For the love of a home town that has no walks associated with it, I asked the question: How do you get from Esher to Downing Street?
The answer is this route. It is a single day’s walk, just 18 miles, reinventing the daily commute into an adventure of the wild and the suburban.
Esher is in Surrey, and we start here by St George’s Church, the old church of the village, which still bears the trace of the great families which owned the manor, in particular Thomas Pelham-Holles, Duke of Newcastle, who owned Claremont and who served as Prime Minister, with just a short gap, from 1754 to 1762.
Turn left out of the churchyard and left again down an alley to the High Street. The monument to Queen Victoria and the age of Empire is to the left, but we walk the other way, following the Portsmouth Road north-eastward. Just after the shops on the north side of the road is the Traveller’s Rest, a curiously Gothic flint-built shelter where weary men on foot, maybe sailors walking all the way from London to Portsmouth, could stop a while: it was built by the Pelhams and still bears their heraldic badge, a buckle, granted in recognition of John Pelham who unhorsed the King of France at Poitiers and took this foreign sovereign prisoner. For you though there is no rest yet: it needs determination to get to Downing Street.
If you can get through Sandown Park, that is a quick and pleasant route but otherwise it is all along the Portsmouth Road to the old Orléans Arms, where a later dethroned French king used to sup, left at the milestone pillar and up to the station. No cheating by getting the train here, by the way.
Just north of the station we turn across the common and strike out diagonally, not quite towards Weston Green but to a pond at the corner of the green: turn north here up a footpath and you are back onto paved roads: find Ember Lane; start walking north on this road. I prefer to avoid roads, but TINA is a harsh mistress.
It soon crosses two little rivers, both called the Ember or the Mole, which is really one river split in two and trying not to meet itself, and into East Molesey, then we are at Hampton Court Bridge and the River Thames.
Cross this Rubicon then: across the Thames we are in Middlesex, past the imposing wall and gate of Hampton Court Palace, decked with baroque decoration of armour and emblems of magistracy, for this was once a seat of power, and we go round and into Bushy Park.
Up through the park towards the Diana Fountain: a monument to the huntress, not she who was hunted to death, which is a lesson for all in public life. Here turn right and walk eastward through the park – there is a path, leading past the playground and out to Hampton Wick, and across Kingston Bridge and back into Surrey.
Kingston has an ancient coronation stone, but we must not be delayed – use your initiative to get through the town, under the railway and onto Acre Road north-eastwards, Kings Road and Queens Road and in to Richmond Park.
What a wonder this vast park is! More wonder that it has miraculously been preserved when if it were not under the shelter of the Crown a city would have been built upon it. I have plotted a route across the park – plotting is important – and you should emerge at another footpath leading you to Barnes Common. You are walking it should be said, in great footsteps: Robert Walpole himself, the first Prime Minister, walked from Richmond Palace to Putney on his way to Downing Street, as we shall see, and you may be following in his very footsteps.
Across Barnes Common and the playing fields, and you arrive at the bank of the Thames again, then walk down to Putney Bridge. Another route would have been further north, across Hammersmith Bridge, which is what I recommended if another were plotting their way from Uxbridge to Downing Street, but we have another approach this time. When Walpole arrived here from Richmond he was unable to rouse a ferryman to carry him across the river, so he had bridge built – I like to think it was out of spite rather than the public good. Like Walpole we will not cross here but carry on along the Surrey bank of the river.
The riverbank can be followed (with minor diversions) all the way to Rotherhithe, at the end of Surrey. Let us take it to Chelsea Bridge, then vaulting ambition takes us one last time across the river. Along the riverside past Pimlico (where there are no passport checks, whatever the film said), and up to Westminster itself, looking out at Lambeth Palace across the water, and soon we are at the Palace of Westminster.
Around Parliament Square are ranged the church, in the form of Westminster Abbey, Parliament, the Supreme Court (in the old Middlesex Guildhall) and Whitehall. Up Whitehall then and you are at last at the gates of Downing Street.
How you get into Downing Street, I leave to you.