Before this weekend I’d never eaten eel, and never been to Twickenham.
The former because I rarely encounter it on menus, and even though I’m a bit of a foodie, I’ve heard so many derogatory comments from others that I’ve got a bit of a mindset now.
As to Twickenham? Well much as I enjoy watching international rugby, I’m not that much of a fan so I’ve never felt the need to visit “the home of English Rugby”, nor indeed The Stoop over the road where Harlequins play. My eldest daughter however can profess to having her photograph taken at The Stoop with England captain Chris Robshaw. That’s as close a connection as I could muster. Until now.
Having been to a meeting in Buckinghamshire on Friday I faced the prospect of the drive north which on Friday afternoons is often a nightmare, so opted to stay over which allowed me to make plans for the Saturday morning, and Kew Gardens came to mind as a place that I’d passed so many times on the M25 but had never been too. Twickenham was handily placed so became my base, and a source of some very pleasant surprises.
I didn’t realise how many historic buildings where in the vicinity. My scan of the National Trust website told me that 17th Century Ham House was nearby, but actually it was just across the river. Just a little further on I spied the Royal Star and Garter Home; an 18th Century hotel that grew with the patronage of the wealthy before being converted to a nursing home for injured service men. Typical of my fortune that they should have the builders in! (St Mark’s Venice, Capitol Havana…)
On my side of the river was the Palladian villa, Marble Hill House, York House the grand mansion that houses council offices, and the octagonal Orleans gallery. Had I had more time I might have ventured to Strawberry Hill and the magnificent gothic pile of Horace Walpole. Perhaps that’s a trip for another day.
There there are some quirky dwellings and alleyways that add to the character of the place (can’t remember when I last witnessed tug of war on a public street), but it was the small island connected to Twickenham by a slender footbridge that interested me.
This small, and intensely private piece of land sitting in the Thames has a reputation that outstrips its size. Surely every music fan of a certain age has heard of it. I had. I just didn’t know it was in Twickenham!
Eel Pie Island has hosted gigs by many rock and roll elite in its heyday, was the site of Pete Townshend’s recording studio, and has been the home of both a Doctor Who and a Young One. Not bad for a place with only about 50 homes on it. And what a variety of homes they are. Developer’s dream homes nestle alongside hippy loveshacks. I was reminded of the Fisherman’s Cottages back home at Whitburn.
So all in all an interesting stretch of river. I still didn’t fancy eel though.