London: the step-by-step guide Michael Leapman walks the first bend of the Boat Race

Distance: Four miles Time: Under two hours Tube: Putney Bridge, District Line (cross bridge and turn right for towpath) Parking: Festing Road or Embankment
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The Independent Culture
for boat race weekend, here is a walk that follows the Surrey side of the infamous first bend in the river, then cuts back through the pretty village of Barnes.

From the south side of Putney Bridge, walk north-west along the Embankment, passing the boathouses that are a hive of activity not just on Boat Race day but on almost any day at this time of the year, as sculling crews of varying sizes and abilities throng the river. Where the metalled road runs out keep on the wide towpath, fringed with poplars, with the tall floodlights of Fulham football ground prominent across the river.

After about 15 minutes, as the Harrods Furniture Depository looms ahead, you come to a memorial to Steve Fairbairn (1862-1938), "oarsman and coach", who founded the Head of the River Race. It is placed exactly a mile from the start of the University Boat Race.

An overgrown and long-abandoned wharf stands in front of the depository, left over from the days when furniture would arrive there by water. Just beyond is Hammersmith Bridge, built by Sir Joseph Bazalgette in 1887 to replace the first suspension bridge over the Thames, erected some 60 years earlier.

Bazalgette's bridge is being repaired and repainted and the towpath beyond it is badly churned in parts by construction lorries. On your left is a bright display of daffodils in front of flats, soon giving way to St Paul's School. On the opposite bank are the backs of Hammersmith's pleasant riverside pubs and beyond them Chiswick Eyot, a boat race landmark,whose weeping willows are just starting to yellow.

Big barges and other river boats are moored at Church Wharf, beyond the Eyot. A few paths on the left lead through trees to a disused reservoir but we keep as close to the river-bank as we can until the path joins Londsdale Road, with Barnes (railway) Bridge ahead. Stick to the walkway as it passes the top of Barnes High Street to reach the terrace, a lovely group of 18th-century houses, some with elaborate ironwork.

On one of them is a plaque to the composer Gustav Holst, who lived there from 1908-1913. Cross the road just beyond it and walk down Cleveland Gardens, a pretty Victorian terrace of small houses. Turn left up Cleveland Road and, where it ends, bear slightly left on to Barnes Green with its picturesque duck pond - the symbol of a suburb that is a village at heart.

Follow the path ahead to the edge of the pond, then turn right down a tree-lined path crossing the green to a footbridge across Beverley Brook. After crossing the bridge go half-left, diagonally crossing the common.

Not long before the path meets the road, fork left on to another surfaced track, passing two sprawling oaks and wood and concrete benches. Keep ahead, ignoring minor paths, until you get to Rocks Lane, emerging opposite changing rooms.

Cross Rocks Lane and walk straight ahead on a path that joins a minor road, passing a playground and tennis courts on your left. At the bottle bank turn left on a narrow path between two stone crosses - the entrance to Old Barnes Cemetery.

Keep ahead through the disused cemetery to a grandiose monument to William Hedgeman, then ahead again to a T-junction, where you turn left and then right into a clearing. Bear right through trees, walking to the right of a wire mesh fence. Where the fence turns left follow it round to reach another footbridge over Beverley Brook. Cross it and turn right on to a clear path, with more playing fields on your left and the Fulham football ground again in view on the left horizon.

Follow this path until it curves left and right to join the towpath where it meets the paved embankment. Turn right for Putney Bridge or your car.

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