A 20 minute rail journey from Clapham Junction lies the south west London town of Kingston-upon-Thames and our starting point for today. The large town has some attractive Tudor buildings and a small market selling fruit and vegetables takes place in the central market square at weekends. The town has a good range of shops including the indoor Bentalls shopping mall near the river.
After a hearty breakfast and some coffee we headed to the riverside walk for a stroll along this section of the Thames Path. A rowing competition was taking place and crowds had gathered on both the bridge and the riverbank to cheer the crews along. On previous visits, we have walked as far as Richmond but this morning we turned back after awhile and caught a bus to the village of Ham as we wished to visit Ham House, a National Trust property between Kingston-upon-Thames and Richmond. Built in 1610 for the Earl of Dysart and his daughter the Duchess of Lauderdale, the house faces the river which was the main form of transport from central London to leafy Richmond at that time. Ham House boasted some ornate piers where guests disembarked from their boats and were then taken along the tree lined avenue to the front entrance.
Either Bus 65 or 371 will take you near to Ham House in 20 minutes and on alighting the bus it was a pleasant walk along historic tree lined avenues to the impressive 17th century property. As it’s November not all rooms in the house are open to the public but guided ‘Highlight Tours’ of the building can be taken throughout the day.
As it was 45 minutes until the next available tour, the guide suggested we wander through the grounds and take a look in the outbuildings and under stairs rooms which can be visited without a guide. We started off at the Dairy then made our way downstairs to the cellars which were a warren of narrow corridors leading into large rooms off to each side.
The kitchen had a magnificent, large mahogany table which was built in situ. Having a large wooden base, maids used to sleep beneath it so that they could tend the range to keep it lit all night and keep warm themselves. I hope they remembered they were sleeping beneath the table otherwise they would have banged their heads on rising! One of the National Trust volunteers was baking a caraway cake to a traditional recipe and suggested we return later for a slice but sadly we didn’t have time to return to try it.
More corridors led to sculleries, meat safes and the ale room. The ale room had a marvellous vaulted ceiling and we were invited to sample a tot of Moroccan Ale which had a spicy taste to it and left us feeling nice and warm.
The final room we visited below stairs was the bathroom, said to be one of the first 17th century bathrooms recorded in this country. The bathtub was large and circular and was located downstairs as the water was heated in the cellars. An ante room adjacent to the bathtub contained a day bed where the duchess used to rest following her ablutions.
A stroll round the gardens followed, sections of garden being designed with Yew hedges providing shelter from the wind. We came across the medicinal garden filled with herbs and fruit trees and the artistically designed conifer garden. Soon it was time for our tour of the interior. Our guide introduced us to artwork by Titan and other renowned artists adorning the wood panelled walls of the grand hallway and staircase. He then took us into some of the principal rooms and provided useful background information about the lives of the family residing there.
On leaving Ham House, we walked the short distance to the river and followed the Thames Path approximately one and a half miles into Richmond-upon-Thames the upmarket neighbour of Kingston. We passed many runners along the path, some looking very weary and slowly jogging along. We discovered that the ‘ Thames Meander ‘ Marathon and Half Marathon was taking place that day and as we approached Richmond we passed a drinks station and distance markers.
The riverside at Richmond is truly beautiful with its majestic Regency style buildings overlooking the Thames. After glancing in a few shops, we took a mainline train back to Waterloo taking around 20 minutes. Remember, that if you are travelling on mainline trains in London you can pay using your Oyster card enabling you to ‘cap out’ for the day making travelling cheaper.
We then headed on the Jubilee Line to Canary Wharf where we enjoyed an early evening meal in the Ledger Rooms pub. Canary Wharf bustles with activity on weekdays but it’s quite peaceful at weekends. After a little rest we set off again, this time just taking the Underground one stop to Canada Water as we had tickets for the Annual Fireworks Display in Southwark Park. As Guy Fawkes (Bonfire Night) 5th November actually falls on a Saturday this year and we knew we would be in London, we arranged tickets online from Southwark Council. These are free of charge but numbers are limited to 30,000 for safety reasons so barcoded tickets must be scanned at the park gates.
The event was well organised with a funfair and lots of stalls selling hot food. There was a chilly north wind blowing but it was a dry evening for the firework display which commenced at 7.00 pm and kept us enthralled for around 20 minutes with a dazzling display of pyrotechnics. Leaving the park took awhile but we were soon on the Underground heading towards Waterloo and back at our hotel to warm up after a lovely end to our day in London.
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