As the longest river in England, the River Thames spans an incredible 215 miles, with Surrey enjoying around 20 miles of it along its northern border. The Thames Path and other riverside paths mean the Surrey section of the river can be enjoyed in its entirety by avid walkers and casual strollers alike. Whilst the Thames Path Challenge is becoming increasingly popular, the annual Totally Thames festival every September also celebrates everything about the river.
The Surrey part of the River Thames is a feast for the eyes, imagination and taste buds. Peppered with quintessentially English pubs and hideaway cafés, historical hotspots and world famous National Trust land – there really is something for everyone. What fewer people realise is that this part of the river is also home to many magical islands, many of which are inhabited or have enchanting stories from past times.
Using the book Carl Goes London Islands as our guide (see discount code below for Visit Surrey readers), here are just some of the highlights of walking the Surrey stretch of the River Thames.
Kingston-upon-Thames to Thames DittonBack to Top of List
Canbury Gardens and Steven’s Eyot
The pretty green space at Canbury Gardens feels a world away from the bustling centre of Kingston, making it a peaceful spot to visit, even if it’s just for a break from shopping. Steven’s Eyot – an island named after a 1900s boat maker – can be spotted here. This was one of the first public swimming spots in the locality, but is now home to the Small Boat Club (SBC).
Food + drink tip: The Boaters Inn is a pretty English pub overlooking Steven’s Eyot.
GoBoat and Raven’s Ait
As you wander back towards Kingston, you continue along the river to Surbiton, you’ll come across Raven’s Ait. A Thames island with an illustrious history, this is where the Treaty of Kingston was signed in the 13th century – which saved England from French control. A calendar of public events – from cinema screenings to barbecues – can be enjoyed here today.
Food + drink tip: Hart’s Boatyard is a gastropub with an upper deck offering fabulous river views.
Thames Ditton Island
As you follow the river around the bend, you’ll start to catch the first views of Hampton Court Park (Home Park). Thames Ditton Island is one of the larger islands on the river, with around 50 homes on it – connected to the ‘mainland’ by a suspension footbridge. In the 1800s, people used to visit the island by skiff to enjoy summertime picnics.
Food + drink tip: Ye Olde Swan is a 13th century pub just next to the bridge, and is a favourite among islanders.
Thames Ditton to MoleseyBack to Top of List
Hampton Court Palace and Cigarette Island
Continuing alongside the river brings Hampton Court Palace into full view. The incredible Grade I listed former residence of King Henry VIII is worth a stop on your riverside journey. Across the river from the palace is Cigarette Island, which is now a tranquil park. The locality has some treasure-trove antiques shops to explore too.
Ash Island and Taggs Island
An area of the Thames sometimes called the ‘Thames Riviera’, this section of riverside exudes glamour and charm in equal measure. While Ash Island is verdant and surrounded by enchanting houseboats, Taggs Island is home to many two-storey floating houses. In the early 1900s, theatre producer Fred Karno opened a hotel, grand ballroom and German beer garden on Taggs Island. His houseboat, the Astoria, is where Charlie Chaplin had his first audition. Now owned by Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour – who turned it into a recording studio – the Astoria is still moored just a little further along the Thames today.
Food + drink tip: Stop at Eight on the River – the café on the first floor of the Molesey Boat Club – for perfect views of both islands.
Molesey to SheppertonBack to Top of List
Hurst Park and Platt’s Eyot
Continuing along the riverbank takes you past yet more islands and through Hurst Park, the location of a former racecourse that dates back to 1890. Towards the end of the park, Platt’s Eyot becomes visible. Known mostly for boat building, this island is also where torpedoes were built in secret during World War I. Today the island is known for its eclectic range of entrepreneurs, including a beer brewer, while music studios have seen everyone from Eric Clapton to the Spice girls visit.
Food + drink tip: Stop off at the café at East Molesey Cricket Club for a bite to eat on the way to Hurst Park.
Desborough Island and D’Oyly Carte Island
Beyond Platt’s Eyot, the river is peppered with various inhabited and uninhabited islands. Just past Walton-on-Thames is Desborough Island – one of the river’s larger islands. Home to a rugby club and a rifle club, the woodland path is ideal for a short detour. Further along the river – sandwiched in between Weybridge and Shepperton – is D’Oyly Carte Island. With just one incredible mansion located on it, the island is the former residence of the Gilbert and Sullivan producer Richard D’Oyly Carte.
Food + drink tip: The Anglers in Walton-on-Thames is a fabulous riverside spot.
Shepperton to EghamBack to Top of List
Lock Island and Pharaoh’s Island
As the towpath moves to the other side of the river, the Shepperton riverfront offers a distinctive community feeling. Lock Island and the inhabited Hamhaugh Island can be spotted here; this is where Londoners originally came for camping holidays. Families stayed throughout World War II to escape the bombing, and many decided not to leave once the war was over. Neighbouring Pharaoh’s Island is home to beautiful houses with Egyptian-inspired names and raft of formerly famous residents. Apparently Jimi Hendrix once took a dip in a swimming pool on the island!
Food + drink tip: The Thames Court pub or Nauticalia Shepperton are perfect for a drink or bite to eat, as is the tea room on Lock Island.
Parks on islands and a Roman waypoint
As the river passes through Chertsey and Laleham, various parkland islands can be discovered. Penton Hook Island is a protected nature reserve and is a popular spot for anglers and picnickers alike. Truss’s Island has a picturesque landscaped park and picnic benches. The tiny Church Island in Staines-upon-Thames has just six houses on it nowadays – but previously it was crossed by a Roman bridge, marking a waypoint on the Devil’s Highway to Londinium.
Food + drink tip: The Swan Hotel and pub is a 16th century inn occupying a pretty stretch of the Staines riverside.
Egham to RunnymedeBack to Top of List
The Runnymede on Thames hotel and Magna Carta Island
Beyond Egham and Staines, the river opens out to pretty lawns owned by The Runnymede on Thames hotel. Stop for a meal, drink and a picturesque view, or hire one of the hotel’s riverboats to navigate the river under your own steam. Continuing along the river, the path takes you through the Runnymede Pleasure Grounds and beyond to the area made famous by the sealing of the Magna Carta in 1215. Magna Carta Island itself is the spiritual home of this profound historical moment; the island is also where King Henry VIII is said to have courted Ann Boleyn.
Food + drink tip: Have an indulgent buffet lunch at Leftbank at The Runnymede on Thames, or grab a quick snack from the Airstream trailer on the hotel lawns.
As you reach the end of the Surrey stretch of the River Thames, the locality has lots to offer. Much of the area around here is protected by the National Trust, including the many Magna Carta monuments and the Ankerwycke Yew, a 2,500 year old tree.
Carl Goes London Islands is a book about the islands and islanders of the River Thames. Featuring fascinating stories about the islands and more than 20 interviews with islanders, this book is a wonderful accompaniment to walks along the river. Visit Surrey readers can receive 20% off the book using the discount code VISITSURREY on checkout at www.thamesislands.london