The River Crane Walk

The river Crane isn’t one of London’s hidden rivers, so much as one of London’s overlooked rivers. It’s not shoved away from view in calverts but meanders in full sight from Hillingdon to join the Thames at Twickenham.  But as it passes through some of London’s least charming areas it’s easy to ignore. A mistake we discover. Our walk, starting at Twickenham station, reveals the Crane  deserves attention.

We’re still in recovery mode after the ‘heavy’ demands of Christmas and the New Year so Ros has suggested  this relatively easy and local walk along the river Crane which she’s found online.
Its telling that although the river is right on my doorstep I’ve never explored it before.
We meet at Twickenham station set off through the busy traffic, turn into a residential area which leads us to a recreation ground running down to The Stoop, the Harlequins’ rugby ground, before veering onto a path that leads us down to the river. It’s all pretty suburban and littered but soon there are more promising signs. A volunteer group is clearing vegetation on the bank to plant bulbs, and there is more evidence of environmental activity as we head upstream. Pond and bog areas have been dug and planted with native species, new willow fencing has been woven along stretches of the path and areas of thicket have been cleared to open up new habitats. We’re impressed that Richmond Parks department , London Wildlife Trust and various conservation volunteers are putting in so much effort here and to such good effect.
The river leads us into Kneller Gardens, home of the famous military music school, then across a busy road on to a long and well-maintained stretch of pathway. We are amazed by the birdlife. We spot large numbers of long tailed tits and a flock of twittering goldfinches, as well as the usual garish parakeets. We enter a more densely wooded area, then round a bend in the path and see the Crane Park Shot Tower, where lead shot used to be made in the 19th century. It’s an impressive building, now Grade II listed. A little bridge leads on to an island that was created to provide a mill pond for the endlessly exploding gunpowder mills that were once here, but is now a delightful nature reserve. We don’t see any of the promised voles or kingfishers but moorhens swim hither and thither in the reedbeds, their intermittent shrieks the only sound in this little oasis of lushness that seems a million miles from urban activity.
It’s a bit squelchy on the island, and we’re not sure where we are on the map, Its also time for lunch. Our phone apps come to our rescue: there’s a bus to Twickenham in 19 minutes not too far away. A conveniently located gate opens into an estate of spanking white bungalows, a vista of the hated hard landscaped front gardens . The contrast to Crane Park with its meandering river and wealth of fauna and flora could not be greater.
The bus takes us to Twickenham Green and we opt for lunch in a little pavilion-type building on the corner, once home to public lavatories but now converted into a rather quaint cafe restaurant Arthur’s Pizzas . The view is superb, across the Green with its row of Victorian cottages in the distance, the service is charming but we choose melanzane which is undercooked and disappointing. However over a glass of wine we agree our walk definitely exceeded expectations. We’ve discovered another hidden river with its traces of past and present history, another ribbon of green, breathing life into an urban world.

Steps: Just over 10,000
Walk: 8/10
Lunch: 5/10

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