Unless you’re West London-based, you’ll have to take a quick 15-minute train ride from Waterloo to get to The Ship Inn, at Chiswick Bridge. Or, better yet, grab a Boris bike (London Mayor Boris Johnson’s bicycles-for- hire scheme throughout the city), and follow the Thames west. The Ship Inn has it all, including a gentle breeze, and has been a haven since the 16th century.
On this enchanting bend in the river Thames, whatever the time of year, it’s impossible not to be entertained. There are over-friendly eccentric customers, aloof, not at all friendly customers, rabid sports fans following soccer, on big TV screens, calm armchair cricketing types, and a rowing fraternity which often takes over. Less sporty birdwatchers in anoraks, passing bicyclists in impossible pants and joggers showing their pain… they all come here for beer and plain, simple, good food.
Surrounded by the picture-perfect, large pastel painted Georgian houses of the rich, it’s the river views that dominate this pub. High tide or low there’s always something different to see. At the end of March this is the perfect place to watch the last few strokes at the finish of the annual University Boat Race, when, since 1829 Oxford have battled it out with Cambridge. Whether you’re a rowing fan or not, joining the hundreds of thousands of spectators is a great day out. It doesn’t get any more posh, noisier, beery-cheery, or more traditional than this.
The famous Oxford V Cambridge race is not the only one to watch from here, the Head of the River Race is held annually, around March 20th. This is a contest for eight-man racing shells. 420 crews, one behind the other, start at 10-second intervals, and the one that returns in the fastest time wins. The best place for viewing is from the Surrey Bank, just above Chiswick Bridge.
There’s also the Great River Race held annually, around September 25, when more than 150 traditional boats sail 22 miles on the Thames, from Richmond to the Docklands. The flotilla includes gigs, skiffs, Chinese dragon boats, Hawaiian war canoes, Irish curraghs, and whalers. The race begins in Richmond at 10am and finishes at Greenwich Pier around 1pm. A fine excuse to hit the Ship early.
But whichever you watch, next day it’s all tranquility at the Ship and one of the few places in London you can sip on a pint while watching hundreds of ducks and geese, fugitives from the Wetlands Centre up-stream, floating happily by.
A good walk starts just along the path under Chiswick Bridge, 30 seconds and you’re in the countryside. The intrepid can keep going, cross under the small Kew rail bridge and then past Kew Pier to Kew Bridge, with the entrance to Kew Gardens and a wonderland of specialist plants and trees. The village of Strand on the Green is just across the river, this area is an idyll. By now though, you’ll need to get back to the Ship.
If you love real English beer the guest ale is always interesting – I’ve had Bath Gem in the past, and one day they had O’Hanlon’s Dragon’s Ale. And if you’re from out of town you’ll soon be making The Ship your home base for exploring the western reaches of the Thames.
The Ship Inn
10 Thames Bank, Mortlake, London SW14 7QR
0208 876 1439
Either take the train to Mortlake or the 109 or 209 bus.
On leaving Mortlake BR station onto Sheen Lane, turn left and walk, passing the green on your left and the Railway pub on your right. When you reach the end of Sheen Lane, turn left onto Lower Richmond Road. Cross over, and walk down Ship Lane, with the Jolly Gardeners pub on your left. Keep going and you’ll find the pub on the river.