Thames Pathway

Journal of a Walk Down the River Thames

by Keith Pauling

Putney and Wandsworth

Putney Bridge
Putney Bridge

In a matter of moments my riverside environment has been shot to pieces. It happened that quickly. A few minutes ago I was walking among the trees, and now I am dodging in and out of seemingly half of the world population as I elbow my way down Putney High Street. Rescue is at hand because instead of continuing through this teeming throng the pathway darts quickly to the left and loops around the churchyard of St Mary the Virgin and back to the river. Phew! That was close. The distance could not have been more than 100 yards but it took me into a nightmare world and then back out again. I am back to my river and with some relief step off again.

But what is this? No, no, no! This can’t be right. After a short tantalizing glimpse of sanctuary the path diverts back onto the streets and deposits me in Deodar Road. Where did they get that name from? The Deodar is a type of cedar tree found in the western Himalaya regions of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Kashmir. It is known for its beauty, unlike its namesake road. Roy Plumley, of “Desert Island Discs” fame, used to live here. I too feel as though I have been marooned, without my choice of discs, and await rescue from my suburban isolation.

My prayers are answered. I am in Wandworth Park, a haven of green among a brick-faced hell-hole. But it is a brief respite; the Gods are toying with me, bringing me up only to pull away and let me plunge deeper into the blackness. I am spat out onto a road that looks as though it is taking me into an industrial estate. With a superb irony this thoroughfare goes by the name of Point Pleasant.

Oh it gets worse. Have you ever noticed the names that developers give to the roads on industrial estates? There must be a management-speak thesaurus that they all use, and with some sort of inverse proportion to the businesses carried out in them. So I just knew that “Enterprise Way” would contain all the usual tatty works units and bits of cardboard boxes covering their forecourts. I am not disappointed.

A footbridge takes me over the River Wandle that gives rise to the name of the borough I am now in, Wandsworth. Straight after the footbridge the gods finally dump me at the bottom of the pit. They have lead me to the rubbish tip. A huge waste transfer station where all of the rubbish is taken by lorry to be transferred onto barges that take it to its final resting place. No doubt on to landfill somewhere in the estuary where it will be “out of sight – out of mind”. It can not be denied that the sight of huge containers being lowered onto the barges has a type of morbid fascination. I even took a photograph to remind me later that this desecration of the riverside actually existed. This must be the lowest point of the whole walk.

Less than 24 hours later I was to be proved very wrong.

Within another few yards I change again from rags to riches. I am on St Nicholas Wharf, a magnificent new development of apartments with shops and piazzas with riverside promenade frontage. The next stretch of the pathway is going to be a lot of hassle. The entire waterfront is in various stages of development all the way to Albert Bridge. It is a case of threading between different developments in various stages of completion, sometimes along the riverside promenade but more often along the inland streets with the buildings covered with scaffolding and protective coverings.

Gaudy signs tell me that my life will be so much better if I buy one of these dwellings. I would be in with the “In-Crowd”.

Albert Bridge
Albert Bridge

Albert Bridge is one of the prettiest of the London bridges.

Designed by Rowland Mason Ordish, it was first opened in 1872, but from its very earliest days there were questions against its sturdiness. After only 11 years it was strengthened by Sir Joseph Bazalgette, the designer of Putney Bridge. The bridge was further strengthened by the addition of a central pier in 1970’s but concerns about its strength still prevail. There is even a rather quaint notice ordering all soldiers to break step when crossing the bridge to prevent damage to the structure.

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