If you enjoy exploring off the beaten track, you’ll love this short country walk, part of hidden London. It takes you past two glorious stately homes, across the River Thames by boat and into a quirky rural hide-away where you’re as likely to brush past a dramatic glass chandelier as you are a leafy branch!
Dogs are welcome. It’s easy for kids, buggies and bikes. And you can get great coffee at stopping off points along the way.
We treat ourselves now and then to this walk with our dog Jacob on sunny Sunday mornings.
Start discovering hidden London at Marble Hill Park, Twickenham
Marble Hill House is a picture-perfect 18th century stately home sitting in the centre of 66 acres of parkland. It was built in the 1700’s for the former mistress of George II on the banks of the River Thames. The lady in question, Henrietta Howard, the Countess of Suffolk, allegedly used her payoff from the king, when he moved on to his next mistress, to fund the work on this Palladian mansion.
While these days the grounds are used by all and sundry for summer picnics, walking dogs or playing football, the house itself remains true to its grand past. It’s owned by English Heritage and is open to the paying public in the Spring and Summer. It’s worth a visit if you have time to see how the ‘other half’ lived three hundred years ago.
If you’re willing to pay, you can park in or around the grounds of this Regency house to start the walk. Or if you’re coming from London why not jump on a bus from Richmond Station. The 33, H22 and 490 all stop right outside the gates. You’ll know you’re nearly there when you see The Aleksander (excellent bar and restaurant) on your right and St Stephen’s church on your left, as the bus takes a steep corner towards Twickenham.
Walk through Marble Hill Park to the river. If the house is on your right as you go past it, you will need to turn right when you arrive at the river and head towards the ferry. If the house is on your left as you pass by, then you’ll need to turn left when you hit the water.
Who will pay the ferryman?
Next step of this mini adventure takes you across the Thames. Hammerton’s is a family-run ferry that’s been nipping back and forth across the river for more than 100 years. I don’t know what it would’ve cost back in the day, but now if you pay the ferryman £1 for an adult (or 50p for a child) he’ll take you on the 5 minute journey across the water landing just below another stately home, Ham House. The ferry runs all day and you normally only need to wait a few minutes to get a return trip back to the Twickenham side.
Head towards Richmond
From the ferry landing point turn left along the bank-side path in the direction of Richmond. The view up towards Richmond Hill has changed little in hundreds of years (give or take a few of the buildings) with its imposing row of Georgian houses, including one, Down House, owned by the Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger.
Continue along the river path for about 5 minutes until you come to a road on your right hand side. This is River Lane (surprise, surprise). Turn on to it and follow it for another 5 minutes until it widens out slightly. Keep a look out on the left for a tiny pathway between two high brick walls. This path you need to take. It brings you out at the eclectic and pretty Petersham Nurseries. Ostensibly a high-class garden centre, I can guarantee you won’t have seen anything like this before.
The turning point: Petersham Nurseries
This is the furthest point on the walk. And whether you’re searching for garden inspiration, some shabby-chic homeware or just a cup of coffee and some cake, you’ll find it all here. And it’s almost all under glass. There is so much great inspiration even if you don’t want to spend money at this point in your walk.
Either way I do recommend you browse your way through this oasis of rural charm and definitely stop for coffee and cake at least (after all it would be rude not to!) in the Tea House. Check out the fine dining to be had in the understated Petersham Nurseries Cafe. Rumour has it Madonna was once spotted here. Keep your eyes peeled for celebrities.
Return via the woods
Head back to the ferry taking the same narrow path (left out of the gate of Petersham Nurseries) to get there. When you arrive at River Lane, turn right, walking towards the river. The eagle-eyed of you may spot a gateway into a little wood on the left. You can cut through here to get to the river. It’s prettier than the road but if it’s rained recently you may find it a bit boggy.
The rest of the walk back is straight-forward. You just need to retrace your steps to the ferry and shout for service if it doesn’t appear to be coming over once you appear at the picking up point.
If you have time:
Check out the chukkas
If on your walk you hear the thundering of hooves, the clack of wood on wood and the chinking of glasses, you may well have arrived at Petersham on a polo match day. Close to the nurseries is Ham Polo Club. Although you’d need to be well-dressed (and have a ticket) to attend the event, there are lots of places you can catch a glimpse of the action taking place on horse-back. Now there’s something you don’t see everyday – unless you’re a Royal or extremely rich!
Explore Ham House
If you love history a visit to Ham House is highly recommended. This imposing, 17th century house is close to the ferry point on the Richmond side of the Thames. If you need another stop for refreshments, like all National Trust properties, you’ll find a good cafe here too.
I like going on the ferry, you can takes bikes across on it too. The nurseries really are something else. If you want a distressed wardrobe for the price of a decent second-hand car, this is the place for you! Dusk is s nice time to do this walk but check the operating times of the ferry, especially in winter.