land unfortunately. Pete Townsend used to own Eel Pie Studios here and lots of significant pop and rock recordings were made on the island.
The houseboats were another highlight for me – some large, all incredibly quirky and parked at various points along the riverbank. So many vessels of all shapes and sizes on the river too – it was completely fascinating.
Houses were pointed out to us that cost around £650K (not very big) and some that cost millions (still not very big).
We had to change boats at Kingston for the stretch to Hampton Court. In hindsight I wouldn’t do this part unless it was to disembark at the palace. This part of the river is not so scenic and there is not so much going on, that said it is impressive to view Hampton Court from the river as Henry VIII once would have done.
On our way back we had to get off at Kingston and wait half an hour for our next boat. Historically interesting, Saxon kings were once crowned here and we did briefly check out the ancient market square, however we were irresistibly drawn to the river and its banks.
A sedate and peaceful ride back to Richmond – this was for sure the perfect way to see the Thames.