A warm welcome to you and thanks for joining me on another expedition of the capital’s hidden gems and treasures. My walk in this edition combines rugby and rivers as I begin at Twickenham Stadium and then head to Twickenham Stoop Stadium. I’ll then take a stroll along the Duke of Northumberland’s River, take a detour to Kneller Gardens before joining the River Crane and ending at Crane Park and Crane Park Island. This walk really is one of those that opens up your eyes to London’s natural beauty and provides you with a glimpse into some of the unknown surprises the capital has to offer!
My journey begins at the home of England Rugby, Twickenham Stadium. Opened in 1909, the 82,000 capacity stadium was designed by John Bradley and is owned by the governing body of rugby union in England, the Rugby Football Union (the RFU). The stadium hosts home test matches for the England national rugby union team as well as the Middlesex Sevens, Premiership Rugby matches, Anglo-Welsh Cup matches and the Varsity Match between Oxford and Cambridge. In addition to rugby union, the stadium has hosted rugby league, the NFL and concerts.
It’s currently the largest stadium in the world dedicated to rugby union and the second largest stadium in the UK behind Wembley and the fourth largest stadium in Europe. The stadium has hosted the Rugby World Cup Final three times – in 1991, 1999 and 2015. The RFU’s headquarters are also housed within the stadium and you can visit the World Rugby Union Museum too.
The stadium’s history dates back to a sold out Test between New Zealand and South Africa at Crystal Palace. The success of this match lead to the RFU realising the benefit of owning their own ground, which resulted in committee member William Williams and treasurer William Cail purchasing a 10.25 acre (4 hectare) market garden in Twickenham in 1907. Before there was a stadium on its current location, cabbages were grown on the site, which is why the stadium is known as the Cabbage Patch! The first ever match at the stadium was between Harlequins and Richmond on 2 October 1909, with the first international match taking place between England and Wales on 15 January 1910.
Just outside Twickenham Stadium stands a five-tonne, 27ft tall bronze sculpture depicting a rugby line-out, which has been on the South Stand piazza since 2015 and was designed by pop artist and sculptor Gerald Laing.
This was the first time I visited Twickenham Stadium and I was taken back at how vast it was and you also definitely feel a sense of national pride while you’re at the home of English rugby. It’s a real pleasure to be walking around such an iconic stadium in the rugby world and whenever you think of Twickenham, this stadium comes to mind.
On my walks of London I’ve visited two football grounds – Craven Cottage and the London Stadium, a cricket ground – Lord’s, an athletics track – Crystal Palace Stadium, and even a baseball ground when I visited Oracle Park on my walks of San Francisco. After never visiting a rugby ground on my London adventures before, the next stop on my walk sees me visit my second rugby ground, Twickenham Stoop!
Home to the Harlequins rugby union team, The Stoop as it’s known as, opened in 1963 and has a capacity of 14,800. Harlequins was founded in 1866 and in its first 40 years the club played at 15 venues. In 1906, Harlequins were invited by the Rugby Football Union to use the new national Twickenham Stadium and in 1963 Harlequins acquired a 14 acre (5 hectare) athletics ground, which would become their ground known as Stoop Memorial Ground. It wasn’t until 2005 that it was renamed Twickenham Stoop. The ground was named after Adrian Stoop, a former England international and longtime Harlequins player and president.
I’ll now join the Duke of Northumberland’s River, which flows right beside Twickenham Stoop Stadium. This was actually the first time I’ve heard of this river as it isn’t as well-known as the River Thames or River Lea! Consisting of two sections of artificial waterway, the river was dug in Tudor times.
The river’s eastern section diverts water from the River Crane in Whitton, which is near Twickenham, north-eastwards past the two rugby stadiums (Twickenham Stadium and Twickenham Stoop), through Isleworth and onwards to the Duke of Northumberland’s estate at Syon Park. Over the years water from the river has been used for local mills producing flour and calico. The river was also once part of the Syon Abbey Estate, which after the dissolution of the monasteries in Henry VIII’s reign became the property of the Duke of Northumberland. In 1931, the river was purchased from the Duke of Northumberland by Middlesex County Council.
The western section of the river diverts water from the River Colne at Harmondsworth, near Heathrow Airport, flowing eastwards to the River Crane. It flows alongside the Longford River for a large part of its early course. The section past Heathrow was diverted south in 1944 when Heathrow Airport was constructed. In recent years after the construction of Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport, both rivers have been diverted as part of the Twin Rivers Diversion Scheme. The Duke’s River then flows east to join the Crane in Donkey Wood, by Baber Bridge in North Feltham, west of Hounslow Heath.
The walk along the river brings you to Mereway Nature Park, which dates back to 1864. In the 1870s Twickenham Borough Council bought the land and developed a sewage works on part of it that wasn’t marshland. It was described as a “convenient spot of wasteland at a distance from the town, known as Mereway”. The sewage works were in use until the 1930s when a larger facility was constructed at Modgen Lane. In 1896, the remainder of the land was drained and between 1915 and 1990 Mereway was a council run allotment garden. It was renamed Mereway Nature Park in 2006 and in 2009 the Kingfisher Bridge was opened linking Mereway Nature Park and Kneller Gardens.
I’ll now hop over the Kingfisher Bridge to my next stop, Kneller Gardens. Opened in 1931, the picturesque gardens were described as “another lung for Twickenham”. The gardens were the first public open space in Twickenham to include a children’s playground. The park today has football pitches, tennis courts, basketball courts and a café. The river flowing next to the park adds to the garden’s character making it a perfect natural combination.
Kneller Gardens is also where the Duke of Northumberland’s River meets the River Crane, which is where the rest of my walk will continue along. The River Crane is a tributary of the River Thames running through west London and flows through three boroughs – Hillingdon, Hounslow and Richmond upon Thames. Once again, this was the first time I’ve heard of and explored this river!
The walk along the pretty riverside sees me pass by some unique bridges, quirky benches, beautiful woodland and glorious grassland. It does have a countryside feel about it when you walk by the river and being able to get so close to the flowing of the water adds to the tranquility and splendour of the stroll. There’s nothing quite like hearing the tricking of water and seeing how fast the current of the river flows. One aspect of the walk I do love is the reflections in the water of the trees, which really are an eye-catching spectacle.
The walk along the River Crane brings me to Crane Park, with Crane Park Island right beside it. Crane Park is a 30 hectare (74 acre) public park in western Twickenham. The western end of the park used to be where the Hounslow Gunpowder Works were in the late 1760s. Crane Park Island was created to provide a mill pond for water to drive the machinery. The Shot Tower is thought to have been a windmill for recirculating water to power the mills, rather than a shot tower for making lead shot. The license to manufacture gunpowder was withdrawn in 1927 and the site was sold to Twickenham Council, which would turn into Crane Park, opening in 1935. The Shot Tower is at the forefront of the park and was restored in 2004 as a visitor centre, with an exhibition, education rooms and a viewing area. It’s also now a Grade II listed building.
The Shot Tower is definitely a first on my walks of London as I’ve never really encountered such a prominent structure in a park, and this is the second mill that I’ve seen after walking past The House Mill.
Right next to The Shot Tower is Crane Park Island, which is a local nature reserve containing woodlands, scrub, ditches, ponds and reedbed that has grown there since it stopped being used as an industrial area in the mid-20th century. It wasn’t just The Shot Tower mill that was present near the island, as other mills were along the river as far back as 1066, producing swords, oil and flour. After the mills closed, the area became derelict, until the area was drained to create the reserve in 1981. The London Wildlife Trust has managed the site since 1986 and the island has attracted lots of wildlife, including frogs and water voles.
One of the striking features beside The Shot Tower is the bridge that connects Crane Park and Crane Park Island. That’s because you can still see remains from the mill underneath it, with the water cascading down the waterfall next to it. When you see and hear the fast flowing of this water it’s such an enjoyable experience and you can imagine that in the mill’s heyday this enabled The Shot Tower to power efficiently.
Well that’s all from my walk around Twickenham, which has seen me visit two rugby stadiums, explore the Duke of Northumberland’s River and the River Crane, before ending in Crane Park and Crane Park Island. I hope you’ve had a great time joining me on my river walk and please let me know your thoughts and London memories in the comments section!
Thanks for reading and in the meantime you can follow all my walks on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and don’t forget to sign up to my blog too so you don’t miss a post! Also why not have a read of my other walks which explore all over London, from north to south, to west to east via central, there’s something there for you! 🙂 And don’t forget to read my very special walk of San Francisco! Here are the links to them all below for you!
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