Reading a landscape

Reading a landscape

Yesterday I walked along the River from Putney to Richmond, inspired by reading The Thames: Richmond to Putney Bridge by David McDowall.

I bought this, along with The Thames: Hampton to Richmond Bridge (both walker’s guides) when I moved to this part of London two years ago. They really are both lovely books to read, before doing a walk and again afterwards (though I’m not a fan of trying to use them for their intended purpose whilst walking, as find I am neither properly reading nor properly enjoying the walk). It was reading them that I discovered the flat I lived in on the river until April this year was on the site of a former club, allegedly burned down as an insurance job in the 1980s. We then discovered from our lovely neighbour Nigel that the Beatles had played there, most probably in our front room (whilst in New York Nigel found a photo of them clearly taken in our garden with our view of the river behind).

I’d highly recommend the stretch of the river between Hampton and Putney. It’s beautiful and hard to believe that you are in a city. I know the stretch from Kew to Kingston well as it’s on various of my running routes, and it took my friend to remind me how lovely it is when you’re encased in a tunnel of trees with water on either side between Richmond and Kew. The view over to old Isleworth and the fabulous pub The London Apprentice is a Turner painting and still looks like one today. It took only three hours to walk from Putney to Richmond, and there were plenty of pubs to choose from for lunch in Barnes Bridge along the way.

Reading about landscapes always feels like you’re getting a double hit of a good read and discovering more about somewhere you’re interested in. When I was 15 in my final year at my forward-thinking comprehensive school we had an activity week where one of the choices was ‘Writer’s landscapes’. Rather than subjecting myself to something sporty I went off every day on a coach with about 20 others and we were taken to the places that had influenced great writers who were steeped in place. Gilbert White’s house and the home of Jane Austen, both in Hampshire where we lived. On to Dorset to see where Hardy’s books were based and up to Stratford-upon-Avon to visit Shakespeare country and to see a play at the Royal Shakespeare Company theatre. Ever since then I’ve been a big fan of reading about landscape.