Get your toe socks on guys, it’s about to get wild.
Kingston to Windsor was one of our planned hikes we’d had in the bag for a while. As ever there was some tweaks and discussion to be had amongst the committee, but other than a planned coup to end the hike in Crowthorne, (a town known for its accessibility and broad range of pubs and restaurants) it was remarkably drama free.
We lit the beacons to see who could join us, and the usual flurry of interest from new recruits petered out to a selection of returning faces, with the exception of Mat’s nephew, Tom, our youngest recruit to date.
Our respective attendees made their plans to get to Kingston. For my part, I travelled up the night before and stayed at Clyde’s in Teddington where I immediately became smitten with his dog, Harper (it may have been mutual) and Clyde and I decided the best prep for ten hours of walking would be to drink three whiskies each with a couple of beers, listen to some 80’s Neil Young records, and go to bed around 1am.
Meanwhile, the Crowthorne/Sandhurst contingent planned to get an early taxi on the morning of the hike. They were delivered to Kingston by the mysterious Mango Man, who apparently is just a driver of a large taxi, but given that I didn’t see it, I’ve decided that his vehicle bears a striking resemblance to Scooby Doo’s Mystery Machine with a giant plastic mango on top.
The attendees arrived at the White Hart in Kingston. Mat managed to arrange for the staff to make us some bacon and/or vegan sausage sandwiches, giving everyone the best start to the day possible, or at least try and shake off some of last night’s whisky.
We set off shortly after, our route for the first mile going through Home Park, one of the fancier royal parks, where we see deer, lakes and mansions. Mat decided to resuscitate our practically dormant Instagram account and we drop in what could be our Christian rock album cover, if we weren’t a bunch of heathens.
The route through the park leads us to the river, heading past Hampton Court palace. The river is full of a mix of rowers and some people on megaphones loudly telling them what they’re doing wrong to the benefit of no one’s self esteem.
The next eight miles run along the tow path. Speaking of running, throughout the course of the morning our route is beset with runners taking on the Thames Path challenge, their light footfall oddly remiss of gazelles in comparison to our bison-like stomp. Even though they would cover a far greater distance than us, I doubt they did as many pub stops as we would do. The route is lovely but other than some filthy banter involving a hamster wheel, speculating about whether those towers on riverside mansions have rooms specifically for eating baked beans (you had to be there) and some hobo telling Rob whose cap was worn backwards “Yer ‘eads on backwards!” it was a relatively uneventful couple of hours.
Around the eight mile mark we notice an interesting bridge leading to an island with the sort of house you feel probably gets inherited from generation to generation, or is inhabited by recluses or serial killers. Either way, “crumbling” is a pretty good way to describe it.
Rob’s facebook post where I pilfer most of the photos from tells me it’s none other than Eyot House on D’Oyly Carte Island, a unique Grade II listed Victorian home on a measly 1.9 acres. Although it has thirteen bedrooms and five bathrooms, it only has one grand ballroom, so we quickly lose interest in it.
It’s not long after this that a Walking Idiots first happens, and we cross the river using the Weybridge Ferry. At the cost of £3 per head the ferryman, who we shall call Brian, made a pretty good haul out of five minutes work, but he was nice enough to take our picture.
Our first pub is only a few minutes walk from the ferry, so we stop for a well earned beer.
Naughtiness is afoot at the Thames Court, a nice watering hole with a pretty good range of beers. Not only do some of us stop for not one but two beers (risky business, that) but even Tom has a beer, although Uncle Mat makes him wait a respectable distance away from the pub in order to not attract attention.
Some socks are changed, and the nonsense level peaks when we start discussing spice-themed gangsters, the most menacing amongst them a sinister figure known only as Turmeric Steve.
Setting off again along the tow path for quite a while we’re flanked by a constant surge of ultra runners, the sensation increasingly starting to feel like the Gallimimus stampede in Jurassic Park until we finally leave the towpath and cross Chertsey Bridge.
Some of our crew, brought to life by the madness of two beers at the pub, decide to pop into a BP garage and get some cans to keep the party going, and it’s not long after that that we leave the main road and into a slightly more interesting area.
Crossing the M3 bridge (there’s a lot of bridges on this walk, as Swatty pointed out later) we return to a footpath that runs past a rather unsettling cave that of course didn’t smell of urine.
We cross yet another bridge, this one going over a lake, where some kids are busy leaping into the freezing waters below, and then our path takes us somewhere really interesting.
Thorpe Park is one of the largest theme parks in England (I’m writing this on the off chance any non-UK residents are reading this) and for us semi-locals we’ve been going for as long as we can remember. It’s exciting, fun filled, and excitingly presented.
From the front.
Yep, our route took us round the back, where we were treated to a range of sights and sounds, with discarded ride carriages, disused trains and the back of some of the more sinister rides all offset by the sound of patrons screaming, and in one instance, the most morose member of staff singing happy birthday through a tannoy.
Not gonna lie, it was amazing.
Around this time we’ve posted a few more pics on the ‘gram, and we’ve attracted the attention of an account (or more likely a ‘bot from the account) who asks if we want to be an ambassador for their brand of hiking apparel. We reply, strongly suspecting that we’re not the clientele they’re looking for.
Our futures as influencers pretty much guaranteed, we emerge into the village of Thorpe and stop at the Red Lion at Thorpe. It’s a nice pub but with only one person apparently working it’s some of the slowest service we’ve ever encountered and it did have a significant impact on our pace.
It did give my feet a chance to dry out though. Sock change for everyone!
Setting off from the Red Lion, our route takes us cross country across fields and paths for while as we leave the river behind. There’s some aches and pains starting to manifest, especially in some of the more sensitive body parts, so some of us take the opportunity to apply talcum powder away from the judging eyes of society.
After that, things get interesting, if they weren’t already gripping enough. The footpath effectively disappears, passing through what we could pretty much only describe as a swamp. A small wooden footbridge runs over the worst of it, but it getting onto the bridge and then off it onto dry land proves a challenge.
Tom’s foot sinks to his ankle and he nearly loses a boot until John helps haul him out (his mum would’ve killed the lot of us if he’d sunk like that horse in Neverending Story), and the rest of us warily make our way across.
We make it across, but for many of us, the good work of changing our socks at the Red Lion has effectively been undone, and some quick adjustments are made. Oh well, at least no one’s complaining about the chafing on their balls any longer.
In a rather refreshing change of pace, our amblings take us out of the swamplands and into somewhere a bit more high-end as we enter a university campus where Rob treats some of us to his uncanny impressions of Zippy and George from Rainbow. Max leaves us (he did have foot surgery less than a month previously so to be fair doing the eighteen miles he managed already is basically superhuman) but we’re sorry to see him go, especially because he probably would’ve quite liked what was lurking up the hill:
Rob sagely mused aloud how many Batman reboots it’d be until this became the new Wayne Manor, and you could see his point.
Walking round the campus provides Arran with a surge of flashbacks back to our uni days when he visited here, but he shrugs it off like a Vietnam vet’s acid flashback and the group takes a brief break from our ambling to see whether the university chapel is worth the fuss.
Mat didn’t burst into flames, which was a rare thing.
Sad to leave the campus but well aware that our pace has dropped significantly, we crack on, entering Savile Garden/Virginia Water (I can’t tell where one ends and the other begins, they tend to blur.) Morale dipped to its lowest point here, as the twisting routes winding round the gardens often tended to feel like they weren’t leading in the right direction, and water supplies started to run low.
Nineteen miles in, we stop to rest up at Savile Garden’s beautiful but terrifyingly overpriced café, where we take advantage of a loo break and charm the staff into refilling our water bottles for us (it helps when we tell them how far we’ve walked so far). The café is a compromise between stopping at a pub and getting on, as some want to rest up and others share the feeling if we stop now we won’t get going again.
The penultimate part of our hike approaches (although the ultimate bit is quite a stretch) and we enter Windsor Great Park via the Cow Pond (looks nicer than it sounds). We decide to torture those with aching feet a little more and force everyone to ascend to the base of the Copper Horse at the top of the Long Walk (a location on four hikes, now) and soak in the view.
From here it’s simply a matter of going down The Long Walk towards Windsor Castle. I say simply, but google informs me it’s 2.64 miles, which is quite hard going when you’ve done twenty-one miles by this point already.
The last stretch takes most of the golden/Instagram hour, and there’s a wonderful moment where we have to cross the busy A308 and Big Al decides he’s had enough of this nonsense and marches into the road, stopping traffic on both sides. Not all heroes wear capes.
The final stretch approaches and our banter probably reaches it’s darkest point to keep morale up (looking at you, John) and as a group we finish as one, passing by the Two Brewers pub, which would’ve been the perfect finishing point but it’s always bloody busy, and opting instead for The Carpenters Arms, which treats us to a smattering of burgers, pies, nachos, and of course, beer.
Inevitably our group slowly starts to disperse as trains and the like need to be caught, and we part, happy with one of our finest hikes to date, the few stragglers at the end listening with interest to Alan’s idea for a sports drink that’s a blend of blackcurrant juice and Bovril, AKA Ribeefa.
When I caught up with Clyde the next day, he pointed out that this hike was quite unique, because it started at a palace and ended at a castle.
Not a lot of places you can do that.