Going for a walk with a book is one of my favourite things to do. Planning a route with pit stops for reading and eating a sandwich (and a flask of tomato soup if it’s cold). It’s finally spring, it’s the first day I’m not wearing my winter coat, so, I decide to take myself on a walk from Putney to Kew Gardens along the River Thames.

I hop on the tube to Waterloo, followed by a ten-minute train ride to Putney station. I’d love to say I’m one of those serene people who can walk while simultaneously turning the pages of a book but, alas, I am not. In light of this, I’ve brought a copy of Watching Women and Girls by Danielle Pender. This is a short story collection, which means I can read an entire story every time I stop to sit on a park bench. I’ve been particularly intrigued by this book as the author currently lives in London and is originally from Newcastle, like me, and many of these stories are set in the northeast. I should note that audiobooks are also wonderful for walks — plus, the audiobook of Watching Women and Girls is narrated by Kristin Atherton, who is absolutely brilliant — but today I’ve opted for reading and listening to the city.

I stroll down to the river and walk west, over Beverley Brook, along a path arched with blossom. To my right, there are people rowing in the Thames, and along the way I see plenty of happy, muddy dogs. Near Hammersmith Bridge, there’s the old Harrods Furniture Depository, a ridiculously huge building which is now split into flats. From the bridge you can spy pubs from the 1700s lining the other side of the river, and mudlarkers hunting for treasure in the slush of the low tide.

I cross Hammersmith Bridge and take the north river path, walking through Furnival Gardens up to Chiswick Mall, passing blue plaques for famous calligraphers, and William Morris’s house. Along the Upper Mall, where William Thackeray set part of Vanity Fair, there are huge houses on the right — yet, strangely, their front gardens are on the other side of the road. There’s something very Alice in Wonderland about it: a bit of nonsensical geography and many an animated tulip.

I stop for lunch in the grounds of Chiswick House, which is free to enter, eating my packed lunch by a waterfall. I pull out my book, intending to read one story and move on. However, captivated by the writing, I read three in one go. In Paper Dolls, a young woman called Carmen travels home to help her mother move house. Over the years, they’ve changed as individuals, but their relationship has not, so it strains at the edges, threatening to rip open and reveal their younger, more fragile selves. Junction Sixty Four, which turns out to be my favourite story in the book, is a claustrophobic tale set in a service station — the setting being a metaphor for the protagonist’s life: a teenage girl, who is feeling trapped. In another story, a woman repeatedly feeds a cat that wanders into her back garden. Becoming more self-aware, the narrator starts drawing interesting parallels between these interactions and her relationship with the man she’s dating.

I want to read more but, knowing I’m near the end of my walk, I put the book in my bag, wipe sandwich crumbs from my lap and set off again. From Chiswick House, I make my way down to Strand-on-the-Green, one of Chiswick’s four Mediaeval villages. First recorded as “Stronde” (shore) in 1353, it’s now a series of small houses snaking the river, with raised painted boards on the doorways to protect against flooding — although, now we have the Thames flood barrier, these remain mainly decorative.

From there, I cross Kew Bridge and end my walk in Kew Gardens. Grabbing a cup of tea and sitting by the daffodils, I can’t help people-watching as I read a few more stories from Watching Women and Girls — which is a bit of a strange feeling, given this is a book that perfectly articulates the different ways that the world watches women, and how women are always watching back.

To see more photographs and a map of Jen’s walk, click here.

Watching Women and Girls by Danielle Pender is published by Fourth Estate, available now.

Jen Campbell is a bestselling author and disability advocate. She has written twelve books for children and adults, the latest of which is Please Do Not Touch This Exhibit. She also writes for TOAST Book Club.

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20 comments

Inspired by this article, I have just done this walk, and what a lovely walk it was! My reading material “Wind Swept – why women walk” by Annabel Abbs is also to be recommended. Thanks to Jen for her article and the inspiration.

Georgette 10 months ago

This is quick reply to Jackie’s comment below; I hope you see this, as I was unable to reply directly. If you click on the link at the bottom of the article where it says ‘To see more photographs and a map of Jen’s walk click here’, then click on the map and ‘step-by-step directions’, that will show you how long the walk was and how long it takes (10 km, 2 hours, 6 minutes). Thanks! — Jen.

Jen 10 months ago

Jen has created something truly remarkable with these walking & reading articles. So inspirational and poetic, the weaving of the reader experience with the contemplation of both reading and walking… Lovely. Need more of these! Sending lots of love from Brazil.

Sofia 10 months ago

I enjoyed reading this piece. I regret that when I lived in London I didn’t walk nearly as much as I could have done and Jen’s walk sounds nicely-paced and uplifting. The photos were lovely. I’d like to have been given an idea of how long the walk was and/or how long it took.

Jackie 10 months ago

As I am now living abroad, this walk not only made me nostalgic for walks past but gave me inspiration for when I visit London next. To have that coupled with a book review is a little bit like paradise if you ask me. Thank you.

Natasha 10 months ago

Lovely! I always enjoy these articles. Walking & reading (or listening)is one of my favourite things to do and I love reading about Jen’s walks. More please!

Lyn 10 months ago

This was such a soothing read, and I had never thought about how a short story collection is perfect for a long walk! I love catching up with podcasts or audio books on my walks.

Debbie 10 months ago

I so enjoy reading these. They’re calming and atmospheric. She has a way of describing things that can make you feel as though you’re there seeing them. I also love any reference to Alice in Wonderland.

Tina 10 months ago

What a wonderful, evocative piece. I absolutely want to walk, picnic and read this weekend now! Thanks Jen for the inspiration to get out and savour Spring.

Sarah 10 months ago

Oh I love this so much! I want to come on more books and London walks!

Nina 10 months ago

Lovely. I’m definitely going to do this walk with an audiobook!

Abbie 10 months ago

Would love more of these book walks from Jen! I love living vicariously through her, receiving tidbits of a book review interlaced with different observations and information about the walks.

Donella 10 months ago

This was so lovely! I felt transported into this beautiful day and made me want to go for a walk and bring a book ❤️📚

Kier 10 months ago

Such a wonderful read! Loved getting to follow along this walk- I feel inspired to take a book on my next one.

Eva 10 months ago

I love the idea of reading pit stops! I really look forward to Jen’s articles. London has so many wonderful walks – rivers and forgotten rivers. Books and walking – what a gorgeous combination!

Tina 10 months ago

Cute story. I really enjoyed reading this.

Lillian 10 months ago

Beautifully written, you can really get a sense of atmosphere.

Jenni 10 months ago

I love accompanying Jen on her reading walking picnicking strolls.I feel like I can almost breathe the fresh air & I will be heading to my bookstore to order the book of short stories she was reading.

Rhonda 10 months ago

I love these reading and walking stories from Jen. They perfectly capture the feeling of losing yourself in a book and then gently returning to the world. I’ll also be reading this book because it sounds right up my street. Thanks Jen, and please write more of these!

Helena 10 months ago

Lovely article, inspires me to take a book on my next walk.

Angela 10 months ago