Thames Path Trek - Rob's story
Rob Wilks is 70 and has had epilepsy for 60 years. But he has always been determined not to let the condition define him or hold him back. Last year he took part in the Thames Bridge Trek, walking 25km across 16 bridges in central London and raising more than £1,300 for Epilepsy Society. Here he shares his memories and photos of the trek in the hopes of inspiring others to follow in his footsteps.
It was on a damp misty morning that I arrived at Putney Bridge for the start of the Thames Bridge Trek, conscious of the fact that a 25km walk lay ahead of me alongside the River Thames. The challenge was to walk from Putney to the Tower of London, and cross/pass 16 of the bridges en route. It was about 9 am so I had enough time to take a look at St. Mary's Church, Putney and grab a cup of coffee in the church cafe. St. Mary's was once the meeting place of a political party called "The Levellers" that challenged the authority of the monarchy during the English Civil War in 1645.
Hundreds of walkers were already assembling on Bishop's Meadow alongside the Thames, some to take part in the more challenging walk out towards the Cotswolds and others, such as I, to take on what I considered to be the more interesting walk towards Central London. It was a colourful scene, for not only were walkers bearing the sweat shirts showing the charities they represented, but the organisers of the Thames Challenge had brightly decorated the marquees that had been erected for participants to register in.
Once the walk started it was across the bridge towards Fulham, and St. Mary's Church to join the Thames path. The weather was fine and clear enough to see an early morning "supersonic" speedboat racing alongside us. The side of the boat bore the title 'a lively water experience' and those on the boat certainly seemed to be enjoying themselves as they viewed some of the modern and historic buildings that lay in store for us to see as we continued on our walk.
We soon saw road signs for Wandsworth, reminding us that we were close to its prison where Ronnie Biggs, one of the gang that committed the Great Train Robbery, had escaped from and stayed on the run for many years. From Wandsworth Bridge it was on towards Battersea Park and straight past the famous dogs' home. We also walked past the back of the decommissioned and 'listed' power station.
Battersea Power Station
After walking round the back of Battersea Park we eventually rejoined the river path near Fulham railway bridge, one of the few places where the underground is actually seen crossing the river. We eventually reached Albert Bridge, also known as the "Trembling Lady", which links Chelsea with Battersea.
Over the bridge we came to the church where William Blake, the composer of "Jerusalem," is said to have attended. He was married here and his grave can be found in the churchyard. We then walked back over Vauxhall Bridge which I learnt had originally been called Regent Bridge. Each of the pillars have some very interesting figures representing such things as fine arts, government, science, education, pottery, engineering and agriculture.
In sharp contrast the design of some flats, shown in the photo alongside, were apparently approved by Lord John Prescott who was Deputy Prime Minister at the time, they have been said to be some of the worst designed flats in London. Vauxhall was our stopping point for lunch .
From Vauxhall we headed towards Lambeth Bridge and Lambeth Palace which is of course the London home of the Archbishop of Canterbury. It was at this point that my attention was drawn to the fact that one time all of this area had been marshland. The gatehouse of Lambeth Palace (shown in the photo) is said to have been commissioned by Cardinal John Morton back in the 15th century and is apparently one of the oldest brick structures in London. Soon afterwards we realised that we were entering the heart of the city of London for we could see Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Bridge looming ahead.
After crossing Westminster Bridge we entered the hustle and bustle of Southbank where the old city hall has become a mass of different entertainment centres.
Once past the entry to the old County Hall building which houses the London Aquarium, London Dungeon, and amusement arcade and various other businesses we struggled towards the most prominent feature, the London Eye, for as we walked along what must have been the busiest section of our route the "London Eye" was the main focus of many visitors.
On the Southbank stretch we came across the Golden Jubilee Bridge which was opened 2002 to commemorate 50 years of Queen Elizabeth's reign. We crossed Waterloo Bridge, before reaching Blackfriar's Bridge which I learnt had been built in 1869.Southbank, it seems attracts over three million people a year and as we headed towards Blackfriars it seemed as if a high proportion of that number had chosen the day of our walk to visit the area. Jubilee Gardens, situated close to where the Festival of Britain had taken place, is now commonly referred to as "London Wonderground".
Blackfriars bridge has a very imposing Coat of Arms, representing the "London, Chatham and Dover Railway''. This bridge is very close to the Oxo Tower and Tate Modern.
After reaching Blackfriars Bridge we walked on until we came to the Millennium Bridge which unlike others is a suspension footbridge that crosses the Thames from Tate Modern to St. Paul's Cathedral on the North Bank.
From the Millennium Bridge we could clearly see our final two bridges before reaching Tower Bridge. So it was onwards to Southwark and London Bridge before arriving at what I thought was one of the most interesting parts of the walk - the area around the new County Hall which had formerly been part of dockland.
Our approach to Butler's wharf was across Tower Bridge. Only Victorian engineering would have attempted the kind of engineering involved in the design of this bridge, for it was some structure. Butler's Wharf, our final destination, was now clearly visible with a boat that had been specially hired to mark the end of our walk. So it was down to the quayside and onto the gangway.
By that time I had teamed up with a very nice young couple. They seemed to just be enjoying taking part in the walk for enjoyment, as was the case with many other people.
The atmosphere throughout the walk had been superb so we celebrated the end of the event together. There were, I understand, others walking in aid of funds to assist people who have epilepsy and I did have a brief encounter with one, a more adventurous lady who appeared to be heading in the direction of the Cotswolds. What more could we ask for than Tower Bridge to raise its arms as one of a number of Dutch barges passed through. A perfect ending to what had been a most interesting and rewarding day!