Molesey Hurst ©John Inglis
Mute Swans at Molesey Hurst ©John Inglis Willows at Hurst Park ©John Inglis The Astoria Houseboat ©John Inglis Fishing at Hurst Park ©John Inglis

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The Riverside

Hurst Park has almost a mile of riverside frontage, and because the Thames Path runs along the Surrey bank of the Thames you can comfortably walk or cycle it all.

Setting off from Hampton Court, passing Molesey Lock, Molesey Boat Club and East Molesey Cricket Club, you come along the path into the Hurst, where the landscape opens up and presents a pretty semi-rural aspect of open ground and trees.

Midstream you see Tagg’s Island which is fringed by permanently moored houseboats. Stop awhile on one of the seats and you’ll see how interesting and varied they are. There are two little wooden ‘boats’ built next to the path - Ratty and Moley - for children to play on. If you strike inland here you will encounter Hurst Meadows, a delightful prospect at any time, but particularly in the summer months with a great diversity of wild flowers and grasses.

The next island you see from the Thames Path is Ducks' Ait, occupied by some willows and used by the water birds to rest and preen. An Ait, or an Eyot, is the word often used for an island in the Thames.

Carry on upstream and you will find that beyond the avenue of trees Hurst Park opens up into a wide, grassy space. There is an area for kicking a ball about, a basketball court, a children’s playground and you are spoiled for choice for a picnic or for sunbathing.

As you approach the slipway, with the carpark now in sight, you enter a no fishing zone, established in the early 1990s to separate birdfeeders from anglers. This simple expedient, at a stroke, dramatically reduced injuries to water birds and the anglers have observed it well. There are usually people feeding the birds at the slipway: ducks, geese, swans and coots. You also see Great Crested Grebe and the occasional cormorant and moorhen on the water here.

Stop awhile and look across the Thames where you will see on the Middlesex bank an astonishingly beautiful houseboat in glowing teak with curved glass canopies and gun-metal windows. This is the Astoria, built by Fred Karno in the early 20th century and now a recording studio.

Walking on you enter another avenue, of younger trees, with plenty of open grassy ground stretching away towards the housing of the Hurst Park Estate. On the opposite bank is Garrick’s Temple, a Palladian-style little folly set in its own pretty gardens, built in the 18th century by David Garrick as a temple to Shakespeare.

Midstream you will see Garrick’s Ait, glimpsed between river’s edge vegetation as you pass along this backwater, with its little houses and small boats. It’s the only island in Elmbridge, lying south of the county boundary that goes down the middle of the river. The vegetation along the river's edge is an important part of a network of habitats all along the Thames. It provides safety and shelter for sparrows and other small birds, as well as nesting sites among the overhang for coot and grebe. There are many nests along this stretch of the river in the spring, either beneath the tangled overhang or on the islands.

Hampton Ferry Landing next comes into view. If the ferry is running (8-10am and 4-6pm on weekdays during British Summer Time, and all day weekends), ring the bell hanging on the ferry landing post and take a trip across to Hampton. After this point angling resumes, and the bend of the river here is popular for fishing matches. There are fine views across to Hampton Church and village, the sailing club on Benn’s Ait and the monumental buildings of the waterworks.

A little further on you will see the Heritage Marker close by the path. This was built soon after the millennium and has displays about the history of Molesey Hurst, seats, a special sundial, and plaques that commemorate local people.

Keep walking on upstream and you will see a more natural river’s edge with beaches, willows and, in summer, water irises. There is an old wharf wall at one point, once used for loading and unloading when the river was a transport highway.

The Hurst begins to narrow as you pass Platt’s Eyot, an island with a long tradition of boatbuilding and repair. There are several historic boathouses on Platt’s; all are on the English Heritage ‘at risk’ register. Nevertheless, there is still plenty of working activity and Port Hampton, as it is known, builds houseboats, repairs craft and provides moorings for hire.

You are now approaching the end of Hurst, Park and as you pass Hurst Park Primary School the open space narrows down to just the towpath and there are old reservoirs alongside with steep high banks. These are being worked for sand and gravel; as extraction finishes, they are being restored for nature conservation and birds.

If you turn around and retrace your steps, you get a whole different set of views!