Hampton Court to Richmond
Two palaces, two pubs and two remarkable women
A favourite walk bookended by the imposing Hampton Court Palace at the start and the bare remains of the gateway to Richmond Palace at the end. Scullers, paddleboards, kayaks and assorted riverine activity along the way. A detour to the quiet interior of Hampton Court Park, where deer amble and veteran plane trees doze contentedly. After Teddington Lock, and possibly a pub lunch, a short detour through meadows with grand houses on either side draws you into the chi-chi delights of downtown Richmond.
Easy/Moderate / 5 out of 10
7.8 miles / 12.5 kilometres
OS Urban Map Walk London
How to get here
Eat and drink
Easy, flat, mainly gravel paths, some muddy sections after rain, meadows. NB occasional path flooding at Richmond, manageable with easy minor detours.
Signposted all way, the whole route can be done with no real navigation as the Thames Path is signposted from Hampton Court. However there are a couple of very worthwhile off route options which can make this quite special.
Take the train from Waterloo, or from Vauxhall (Victoria Line), direct to Hampton Court.
They tend to go from platform 8 at Vauxhall (which is above the very handy coffee shops in the tunnel). The whole route is in the Oyster zone.
From Richmond, Underground and overground routes back to central London. NB the fast train to Waterloo stops at Vauxhall if you want a quick connection with the Victoria Line.
See Travel Section in Tips and Resources for ways of using your Oyster/Travel Card to Zone 8 to get very cheap fares.
Duke of Edinburgh’s advice to the young Prince Charles on royal duty:
“If you see a toilet, use it”
(Though which toilets are open and when is one of life’s mysteries).
LOOS ON THIS WALK:
- Hampton Court Station
- Hampton Court Palace: follow signs from the left side of the Palace frontage into open gardens beyond
- Kingston: In Bentalls – just across the bridge in Kingston Town centre
- Anglers and Tides End pubs at Teddington Lock
- Pubs and cafes in Richmond
- Richmond Station
Plenty of cafes at Kingston (#8) and a choice of good lunchtime pubs at Teddington Lock (#10):
Teddington Lock, halfway along the route, makes for an excellent lunch stop. With its large pub garden and good lunch menu, The Anglers has proved extremely popular during Covid and I think will continue to do so into the future.
The smaller and more intimate Tide End Cottage Pub next door is a good alternative.
NB if booking for either pub allow about 1 hour 45/ 2 hours from Hampton court.
You can also find a good picnic spot here at Lockkeepers Cottage.
Cafes and pubs galore at the routes finale in Richmond.
The Thames Path
‘Walking the Thames Path’ – all 224 miles of it – has become a bit of a ‘thing’ over the last few decades so, if you haven’t actually done it, here’s a chance to do a short section and earn the right to bore those eager to bore you with tales of which paths they’ve ‘done’.
This designated Long Distance Footpath path starts at the source of the Thames near Kemble in deepest rural Oxfordshire, winds through the heart of the city of London and ends with views of the North Sea amidst the heady delights of Southend.
The section featured in this walk is about 7 miles and is a good combination of breezy river, open sky and a touch of meadow here and there.
The Long Water
The Long Water – with its double row of lime trees – is an impressive, eye-catching water feature, completed in 1660 by King Charles II as a wedding present to his bride-to-be, Catherine of Braganza.
When we approach we will see how well it frames the view of Hampton Court. I hope Catherine was impressed; the Long Water is the end of 12 mile long river dug by a tenant farmer and his men in just nine months.
Later, as you leave Home Park by the Kingston gate look out for the 12 sided Ice House, built nearly 400 years ago.
Hampton Court Palace
In 1515 Cardinal Thomas Wolsey aimed to build a Palace so sumptuous it would not only impress the King but draw monarchs from across Europe. He was so successful that in 1529 Henry strong armed the Palace for himself enlarging it to create a vast Tudor leisure complex of accommodation, dining halls, a theatre, sports courts and vast hunting grounds.
Henry bought all of his six wives here only for wife number three, Jane Seymour, to die in childbirth; while for wife number five, Catherine Howard, the palace was the location of her arrest for adultery and treason before being rowed back as a prisoner to London for her trial and then execution at the Tower.
William Shakespeare and his ‘King’s Men’ first performed Hamlet and Macbeth for the new Stuart King James I here in 1603; a brave and interesting choice of regicidal themes which was coincidentally and ironically picked up by others forty years later.
Charles 1 was held captive here, in his prized palace, after his defeat in the Civil War.
Escaping through the privy garden, Charles was unable to find a ship in which to flee to France; perhaps a little unambitiously he headed for the Isle of Wight instead. His hope of a sympathetic reception there was unfounded; he was immediately imprisoned in Carisbrooke Castle and later, still unrepentant in his belief of his ‘Divine Right’ to rule, executed.
His successor Oliver Cromwell managed to overcome his puritan ideals to appreciate the fine art, tapestries and other luxuries enough to enable himself to enjoy living in the palace like, errr…. a King.
Ironically Cromwell’s breadth of taste, or hypocrisy depending on your point of view, was a factor in keeping the palace safe from pillaging and total destruction – other palaces didn’t survive Parliamentarian vengeance.
Kingston and its Kings
Being on the boundary of two major ancient Kingdoms, Wessex and Mercia, the aptly named Kingston played a major strategic role in the power plays of the Anglo Saxon rulers. It is believed to have been the coronation site of two and, perhaps at a stretch, seven Saxon Kings.
The ‘lost sounds’ of their wonderful names serve to remind us of the linguistic shift that occurred after the Norman Invasion: Egbert, Athelstan, Aethelred, Eadred, Eadwig, one Edmund, a couple of Edwards and an Edgar.
Eadwig’s main achievement was in overcoming understandable anxiety about nominative determinism to take on and defeat the Norwegian King, Eric Bloodaxe.
The block of stone on which these Kings were crowned – which in other towns would be revered and celebrated, possibly its own Museum – has been placed, with an impressive display of imaginative arthritis, in a forlorn corner of the Town Hall car park.
The barge lock was made to accommodate long barges, steamers or passenger ferries and has an additional set of gates half-way to operate more quickly for shorter craft. The staggered structures incorporate two reinforced narrow islands. The upper island is traversed by and accessible by the lock gates or Teddington Lock Footbridge.
This 72-hectare nature reserve lies in the bend of the River Thames between Richmond and Kingston. The site is a mix of habitats: woodland, scrub, grassland and wetlands. Nature lovers will have no difficulty in perceiving how this has become an Eden for wildflowers, birds and butterflies.
All this was the unplanned, but fortunate, result of filling in the old gravel pits and topping them off with subsoil and topsoil brought in from all corners of London and the South East England– carrying with it samples of the local seeds, pre-packed with the kind of soil they prefer. The result was a sort of spontaneous botanical garden, a microcosm of the native wild plants of England.
Earl Dysart had this impressive pile built in 1610 – it was a payoff for an unusual debt of gratitude owed by Prince Charles, the king’s son, his childhood friend.
Royal protocol demanded that nobody should be permitted to whip the young Prince for his misdemeanours. So up stepped the young William Murray to be the Prince’s ‘whipping boy’. William endured the lash for which, some years later, he was gifted the lease of Ham House.
However, as Earl Dysart, he then backed the ‘wrong’ side in the Civil War losing money to the Royalist cause. Having blown his good fortune and influence, he was fortunate to have a canny daughter Elizabeth who eyed the political machinations more astutely. Making friendly connections with the Parliamentarian leader Oliver Cromwell she simultaneously maintained illicit contact with his enemy the exiled King’s son.
Her dangerous double game paid off; on his restoration the new King, Charles II, gifted her the house in her own right. Having played and won handsomely she went to make Ham House the place to be for her lavish entertaining, taking time out to marry the mega-rich Duke of Lauderdale, creating one of the most lavish Restoration interiors in England much of which remains on view.
Marble Hill House
At Marble Hill house we encounter another remarkable woman: Henrietta Howard. With her titled but debt-ridden parents dead – her mother from illness, her father having been vanquished in a duel – the 12-year-old Henrietta had to make her own way in the world.
Her first attempt at achieving security was a disaster, marrying in 1706 the ‘drunken, extravagant and brutal’ Charles Howard, son of the Earl of Suffolk.
It was famously said of the couple: “Thus they loved, thus they married, and thus they hated each other for the rest of their lives.”
Henrietta, however, played a long game. Foreseeing that the Hanoverians would eventually rule, she travelled with Charles to the Hanoverian court to curry favour there – her manoeuvrings paid off. Upon the accession of George I, Henrietta achieved her ‘breakthrough entrée’ into royal circles becoming ‘Woman of the Bedchamber’ to Queen Caroline.
Leading her own version of a diplomatic double life, Henrietta served the Queen while also becoming mistress to the Prince of Wales (later George II) all the while using not only her looks but also her humour and intelligence to make her mark upon the writers, poets and politicians of the day.
Her liaison with the Prince landed her lavish gifts which he had stipulated should not be allowed to fall into the hands of her estranged husband Charles – a notorious gambler. Ever the clear-thinking strategist, Henrietta collated the funds to build Marble Hill House.
In 1735, widowed and free from royal obligations, Henrietta went on to marry again, this time happily, extending and developing Marble Hill House into one of the most sought-after social invitations of its time
Alexander Pope wrote, “There is a greater court now at Marble-hill than at Kensington and God knows when it will end.”
At Christmas 1497 an inferno took hold of Richmond Palace, home to English King Henry VII. Records of the blaze, witnessed by the Milanese Ambassador, describe the corridor roof falling in as the royal family and nursemaids, hurrying with children in their arms, made their escape – a vivid childhood memory for the six year old Henry VIII. Three hours and seven million pounds of damage later the Palace was in ruins. Lost in the ashes were precious artwork, tapestries, the spun-gold clothed royal wardrobe and the Crown jewels.
Henry VII, however, was unperturbed.
The ambassador noted that the king “does not attach much importance to this loss. He purposes to build the chapel all in stone, and much finer than before.”
And so, he did.
Rebuilding began the following year, the new Palace and grounds covering over ten acres with courtyards, orchards and walled gardens. The imposing four storey building, including galleries, a royal chapel and Great Hall, was noted for its many tall chimneys, large windows and, most exciting of all, the first flushing lavatory.
Henry VIII lived here with his first wife Catherine of Aragon, as did later his daughter, Elizabeth. And it was here, in November 1602, after reigning for over four decades, that she fell ill. By the following March the Queen was in steep decline.
Elizabeth was transfixed in a “settled and unremovable melancholy”. Single-minded in dying as in living, for three days she refused to lie down. Consternation grew among her retinue. Shortly before she died, Robert Cecil, her senior advisor, insisted that she must take herself to bed, Elizabeth waspishly replied:
“Must is not a word to use to princes, little man.”
That told him.
When, a few decades later, the Palace became the property of the erstwhile Isle of Wight voyager Charles I, its fate was sealed. Unlike Hampton Court there was no ‘Cromwell in residence’ to save it. Within months of the regicide, the Palace was flogged off by the Parliamentarians for its scrap value, £13,000; within a decade it had all but vanished. What remains now, and worth a look, are teasing fragments: The red-brick gatehouse and the main entrance above which Henry VII’s arms are still visible and then, through the gateway, the Wardrobe, and Trumpeters’ House.
From here you can turn round to head across to the far corner of the Green to catch your train, but if you need a quiet moment for solemn reflection upon the joys/evils of regicidal politics, there are some good pubs alongside this prettiest of Greens, just over to your right…
The Thames Path
‘Walking the Thames Path’ – all 224 miles of it – has become a bit of a ‘thing’ over the last few decades so, if you haven’t actually done it, here’s a chance to do a short section and earn the right to bore those eager to bore you with tales of which paths they’ve ‘done’>>
The Long Water
The Long Water – with its double row of lime trees – is an impressive, eye-catching water feature, completed in 1660 by King Charles II as a wedding present to his bride-to-be, Catherine of Braganza>>
Hampton Court Palace
In 1515 Cardinal Thomas Wolsey aimed to build a Palace so sumptuous it would not only impress the King but draw monarchs from across Europe>>
This 72-hectare nature reserve lies in the bend of the River Thames between Richmond and Kingston. The site is a mix of habitats: woodland, scrub, grassland and wetlands>>
Earl Dysart had this impressive pile built in 1610 – it was a payoff for an unusual debt of gratitude owed by Prince Charles, the King’s son, his childhood friend>>
Marble Hill House
Explore the story of the remarkable Henrietta Howard who escaped debt, disgrace and a brutal marriage to build this impressive 18th Century society house>>
No map needed as the walk follows the signposted Thames Path all the way.
Start: Hampton Court Station
On leaving Hampton Court station, cross over the river; arriving on the far side swing an immediate right on to the Thames Path. Follow this east (river on your right) for about 20 -25 minutes. This is your general direction all day, crossing the river just once at Kingston.
You will now follow the river until, after about 10 minutes or so, you encounter a quirky round brick tower directly on the path about 10 feet high with a ‘concrete sombrero’ (it’s a ventilation shaft) and is unmissable.
You can continue on from here to Kingston or, for some lovely ‘off-piste’ walking, go through the nearby gate (Ditton Gate), visible to your left here, into Hampton Court Park (also known as Home Park).
The following instructions take this route through Home Park to The Long Water. They may seem elaborate but in fact reduce to this: Follow the path, parallel to the Thames, inside Hampton Court Park then several hundred metres later turn diagonally gently left into the park and an obvious pond (often used for model boating), just ahead, and from there to The Long Water.
Route through the Park in more detail…
Follow the path closest to the metal fence running parallel and close to the Thames Path directly onwards. Ignore the obvious track leading away from you between parallel lines of small trees. Instead, looking along the line of the riverside fence, look for the old paddock and wooden fence ahead of you in a few hundred metres.
After about 100m your ‘parallel path’ will swing left, round and onwards past the old paddock with a wooden fence and a lovely collection of the remains of fallen ancient trees which if it were an installation in the Hayward Gallery might attract a grant.
Exit the paddock under lines of small trees and continue on. In a few minutes you will pass a red brick golf club building on your left.
Contninue for another couple of hundred metres, then look ahead to your left where you will see a small boating pond and a sign board. Wander across in the direction of the sign board then, keeping the boating pond on your left, follow the line of a narrow roadway heading into the Park and, after about 200m, towards the impressive view of the Long Water (views back towards Hampton Court Palace).
If you’re lucky the fountains might be pluming refreshing (or gaspingly chilly, depending on the time of year) sprays skywards.
On the opposite side of the road behind you, you’ll see another more secluded pond with shelter and willows – its tranquil atmosphere is easy to overlook.
Having finished admiring the distant posh abode, your intention is to pick up your previous direction onwards to Kingston.
So, from Long Water, turn round facing the tranquil pond, cross the road, and take the obvious diagonal (direction 10 o’clock) foot path to your left across the wide meadow towards the far corner. You should see a pale coloured, angular apartment block in the far distance. Aim for this across the wide meadow with, on a good day, a canopy of glorious open sky.
After about 10 minutes you will reach the corner of Hampton Court Park. Just before you leave the park you will encounter majestic ageing plane trees, a writhing old ash tree and an ancient icehouse (with information on the door). The relaxed trees look how plane trees should look when they are not being cropped and shorn on London streets. Don’t they look happy?
Leave the park, turn right to cross Kingston Bridge and, on reaching the far side of the foot/bikeway, take the pedestrian steps down to the river.
There are several places for a coffee break here lining the river.
To continue the walk, carry on under the bridge. As soon as you pop out under the bridge take a look, 20m on your right, at the back of the John Lewis store: a mediaeval cellar.
Continue on this riverside path through Canbury Gardens (300m away) .
Emerge from this park and keep following the river direction along a narrow road – residential on the right – usually populated with walkers and cyclists, to return to the Thames Path track after about 10 minutes.
Taking the left path (avoiding the cyclists on the right, higher path) continue on this riverside path for about another 30 minutes to reach moored boats and the thunderous welcome of Teddington Lock.
Optional lunch stops lie on the far side of the blue footbridge on the northern bank: The Anglers in front of you and the bijou Tide End Cottage just next to it on the street. (See link below).
Picnics can be based at the Lock Keeper’s Cottage on a separate mini-island further ahead (without crossing the footbridge).
After lunch, return to the path to follow the river onwards. After about 10 minutes cross a rough metalled ‘bridge’ with a children’s boating marina to your right.
Directly after this you have 2 options:
Option one – continue on the path to Richmond. To do this simply carry straight on following the river all the way. The trees on your right will eventually give way to Petersham Meadows and views up to the grand villas of Richmond Hill. Then go to Step 14.
Option two – take a wander in the bucolic open meadows of Ham Lands. The following instructions take this route. (See link below for the surprising explanation of how this wild floral haven came to be so diverse).
Thirty metres past the marina view you will see a path bearing diagonally to your right taking you into Ham Lands Meadows. If you have time and want to explore, take the path off and after 80m you will emerge into an open meadow. There are several paths available to you but I suggest that you take any path which keeps the line of trees that border the Thames, within sight, on your left. As long as you keep these as your guideline you will pass through several meadows to eventually emerge, after about 20 minutes, back on the Thames Path.
Don’t worry if you get lost because the Thames Path is easily found again by returning back the way you came or just bearing left on skimpy tracks through the trees.
You will eventually emerge on to a wide sports pitch where, following the left edge, you emerge at a car park with the Thames on your left.
You may see the tiny Hambleton boat ferry taking you on an optional excursion to the other side of the river – from where it is possible to carry on to reach Richmond. Assuming that you are continuing without crossing over…
Whichever of the two walking options you have taken (through Ham Lands or just following the Thames Path) now continue on to Richmond Bridge, about 25 minutes away, passing Ham House on your right. (See link for the curious tale of the King’s whipping boy and the canny daughter who played a dangerous game and won it all).
Just past Ham House on the opposite bank, you’ll see a large white residence: the Palladian splendour of Marble Hill House. (See link below for the intriguing history behind its creation and the life of its first owner Henrietta Howard).
Note, as you reach Petersham Meadows on the edge of Richmond, depending on tides and rainfall, the path can flood amazing quickly. To avoid soggy socks you may have to detour into the wood edge on your right and/or behind the low wall protecting Petersham Meadows. On occasion I have had to follow the road route from Petersham into Richmond – all well signposted. The river in full flood is quite a spectacle.
As you reach the bustling bars and cafes of Richmond, pass under the old river bridge, going past (or even into should the mood take you) the large riverside pub – The White Cross.
Continue on for 200m past little arcades set in arches on your right. At the end of the arches, you will see a little road way on your right, Friars Lane ,which will briefly wind up and round to take you to Richmond Green.
NB if you have time, directly to your left tucked away near the corner of the Green is the remnant of the gateway to Richmond Palace, where Elizabeth I – the third in our trio of remarkable women – lived and died. (See link below for an account of Elizabeth’s stubborn last stand at Richmond Palace).
Go straight ahead across Richmond Green and its idyllically placed cricket pitch, heading for the far right hand corner, to the Richmond Theatre. Continue on past the Richmond Theatre for another hundred metres or so when you will see a small alleyway to your right, Old Station Approach.
Take this alleyway to Richmond station directly opposite.
Browse more walks…
Lucky you. I’ve walked several thousand miles of footpaths and city streets to distil out a choice selection of rambles for everyone to enjoy. There is no way of knowing whether a walk is worth doing except by walking the route every step of the way; a lot of terrible walks, dull vistas, and frankly boring trudges have been endured and discarded. Lucky me, I love walking and being outside so it’s all been worth it. I hope you can find the time to explore a route or two.
"Everywhere is within walking distance if you create the time..."
No 1 : Princes Risborough to Wendover
ST MARYLEBONE I MODERATE I 6.8m/11km
Leaving habitation behind you, spend the day following one of Britain’s most ancient trackways dating back 5000 years, possibly much further...
No 2 : Hampton Court to Richmond
WATERLOO/VAUXHALL I EASY/MODERATE I 7.8m/12.5k
A favourite walk bookended by the imposing Hampton Court Palace and the bare remains of Richmond Palace, along the Thames path and through diverse parks and meadows...
No 3 : Three London Parks
REGENT'S PARK I EASY I 5.6m/9k
Easy walking, people-watching in the parks, and chi-chi 'villages' ending on the splendid views and rambling of Hampstead Heath...
No 4 : Newington Green to Smithfield
CANONBURY I EASY I 3m/4.8k
An idiosyncratic trail of visual and historical curiosities taking in radicals, rebels and assorted contrarians along the way...
No 5 : London Bridge to Greenwich
LONDON BRIDGE I EASY/MODERATE I 5.6m/9k
A real treat for the soul, spending an entire walk following the course of the River Thames from the heart of the old City...
No 6 : Eynsford to Otford
I EASY/MODERATE I 6.8m/11km
A perennial favourite to introduce self-identifying 'non-walkers'. Stunning views of the length of the Darenth Valley, an impressive Roman Villa, a 'castle', a 'palace' and three typically Kentish villages...
No 7 : Eynsford Circular via Shoreham
I MODERATE I 8.2 - 9.1m/13.3 - 14.8km
A longer cousin of Walk No. 6, this route follows the lovely Darenth Valley on its western slopes and returns along the valley bottom. A landscape of hills, open views and a riverine return with a choice of picnic, pub or vineyard for the lunch stop...
No 8 : Sole Street Circular
VICTORIA/ST PANCRAS INTERNATIONAL
I MODERATE I 8.8m/14.2km
Continuously undulating chalk hills and farmland welcome you with vineyards and gorgeous valley views, including a welcome and timely lunch stop at a splendid Kentish scene of a windmill and pub overlooking the local cricket pitch...
No 9 : Guildford St Martha's Church Circular
WATERLOO I MODERATE I 7.3m/11.7km
Along the meandering River Wey via an old watermill to an ascent along ancient pilgrim paths under open skies and woodland, tracking the North Downs Way and the Pilgrims' Way, including an aerobic climb to the perfectly located St Martha’s Chapel for a rest and lunch...
No 10 : Greenwich to London Bridge via Limehouse & Wapping