Richmond - One of Europe's Gems

The course of the River Thames.Image via Wikipedia
South East England
Last weekend whilst visiting my aunt in Brentford Esther and I discovered a gem of a place on the Thames in London - Richmond. I’d like to say it’s a hidden gem, but judging by the amount of French and German we could hear spoken in the streets I guess it’s already well known to European tourists. It’s also well-known to English celebrities: famous residents and former residents include Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall, Pete Townshend of The Who and Richard E. Grant. Furthermore, it was for a long time the location of a Royal residence and nearby Twickenham is the hallowed home of English rugby. But as we discovered last weekend there’s an obvious reason for its popularity - it’s a fantastic location.

First of all there’s the waterfront, a scenic walk along the riverfront between Kew Gardens and the Thames ends at Richmond Bridge, where there are pubs and an ice cream vendor as well as plenty of grass and trees and lovely benches to sit on and watch the ducks and swans glide along the river. The other side of the river is flanked by tall oaks and gentle willows dipping their branches into the cool waters of the Thames. Basically this waterfront area really “works” from a design, town-planning aspect - willows, an old bridge, row-boats and river barges, pubs and restaurants - it’s a fantastic space and the only place I can compare it to is the Opera Quays area of Sydney. Although I’d add the following caveat: it feels altogether less exclusive and less like a party you’re not invited to than some of the restaurants of that rarefied part of New South Wales can feel like.

Although Richmond is an exclusive suburb, as the confidence of its celebrity residents attests to, I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. The place retains an almost Edwardian glamour - not in its architecture or style but in the spirit of the place. There’s an upbeat vibe to Richmond which is miles away from the “computer says no” attitude of Letchworth and the rest of middle-class England. With wealthy-looking buildings like Heron Square and Aston Martins driving around little streets filled with cafes, pubs, chocolatiers, patiesseries, restaurants and designer boutiques, Richmond exudes a confidence reminiscent of Britain’s so-called golden age when pampered British aristocrats strode the world as if it was their exclusive preserve.

Pagoda in Kew Gardens, LondonImage via Wikipedia
Pagoda in Kew Gardens
We came down to Richmond on the 65 bus from Kew Bridge in Brentford. Departing from Ealing Broadway this bus is probably a good bet for many Australians living in London, another good bus to Richmond is bus 391 from Hammersmith. Riding the bus during summer was like watching a stereotype of English culture, leafy streets liberally interspersed with parks, cricketers dressed in their traditional whites playing on the weekend, it almost didn’t seem real, like something out of an episode of Bodyline or an idyllic Hollywood depiction of England à la Marc Forster’s Finding Neverland.

It was all in all a great Sunday out. We were treated to some Marlborough Sound Sauvignon Blanc outside Adnams Cellar & Kitchen who regularly hold wine tastings in their store. We browsed the selection of designer boutiques and the more affordable department stores and we ate a baguette from the French bakery-chain Paul along the waterfront before walking the Thames river path back to Brentford where we were staying. The best way I can think of characterising Richmond is that has the shopping options of Oxford street mixed with the restaurants and pubs of Covent Garden without being as overcrowded or as over-promoted as either.
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