Patrick’s 75 in 75

Patrick Fleming’s fundraising walk has raised almost £7,000 for the GRCT! Here is his account of his journey.

On Friday, 29 July I was up early to catch the 06.35 from Oxshott to Guildford and start my 75-hour adventure. It was a kaleidoscope of experiences – beautiful scenery (as well as not so beautiful), a time for reflection and an opportunity to witness a multitude of activities and capture some special “cameo moments”.

Day 1 – Guildford Station to Godalming High Street, back to Guildford and on to Pyrford Lock and the Thames Lock at Weybridge.

I set off bright and breezy at 07.03 only to find that, because of construction works, I had to make a detour to get onto the towpath to Godalming. From then on it was fairly straightforward, although I stopped a few dog walkers to check that I was going the right way – I certainly didn’t want any extra miles!! A few ducks sailed past, sending ripples across the water and disturbing the reflections of the sky and the trees. The only sounds came from the birds and cars in the distance. I felt at peace with the world. I reached Godalming in good time – the hustle and bustle a stark contrast – and I was only too pleased to start the return journey after a very short stop for a snack and a drink. Going back to Guildford I found that more people were out and there were even a few swimming in the river. After two hours I reached Dapdune Wharf where the National Trust has a cafe and, even though I was on the wrong side of the river, I had been dreaming of a cappuccino so the detour to get it was a minor obstacle.

I had a sandwich with my coffee and then headed off towards Pyrford Lock, a long stretch of about 9 miles. This was the hardest part of the day as it was getting warm and the path wasn’t always next to the river, which meant few trees and little shade. I hailed a man standing on a footbridge next to a cluster of barges to check that I was going the right way. He assured me that I was before asking when they (England) could get the World Cup back. My South African accent was seemingly very obvious!! I ploughed on feeling a little lonely when my phone rang. Lo and behold, it was a friend who lives in West Byfleet. Quick as a flash he said that he would come out to meet me and walk part of the way (excuse the pun!) He joined me just after Walsham Gates and we walked to The Anchor at Pyrford. It was an opportunity for me to buy some water and take my boots off!

From there it was delightful. We had shade from the trees and it was lovely to see the activity on the river – barges, dinghies, kayaks anda few paddle boards. Colin departed at the junction with the Basingstoke Canal which left me with the final stretch of three miles to the Thamesfeet. My feet were getting a little weary and I was now keen to finish so I upped the pace and within an hour the lockkeeper’s cottage came into sight. Another friend had volunteered to drive me back to Oxshott and, after some refreshment at the Lock, I walked the 100 yards to meet him. My total mileage was between 24 and 25 and the walk time was about 9 hours 40 minutes including stops.

Day 2- Teddington Lock to Shepperton and then on to Windsor

A friend walked the first leg with me and it made such a difference having company. My son-in-law dropped us at Teddington Lock and we set off at 7am on the dot. Again, I was blessed with lovely walking weather – a little overcast and not too hot. This is a beautiful stretch of the Thames and it was good to be alive. The early morning walkers were out, some with dogs, and the swans were cruising effortlessly down the river. Before Hampton Court the path veers away from the river before joining it further on; unfortunately we were chatting so much that we took a wrong turning and had to refer to Google Maps to get us back onto the towpath at the Palace. This is a popular spot and we seized the opportunity to get a caffeine fix at a good coffee shop before we rejoined the path.

We headed towards Shepperton passing boating clubs of every description before arriving at the Nauticalia Ferry which we had to summon by ringing a bell! The ferry has a most interesting history dating back to the early 1800s.  We had to use it to get across the river as the towpath continues along the north bank at this point. The Ferry Coffee Shop (which runs the ferry) is situated right on the river so it was a convenient spot to sit down and refuel – but we didn’t tarry as I had a long way to go! The path is well signposted and it was easy and pleasant walking as we wound our way toward Chertsey. We passed a regatta en route and before long we found ourselves at a point where Gavin could get a taxi home. 

It was most enjoyable having company and it now seemed very lonely. I passed through a pretty area with houses overlooking the river and a grassy bank where I sat down, took my boots off and waved my legs in the air (fortunately nobody came past!). After a sandwich and a long drink of water, I set off on the final stretch which was like the curate’s egg – good in parts. 

In Staines I passed the Swan Master statue which reminded me of the annual swan-upping ceremony on the Thames. From then on, reliable signposts were in short supply, especially after Runnymede, where the path leaves the river and they were most needed. I reached Old Windsor and saw a road sign indicating that Windsor was a mere 3 miles away – but I hadn’t taken into account how much the Thames twists and turns. It didn’t take me long to find out! I went from Old Windsor to Datchet, then I seemed to be back in Old Windsor and, after convincing myself that I was about half an hour away, I had a sinking feeling that there was at least an hour to go. I stopped to ask someone who looked as if she had local knowledge. “Where have you come from?” she asked. When I told her that I had started at Teddington Lock, her jaw dropped – “All in one day?” she exclaimed in horror. On regaining her composure, she told me that Windsor station was only 5 minutes away – I could have hugged her! I sped on and soon reached the town, where my family met me and drove me back to Oxshott. 

The total walking time was 10 hours, including stops, and the mileage, according to the Thames Path guide was 24.6 (though I am sure I did 25 with the diversion at Hampton Court!)

Day 3 – Putney Bridge to Teddington Lock (north bank) and back to Putney Bridge (south bank)

My alarm clock woke me at 05.15 for my final day of walking. I drove to Putney, found parking on a quiet road and set off for the Bridge. I started on the north bank at Bishop’s Palace and even at that hour the runners and walkers were already out. A gentleman stopped me and asked why I was using a stick. He then said that I seemed about his age and he asked me where I was headed. When we established that I was in fact a few years older and I told him that I was going to Teddington Lock, he looked at me in amazement, said, “God bless you” with some measure of respect and hurried off. Passing Craven Cottage (home of Fulham Football Club), I walked steadily on. It is a very built-up area and the towpath runs in front of blocks of flats interspersed with the occasional pub and rowing club.

After Hammersmith Bridge there was a detour along the road at Barnes because of construction works and then at Brentford (after Chiswick and Kew Bridge) the Path leaves the river for a long and confusing stretch. The route is not well signposted, and, after a few wrong turns, I entered Syon Park. I asked a dog walker for directions as there was no sign of the river and he happened to be another South African. After a short conversation in Afrikaans, he pointed out the route in South African slang – “go straight to the end and chuck a left”! Eventually I did get to the Thames and from there it was on to Richmond (very busy), past Marble Hill House and another long and boring section through Twickenhan where the Path leaves the river yet again. I carried on through residential and shopping areas for some time before eventually joining the river at Teddington Lock. With all the deviations it is not surprising that the route along the north bank is considerably longer than it is along the south!

I crossed at the bridge near the Lock and set off back to Putney. This was more pleasant walking because the path hugged the river most of the way, it was wide and much of it was under trees (not particularly important as it turned out because the weather was very overcast). Because it was a Sunday afternoon, there were a lot of people out cycling or going for a stroll and Richmond south bank was even busier than the north bank because of the Richmond Riverside complex. After Kew Bridge the route was very familiar as I had walked it the previous week in training. My feet were getting a little weary but before long Putney Bridge came into sight. What a relief! Then it was past multiple boathouses belonging to schools and clubs and onto Putney High Street.

The total walking time was 10 hours, including stops, and the mileage, according to the Thames Path guide was 25.7. At this point I suddenly thought, “What if I haven’t done 75 miles?” My conscience struck so I decided to do another mile to Wandsworth Park and back just to be on the safe side! Finally, I came back on to the High Street and walked to my car. It was over – I had managed to complete the challenge in 61 hours and 20 minutes after about 30 hours of walking (including stops for refreshment, taking pictures and asking for directions). I was very fortunate to have had no injuries, cramps or blisters and, although I wouldn’t have wanted to do another 25 miles on the Monday, I was feeling good.

Patrick Fleming

5 August 2022

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