Monday, 8 October 2007

Crossings over the River Thames 6 - Richmond Bridge

Marking my sixth stop down river, we come to the very pretty Richmond Bridge. Due to the way the river twists and turns at this point, the 'Southbank' is to the north of the bridge and so RIchmond, although a part of South London, sits firmly to the North East of this bridge.

But all technicalities are forgotten once you come to this part of the river. With lots of generous parkland on either side you only notice a few luxury developments when you get close too the town centre. And there is good reason for that. This part of the river does experience flooding on a regular basis. By the time I cycled past RIchmond, my bike had a thorough clean and my socks were hanging off my bag, drying in the wind. The tides creep up this far and regularly top the banks. However, thanks to the parkland on either side, there is no need for strong embankments to keep back the river. Something to keep in mind for the Thames Gateway developments. However, something tells me that riverside views sell a little better.

Richmond Bridge again, is two bridges built as one. Originally built in 1777, it is the oldest surviving crossing of the Thames in London, that is still in use. Something not realised when leapfrogging over the river. It was widened a little in the 1930's, on the upstream side, but the work was cunningly hidden unless you decide to actually look for it under the arches.

It is a narrow bridge to cross, but all credit must be given to the engineers of the 18th century for designing and building a bridge that is still in use today. Despite the ravages of over 200 years of tides and around fifty years of heavy traffic, the bridge still survives and provides an important link in this corner of South West London. Most of the people crossing the river at Richmond probably have no idea of the history of the crossing or the age of the span they stand or drive across. And that is the marvel of any good structure - timelessness.

So as I cross the river and look onwards, London itself creeps up on you. The subtleties of the buildings. They are getting taller, some more grandiose. But the city is getting more, 'city-like' and less suburban. The river is beginning to loose the last of its rural charms and depending on what side of the river you now choose to continue your journey, it is either very posh or not-so-posh.

And good. Rural charm is all lovey dovey, but there is plenty of countryside in the UK. You go there, it smells of manure and everyone goggles at you. Give me the metropolis anyday and I will revel in its funky beats and rudeness with eyes averting and decent food. As the river continues along its journey towards the sea, Richmond marks the point when this muddy little stream begins to take a more interesting turn.

Getting there: Nearest Tube and National Rail - Richmond Station (for the Southbank side). Bus routes 33, 490, H22, H37, R68, R70 and the N22 all cross over the bridge. Route 65 serves the Southbank.

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