Hampton Court paddle – Saturday 23rd September 2023 by Gerry
An early start for this one as a small group of us met up at the start point – YMCA Harker on the outskirts of Kingston Upon Thames – at 8.30 on a sunny Saturday morning. The drive up from Seaford was pretty smooth apart from getting hopelessly lost in the Kingston one-way system. Thankfully, I’d allowed plenty of time so managed to make the rendezvous in good time.
The put-in was just a short walk from the car park, with a nice pontoon so getting on the water was an easy enough process. We set off at around 9am for the round trip of just under 8 miles to Hampton Court Palace with everyone in good spirits. The current was pretty gentle so the paddling was easy at a fairly leisurely pace.
The first part of the journey was past a mixture of parkland and suburban dwellings as we headed past the island of Steven’s Eyot and the Boaters Inn and on through Kingston town centre, with the river being fairly wide at this point. After passing under Kingston Bridge the views started to open up a bit approaching Thames Ditton as we passed Ravens Ait Island and Seething Wells. We passed a number of race crews on training exercises (a perennial feature of any trip on the Thames) and lots of motor cruisers, meaning we had a bit of wake to contend with – but nothing too troublesome.
Once past Thames Ditton Island and Ye Olde Swan inn the last part of our approach to Hampton Court Palace was alongside the lush landscape of the Palaces extensive grounds – a very pleasant vista. This stretch of river had been mostly closed off as there was a regatta in progress, with a narrow channel down one side for us to pass through. As we headed downstream we witnessed the amazing sight of a punt race, which clearly required incredible strength and balance. You usually associate punts with travelling along at a very sedate pace, but these guys were really motoring!
We pulled in at Hampton Court Palace onto a shallow mud beach, which made getting out super easy. Leaving the boats on the river bank we headed up the bridge to find somewhere to have our lunch. We first stopped at a pub but were told we couldn’t eat our lunch there as they were serving food. Fair enough, but they were distinctly unfriendly about it. Fortunately we found a café just down the road and went there instead. It was a bit pricey but a pleasant enough place.
After a very quick detour for a group photo outside the Palace it was back to the boats for our return trip to YMCA Hawker. On the way back we decided to leave the main channel at Thames Ditton Island and go via the narrow channel under the footbridge, which gave us some interesting close up views of the various boats moored up along the river.
A very relaxing and gentle paddle back to our start point rounded off the trip. All in all, it was a cracking day.