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Eel Pie Island
Where better to start? Eel Pie is an island owned by the monarchy that has only been connected to the mainland since 1957. It was once the heart of a thriving jazz and R&B scene, playing host to everyone from the Who to Pink Floyd. The hotel there became a magnet for hippies before burning down in 1971. Pete Townshend’s Eel Pie Studios – latterly the Cocteau Twins’ September Sound – was located nearby on the north side of the Thames near Twickenham Bridge.
The Undercroft, Southbank Centre
Some of the least expected sounds heard on the Thames Path are likely to emanate from the skate park tucked below the Southbank Centre. A garishly spraypainted London landmark for over 40 years, the skate park brilliantly flicks two fingers to the creeping commercial gentrification of the south side of the river. Plans to relocate it have led to an online petition; its removal would only be a victory for the forces of homogenisation.
The Dove, Hammersmith
The Dove is probably the best pub on the approach to Hammersmith. Pub history has it that the lyrics to perennial Proms climax Rule Britannia were written here. Legendary drinkers Ernest Hemingway and Dylan Thomas also propped up the bar when in London. The view from the back veranda is jaw dropping.
A little way from the towering glass of Canada Square, the disused docks are still fishable, either through the Corporation of London or London’s oldest surviving angling club, the Brunswick Brothers. Elsewhere, urban birders can spot migratory birds or even the occasional peregrine, buzzard or sparrowhawk hunting around the tops of the taller buildings. A short stroll finds one of London’s largest city farms at Mudchute Park.
Right at the end of the path sits the Thames Barrier. Opened in 1982, the barrier still looks impossibly -futuristic – part functionalist architecture, part Doctor Who set. A reaction to the North Sea flood of 1953, it looks like the kind of utilitarian “grand project” that rarely gets off the ground now (see the seemingly defunct Severn Barrage plans). The fact that construction began amid the political turbulence of the mid-70s makes it an even more incredible achievement.
A little further along comes one of three Unesco World Heritage sites accessible on this path (the others being Tower Bridge and Greenwich). The 250-year-old Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew is London at its most stately, a sedate diversion before the relative chaos that lies just round the corner. As well tens of thousands of different plants, Kew is home to the a gigantic compost heap made of waste “donated” by the nearby Household Cavalry.