Not Quite a Staycation – (Just) out of Town in Kingston Upon Thames:
A few miles outside central London, the idea of an overnight stay in Kingston Upon Thames seems a little strange at first. It’s somewhere I visit anyway, mostly because there’s a good shopping centre with plenty of parking. And, of course I know it is on the river, the name is a bit of a giveaway! I didn’t realise just how close it was to Hampton Court though and I do know that visitors to London often despair of finding reasonably priced accomodation. So, why not?
Trains to and from Kingston upon Thames from Central London leave from Waterloo. That turned out to be just as well, since I ended up travelling on the day of a tube strike and have to walk to the Station. A thirty minute hike really isn’t too bad though and the train journey itself was another 30 minutes or so. The station is right in the town centre and my first appointment, on the Turks Launches Thames Cruise to Hampton Court, a five minute walk down to the riverside.
I love river boat trips, it’s one of the best ways I know to travel. Travelling to Hampton Court by river is fun – a chance to see the area and peek into the houseboats moored along the banks.
The approach to Hampton Court is magnificent and, instead of having to walk across a busy bridge from the station, you just take the towpath up to main entrance. Perfect. By river boat it takes about half an hour, with regular sailings throughout the day while the Palace is open.
Hampton Court Palace should be on everyone’s ‘Must Visit’ list. I’ve probably been three or four times in the past, but I rather enjoyed this opportunity to wander around by myself. It’s a splendid place with as much to see inside as outside.
When the sun shines, though, it’s hard not to gravitate to the gardens and the maze. It is the kind of place where you’ll find something new each time you go back. In my case this time I found the ‘worlds largest vine’ growing in a greenhouse towards the back of some of the formal gardens.
Visiting in the middle of the school holidays I can’t be sure whether some of the activities were temporary, for the summer tourists. There was a lot of ‘living history’ – actors and musicians in period costume, and many of the younger visitors seemed to have managed to gain cloaks, doubtless to help them blend in better. I loved the scratch and sniff ‘smell map’ of the Georgian Court of Hampton Court Palace, even down to ‘the royal toilet’ (which has a very authentic stench!).
Lunch in one of the cafes was a healthy salad of produce from the Palace vegetable gardens, together with some rather less healthy historical mini cakes. The whole thing, including a mug of tea was around £11 which I thought was a fair price for a light lunch in one of the UK’s leading historic destinations
I could write more about Hampton Court but, it is just one of the things to do if you stay in Kingston upon Thames. Apart from Hampton Court Palace, there are a host of stately homes in the area inclyding Ham House, Kew Palace and Marble Hill House. And, Kingston itself has a a history dating back to 836AD, when King Egbert of Wessex held his Great Council there. In fact, seven Anglo Saxon kings are said to have been crowned in the borough. You can still see the 10th Century Coronation Stone, although it was only moved to its current location in 1935. All Saints Church, right by the Market Place was the site of the crowning of two of the Kings, Athelsant and Eethelred the Unready.
When I visited, Kingston Food Festival was in full swing. After eating a rather special afternoon tea at Warren House, there was no way I was able to eat any of the food, but it did look delicious! The Ancient Market Place, a focal point of the festival generally plays a key role in the life of the town.
Having spent most of my shopping hours in the past in the modern centre, I really hadn’t appreciated the diversity of shops. Walking up the Old London Road and then up to Kingston Hill, I found a wealth of independents, including a fabulous antiques market complete with a Polish cafe and a mixture of vintage and boutique clothes shops
I have a sneaking suspicion that for many visitors to London, Kingston upon Thames would make a pleasanter and perhaps more cost effective place to stay.
There are plenty of good places to eat along the riverside. We dined At Cau, a South American steakhouse, but there’s everything from Asian food to Pizzas, all with a great view.
There are a range of hotels and guest houses including Warren House, where I had tea and Chase Lodge House where I stayed for the night in addition to some of the well known Hotel groups like Holiday Inn and Travelodge. The Turks River Cruise travels up to Richmond Upon Thames as well as to Hampton Court and there’s a regular train service to London Waterloo.
For more information on Kingston upon Thames, go to www.kingstonfirst.co.uk/ 020 8547 1221
Rooms at Chase Lodge start from £85 for two with a continental breakfast in September http://www.chaselodgehotel.com/ 020 8943 1862
A river cruise to Hampton Court with Turks Cruises starts from £6.10 per adult or £4.10 per child for a single and £7.60 per adult or £5.60 per child return. . www.turks.co.uk / 020 8546 2434
Tickets to Hampton Court Palace start from £17.10 for adults and £8.60 for children if bought online. Concession tickets and family tickets available/ Entry costs more if tickets are bought at the Palace gates. www.hrp.org.uk/HamptonCourtPalace / 0844 482 7777
Kingston’s Food Festival runs every summer. Details of next year’s event will be announced on http://kingstonfoodfestival.com