Wallingford to Dorchester July 28 2022

8.7 miles

Yes, progress is slow, but ‘one more step along the road we go’ and here we are at Wallingford bridge about to start the next stage. We had left the car parked in Dorchester, our destination for the day, and caught the bus from there. This involved a race (jog or breathless walk depending who you were) to the bypass where the bus was then fifteen minutes late. We were just relieved when it appeared as graffiti on the bus shelter declared ‘Shit bus service.’

We were pleased to be walking in temperatures just half of those the previous week, a comfortable 20 degrees and an easy walk to take us on to the next stage.

The river is a little narrower now and it’s lovely to see some green in the parched countryside as the prolonged drought continues. There is less river traffic and it’s mainly holiday narrow boats. As we set off we passed this curious dwelling with exterior spiral staircase.

An easy walk to Benson Lock with most of the other walkers taking a stroll out from Wallingford and back across the fields.

Soon arriving at Benson lock, always good for a bit of gongoozling.

On to the Waterfront Cafe which seemed to be a destination to drive to rather than a walkers’ stopover, but we enjoyed the unaccustomed luxury of a coffee stop – and toilets!

Suitably revived we pressed on towards Shillingford.

The towpath passed alongside meadows with views across the river to the old stone walls encircling the grounds of Rush Court which on Googling we discover is ” a stylish care residence not far from Wallingford that makes the most of the beautiful Oxfordshire countryside”. Hmm, wonder what that costs …..?

Shillingford Bridge soon came into view

The rather grand sounding Shillingford Bridge Hotel didn’t look as if it lived up to its name, though the bridge is said to be one of the finest on the river. The hotel used to be The Swan and welcomed ‘rowing and picnic parties.’ I wonder if it still does?

According to our trusty Cicerone guide the bridge is exactly half way between Reading and Oxford and Windsor and Lechlade. We still have a way to go!

We now had to move away from the river around the back of some imposing riverside mansions creeping along narrow fenced paths, kept out of sight until we emerged at Shillingford Wharf. This is an absolute gem of a place, the silence was palpable and they obviously try to maintain the peace and beauty of this lovely corner.

According to our guide book, Shillingford Wharf was once used by a brewery and coal was landed here for Warborough to the north.In the 1980s Church Times editor John Whale undertook an annual swim from here to Shillingford Bridge. We recently met old school friends of Col’s at the Six Bells pub in Warborough. This is right in the middle of Midsomer Murders country, better watch out for dodgy looking characters!

The fields we passed through are showing evidence of the continuing drought, reminiscent of the American prairies we thought, although our American friends may beg to differ —

By now we had been looking for a bench on which to eat our picnic lunch and found one just before the bridge over the River Thame as it joined the Thames. Not only a bench, but an actual picnic table down by the river. Perfect we thought as a swan glided past followed by one growing cygnet. What a beautiful sight we thought, until the swan emerged from the water and hissed at us across the table. We grabbed our things and beat a hasty retreat – no pictures were taken!

And before long we could see Dorchester Abbey across the fields, having decided to extend the walk to Day’s Lock, thus making the next stretch a bit shorter. Across the river and the lock was the view of the distinctive Wittenham Clumps, visible from the motorway and where we have walked with friends. It has wonderful views from the top. By now it was around 26 degrees and feeling pretty warm for walking so we appreciated the cool peace of Dorchester Abbey before returning to our car for the journey home.

Goring to Wallingford on 19 May 2022

7 Miles

Our last post recorded the walk from Pangbourne to Goring on 29 October 2021 and ended:

The paths are starting to get muddy, the days shorter and transport taking longer so it may be a while before we do the next stretch.’

So here we are more than six months later, two cases of Covid and one hospitalisation having delayed the walk yet again. However it was a beautiful May morning as we set off to drive to Wallingford to park the car. It had been somewhat difficult to interpret the bus timetable so we arrived in good time, to find the Tourist Information office said ‘Back in 5 minutes’. As we waited a very helpful local lady told us that the bus service to Goring to start our walk was volunteer run (‘mainly for the elderly’) and she thought it stopped on the cobbles in the Market Place. We drank our coffee and watched carefully as a small white bus (it did look a bit like an ambulance!) drew up and deposited a few who were indeed elderly – and the driver disappeared. He returned just before 11 and to our surprise we were able to use our bus passes and we were driven by a very cheerful driver as the sole passengers – a church instigated initiative to pick up the isolated residents from the local villages.

Wallingford Market Place

And off we went!

We crossed out of Oxfordshire on the Goring Bridge to Streatley on the Berkshire bank, Streatley meaning ‘road’ after the Ridgeway long distance trail which passes near here. off we went, enjoying warm sunshine, a day when the wild flowers were in full bloom and the insect life was buzzing – lots of butterflies, all accompanied by the frequent high speed trains travelling down the Goring Gap between Oxford and Paddington.

Enjoying the glorious weather, quite warm by now, we were intrigued to see this house which we discovered is known as ‘the Egyptian House’ You can see why!

Next to this we came to  ‘The Beetle & Wedge Boathouse Restaurant – a unique, buzzy, informal riverside restaurant with three beautiful rooms overlooking the River Thames.’ We were fortunate to celebrate the Ruby Wedding anniversary of friends here several years ago and it is in a stunning location, famous along the Thames for food and accommodation.

The hotel is built on the site of a former timber wharf and is named after the ‘beetle’, or mallet, used for driving a wedge into logs for splitting before being floated downstream.

We had to leave the riverside at this point, passing between the buildings and past the picturesque Ferryman’s Cottage which is also available to let.

Ferryman’s Cottage

We now had quite a long walk along the road, though the scenery was pretty and traffic not too heavy, with interest along the way ……

….. until we got to Moulsford Prep school, where we descended in a riverside direction and observed groups of boys at ‘the nets’ hopefully on the way to injecting some talent into the England cricket team in future years.

By now we were looking in vain for a riverside bench, ending up on our trusty sit mats on a bank at the site of an old ferry where the water washed gently at our feet as flashy motor boats and the more sedate narrow boats went past.

Having commented how quiet the path was, a large group of walkers came through the stile behind us, all intently talking, not noticing us sitting nearby – and this is why we don’t walk in a group. We did have a strange conversation with a non-English lady from another small group which seemed to be about the need for the government to provide the over-sixties with wet rooms to keep them out of care homes ??

As we approached Wallingford we passed the Boat House of Oxford Brookes University who are now a force to be reckoned with in the rowing world – even though our old Alma Mater Newcastle are putting up good competition against them.

We reached the bridge in Wallingford around 3.30pm, leg 13 of the Thames Path challenge completed and hopefully the next stretch before too long.

Pangbourne to Goring on 29 October 2021

A mere 4 miles / 6.4 km

A short one this to enable a reasonable length for the next stretch and to allow for the transport logistics at either end. With trains for Pangbourne departing only hourly we had a late start. Awaking to pouring rain, this seemed a good idea!

Sheltering under a bush at the bus stop at the end of our road we wondered if this was a good idea — but it was a lot worse up in the Lake District and we had the gear. A bus ride and short train ride later we were back at the bridge at Whitchurch where we had left off just a couple of weeks ago.

After the inevitable selfie, off we went and it had stopped raining!

Whitchurch is a pretty village, bigger than I had realised and there is obvously a lot of money around. We crossed the bridge for free as pedestrians and there was quite a queue of cars waiting to cross at the kiosk. We wouldn’t have thought it was worth paying someone to man(woman actually) it, but it must be. I can’t think it is a very highly paid job though.

Turning into the driveway for the Mill – now one of a group of desirable residences – we looked back at this beautiful stretch of the river.

— and then ascended quite steeply away from the river. The heavily fortified residences along this stretch of the river are clearly not going to allow ramblers along the bottom of their gardens, so much of this stretch follows a path through beech woods with glimpses of the river through the trees. First though we continued up one of the few steep hills on this national trail, spotting some of the buildings pictured here along the way as we paused for breath.

—- and on through the woods which were at last beginning to show Autumn colour.

It’a a quiet, peaceful walk and we met few people along the way. Damp underfoot and with wet leaves and chalky mud we had to watch our feet as we went up and down along the woodland path. Descending towards the river, we somehow managed to miss the view across to Basildon church where the agriculturalist Jethro Tull is buried. This is not the same Jethro Tull as the one who founded a rock band in Blackpool in 1967 in case you were wondering.

Across the river as well, right on the bank, is the former Childe Beale Wildlife Trust, now known simply as Beale Park and the website promises: ‘Beale Park is an outdoor wildlife park within 40 acres set against the River Thames in Berkshire. A home to an exciting mix of animals and attractions.’ I used to go there with the children from a special needs nursery in Henley in my working days and we have taken our own children many years ago too. It was always a lovely understated attraction, a place for young children to play, look at a few animals and birds and have a picnic in a beautiful riverside setting.

However, time to move on, walking now along the chalky bank of the river and spotting a house in the trees which looked impressive in the distance in a perfect woodland location.

— but appearances can be deceptive:

We met a young couple at this point and were all intrigued, feeling that this house had a story to tell. Our map seemed to show it was called the Grotto.

A Google search whilst later sitting on Goring station platform (we just missed the hourly train) told a fascinating story:

‘In 2019 West Berkshire Council granted planning consent for the Grade ll-listed main house, constructed as a riverside retreat for Lady Fane in the early 18th century, to be converted into a 53-bedroom hotel with a restaurant and bars.

This also included the construction of six new two-bedroom detached lodges associated with the hotel and the replacement of several dilapidated outbuildings to create new leisure facilities.’

However in March this year a major fire caused huge damage to the whole place; we wonder what the future holds for it – being listed, there presumably has to be a restoration plan.

Photo slideshow - Pangbourne via Goring Circular Walk - SWC

We found a perfect bench for our picnic lunch – well it was a bit noisy with the constant passage of high speed trains but very comfortable nevertheless and the view in front of us very picturesque.

The last quiet stretch before we reached the outskirts of Goring and met half term families and dog walkers coming in the other direction. The weather had improved and it was now a pleasant October afternoon.

I have heard it referred to as ‘boring Goring’, but for some it is clearly worth it. That’s a lot of grass to cut though.

And so we reach the end of this very short stretch, much of it a little away from the river rather than on the towpath we have walked many a mile along since we started in Kent all that time ago in a pre-pandemic age. Lovely in this autumn season.

Selfie stick left at home, so I get a solo appearance at Goring lock. Needless to say the good folks of Goring don’t want a railway station spoiling their village, so it’s a trek up the road with no signage before we find the station.

The paths are starting to get muddy, the days shorter and transport taking longer so it may be a while before we do the next stretch.

Happy days!

Reading to Pangbourne on 15 October 2021

7 miles / 11.2 km

Making the most of this season before the shorter days and the logistics of linking the start and finish of each walk make it overly complicated. Then we may have to leave it until the spring – we shall see.

This, though, was the easiest start of the lot, getting the 9.31 bus from the end of the road – the first one for which we can use our bus pass – into Reading to start where we left off only a week ago. And here is the ritual selfie – still walking without coats.

Considering we were starting pretty well from the centre of Reading this was a surprisingly pleasant walk, notable however as an auditory experience, of which, more to come.

We remember walking along the Thames promenade here with Col’s mum and dad on a bright October day, we think just a few days before he died in 1987.

We hadn’t seen this rather attractive footbridge before. Over to the left is the field where the Reading Festival takes place. Reading is always to be avoided on August Bank Holiday weekend. The path proceeds past Fry’s Island which is apparently the home of the only bowls club in Britain reached by ferry; not a lot of people know that …

Only the merest hint of autumn colour, autumn is noticeably later than it used to be, which I appreciate as someone with an early November birthday. However the geese are on the move, Canada and Greylag, and they are noisy in their honking as they fly in flocks over us.

Quiet, pleasant riverside walking – apart from the constant ‘mewing’ of the red kites overhead. They seem to have a roost nearby and are scouring the fields for carrion. What a successful reintroduction this has been:

By the 1890s, they had been virtually wiped out by landowners who wrongly believed they killed their lambs. But in the early 1990s, the RSPB released a batch of red kites into the wild in the Chilterns, the first of several such reintroductions across Britain.

We hadn’t really thought of Reading as a place for smart riverside houses, but of course Caversham is the posh end.

Occasionally a helicopter passes overhead, and shortly we pass close to the busy railway heading towards Oxford and onwards to Birmingham and beyond. High speed trains and slower local ones, a constant feature of the next stretch of the walk. Just before we crossed the railway we found a wall to sit on for a coffee break.

Leaving the river we climbed steeply up steps to the main road to enter Purley on Thames. Our guidebook tells us that Purley ‘has long presented problems for anyone following the Thames. In the 1780s the Thames Commissioners faced opposition to a towpath from the owner of a riverside meadow.’ For a time from 1784 a ferry took walkers onto the opposite bank for 1/3 of a mile, but the dispute was never resolved so we walked through a modern housing estate before we were able to rejoin the riverside path near Mapledurham Lock.

Just before the lock we came across this sign which we thought merited more widespread use.

Mapledurham house is hidden by the trees at this time of year. It is possible to have a boat trip from Caversham and we remember doing this – we think with my parents.

The house has been used in many films, including ‘The Eagle has landed’ and of course ‘Midsomer Murders’ – we often recognise local scenes, it’s a dangerous place to live!

The lock inspired some of EH Shepard’s drawings for ‘The Wind in the Willows’ according to our guidebook with Mapledurham House said among (many!) others to be the model for ‘Toad Hall’. That Mr Toad certainly gets around … But this really IS ‘Wind in the Willows’ country.

Looking back we can see the old mill, which is the river’s last working mill. As Wikipedia tells us: ‘

Mapledurham Watermill is a historic watermill in the civil parish of Mapledurham in the English county of Oxfordshire. It is driven by the head of water created by Mapledurham Lock and Weir, on the River Thames. The mill was built in the 15th century, and further extended in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. It is a Grade II* listed building and is preserved in an operational state.[1][2]

The mill also houses a micro hydro-electric power station, using a 3.6-metre (12 ft) Archimedes’ screw turbine to generate electricity for sale to the National Grid. The turbine produces some 83.3 Kilowatts, which is sufficient to power about 140 homes.

Lovely walking – geese in the air and on the river. Quite difficult to steer a boat through them. We saw a heron and a jay hereabouts too.

The sun is coming out as we pass Hardwick House, a Tudor house, yet another place visited by Elizabeth 1. The great grandfather of the current owner was the model for ‘Mr Toad’ and the house is Kenneth Grahame’s most likely inspiration for ‘Toad Hall’, rather than several others we have passed along our Thames Path route.

We heard the sound of live guitar, rather well played and accompanied by singing. It came from a narrow boat across the river, but was marred by the continuous sound of coppicing from the nearby woods. We decide to press on a bit further before we had our picnic on the river bank in warm sunshine.

And now we pass through the National Trust’s Pangbourne Meadows before reaching the lattice girder bridge at Whitchurch on Thames, the official end of this stretch of the walk. Col remembers many years ago arriving at this bridge on his motor bike only to find it was a toll bridge and he had no cash. It only cost a few pennies and the kindly toll keeper let him through. When we start the next stretch we will find out if it is still a toll bridge, though I believe that walkers pass free of charge.

And so with the inevitable selfie we finish this stretch before heading into Pangbourne where we are in luck as the hourly train service back to Reading is due in 10 minutes. Val slightly disappointed as tea and cake would not have been unwelcome!

Pangbourne is only a small place, but has Bentley, Aston Martin and Lamborghini garages right next to the station.

Thanks as always to our trusty Cicerone guidebook ‘Walking the Thames Path’ by Leigh Hatts. It is invaluable in its detail and interesting information.

Henley to Reading on 8 October 2021

9 miles – 14.5 km – allegedly, though we made it 11.5 miles and it felt like it!

We were really on home territory for this stretch, catching the bus to Twyford from the end of the road and then hopping on the train to Henley ready to start the walk around 11.30.

Starting with the traditional selfie we set off just along from Henley Bridge. Maybe in future we can develop a guessing game of these selfies, trying to work out which stage of the walk they represent?

It was a dull grey and very still day, though mild for the time of year, promising a little dampness which thankfully never materialised.

This is a busy riverside promenade, where we have brought many visitors including elderly parents, good level pushing for a wheelchair for Col’s mum in years gone by.

We headed across the very long wooden bridge over the weir to Marsh lock. With the help of our guide book we learnt that the bridge was built this way to avoid a brass foundry which was in the way, with a flour mill also on the Berkshire bank – the side we were on.

This is about as far as most folks venture and from now on, for the rest of the day we met few people along the way.

This walk really messed with our knowledge of the geography of the area. The roads that we have driven along many times (Val worked in the Henley area for a number of years) just didn’t match the route we followed, so we arrived twice at Shiplake (lower and upper) about an hour apart, with Wargrave inbetween.

As we approached the first Shiplake, we had to leave the riverside for some time to circumnavigate the extensive grounds of a millionaire polo enthusiast, who is clearly also a railway enthusiast, having landscaped his garden, adding an extensive narrow gauge railway – sadly no trains today.

This first Shiplake has the station and pub and we were away from the river bank for quite a while walking through a residential area before returning to the river bank not long before Wargrave. In contrast to previous river walks there was very little river traffic today, the season must be drawing to an end. We did spot a narrow boat drawing up to the George and Dragon in Wargrave just in time for lunch.

Across the river so no good for us; we had our sandwiches but searched in vain for a bench to sit on. The ground was damp and it is such a long way down these days – even further getting up again. So we pressed on, wondering which house belonged to the late Paul Daniels and his wife Debbie McGee who we know still lives there. She is very well thought of in Wargrave where she is active in village life. We knew that the house was rebuilt on stilts after extensive flooding in the area and think we found it in the end.

Pleasant, rather unexceptional riverside walking on a heavy overcast day – the photos make it look brighter than it was, must be Col’s new phone camera.

We then came to a very intriguing part where we crossed the foot of several gardens following through a variety of gates each of which felt as if we were entering the Secret Garden.

They all had comfy looking seats and tables and we were very tempted to sit and have our picnic as it was getting late and we were hungry, but they looked like the sort of houses that would have security cameras. Extraordinary though that we just walked through all these gardens.

The Autumn colours are just beginning to show and we hope we will catch some more in our next couple of walks before the winter sets in.

Finally we arrive at the ‘other Shiplake’ by the boathouse of Shiplake College, both it and the church hidden amongst the trees up the hillside.

This is a truly awful picture of me, and vanity almost stopped me publishing it, but Col says there were others much worse…..

It was now a steady trudge – and that’s what it felt like – along the riverbank to Sonning, enlivened somewhat by some interesting houseboats along the way.

There were several of these converted rescue boats, but this was the smartest. Pretty claustrophobic I would have thought.

We met a walker going in the opposite direction who had walked from Reading. He wanted to know how far it was to Shiplake. ‘It depends which one’ we said. He was hoping to meet up with his son who was a gardener in Shiplake, but as we weren’t able to help him he was going to retrace his steps. He did tell us there were benches at Sonning Lock – we estimated we would be there at 2.30pm. Feeling pretty hungry!

The last time we did this stretch was during the first (second? third?) lockdown and we had to constantly move to the side as crowds approached from the Sonning direction, and we were almost knocked into the river at one point by a lycra clad cyclist shouting loudly to all the walkers to get out of his way. Idiot.

And finally, Sonning comes into view with the church in the village just visible.

The Great House hotel across the river is where Colin’s leaving do at Mars was held – those were the days! We crossed the bridge and saw benches along the bank just outside the hotel grounds. Felt a bit like ‘the poor at the gate’ but those ham sandwiches really did tast good and the church bells rang out for us in celebration of our arrival 🙂

Useful to know that there is a phone in case of emergency —–

Past the grounds of Reading Blue Coat school and boathouse and Sonning Lock where toilets and tearoom are closed, but now we are on the home straight.

Walking through Thames Valley Park where Oracle and other international companies are based and where Col remembers doing a run – painful memories? It’s a stretch which hasn’t ever been part of our river walks and we are thankful for the good surface as the path gets busier and we approach Reading towards the end of Friday afternoon as people are going home from work.

Two pretty tired walkers, but another stretch accomplished. Off to get the bus home.

Marlow to Henley on 17 September 2021

Distance 8.5 miles / 13.6km

We’re off on the next stage without too long a gap this time. Parking the car in Henley we caught the bus to Marlow, just a short ride and were ready to go at 10am.

We quickly encountered an obstacle in the form of Pub in the Park a large event setting up for the weekend so we had to detour around lots of marquees and refreshments stalls befor we could reach the riverbank and start the walk proper. A gentle September morning made for easy and pleasant walking and we soon came to Bisham Church just across the river.

Next door to the church is Bisham Abbey. The first building was occupied by the Knights Templars in 1139, now the occupants are rather different: it is the National Sports Centre and the England football team headquarters as well as a wedding and conference venue.

Throughout the day there were large flocks of geese sitting on the water – greylag and Canada; maybe preparing to migrate?

We pressed on towards Temple Island and our first lock of the day, Col being particularly captivated by this narrow boat called Waterloo Sunset with colours to match. Temple Island takes its name from the Templars who ran the mill, at first a copper foundry where Daniel Defoe called and ‘found brass kettles and pans being made’ as our invaluable guide book informs us. Later, more prosaically it switched to brown paper.

Beyond Temple Lock, the towpath crosses Temple Bridge to the Berkshire bank. With a 150ft span this is Britain’s longest hardwood footbridge built in 1989 to replace a ferry.

With a view of Harleyford Manor, yet another house purporting to be the inspiration for Toad Hall in The Wind in the Willows, we strolled on towards Hurley Lock.

The towpath crosses the high bridge onto Hurley Lock Island, Hurley village being hidden from the towpath. This starts to be very familiar territory, a walk we have done many times, a real gem.

The surroundings change with steep chalky cliffs on the opposite bank as Danesfield comes into view.

Danesfield takes its name from the Danes who came upstream and built a strategic fortification. It was an RAF station from 1941-1977 and opened as a rather smart hotel in 1991. Colin recalls arriving there for a business function with Mars when flaming torches lit their way up the driveway.(Note from Val: In the NHS we didn’t have such treats!)

We then followed a very familiar track along the front of riverside homes and gardens – not nearly so pretentious as many we have seen so far; they actually look lived in.

We avoided cutting the corner that the trail takes, instead keeping on the towpath to get a view of Medmenham Abbey.

This was a Cistercian foundation begun in 1201 and closed in 1536 when it was down to one abbot and one monk! Our trusty guidebook says that the picturesque ruins are largely contrived. It’s best known for Sir Francis Dashwood’s Hellfire Club ‘whose members were known as ‘Franciscans of Medmenham’ after their host was alleged to have performed ‘obscene parodies of religious rites.’

The path diverted us inland to the private land of Culham Court which we had never visited before. Of particular note was a deer park with two herds of white deer – one entirely male, the other almost all female with just one dominant male, presumably exercising his droit de seigneur.

The grounds themselves are very beautiful, showing English countryside at its glorious September best, with a modern sculpture display in the grounds and a cricket field below. Our friend Nigel tells us that the house itself proved too expensive to insure, so instead Gurkha soldiers are paid to patrol the grounds around the clock. Hm, I wonder what their pay rate is?

We ate our picnic just as we left the estate grounds, looking down over the cricket pitch and seeing the tops of boats appearing over the riverbank hedging……

….. so we didn’t stop at the pub.

We are now getting to increasingly familiar territory as we approach Hambleden Mill and Lock. A few years ago we went to Henley Show which is held in a field at Hambleden – with very traditional English activities ranging from helter skelter to ferret racing!

On past the internationally famous Henley Business School, now approaching the outskirts of Henley. The older building was the home of W H Smith who when first Lord of the Admiralty ‘was lampooned in Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore as ‘ruler of the queen’s navee”

A wedding party passed by in a beautiful craft and we waved to one another.

Now approaching the Regatta Course, especially familiar to Col with memories of his rowing days. The course runs from Temple Island to Henley Bridge.

Having left Marlow through the Pub in the Park, we now passed through Henley Festival, a rather prestigious affair which is normally held in July straight after the Regatta, which this year was postponed until August.

And so we came to the end of the next stretch of the Path, an interesting walk with lots of interest through very English countryside.

Acknowledgements to our Cicerone guide ‘Walking the Thames Path’ by Leigh Hatts which adds greatly to the pleasure of our walking with a fund of interesting information.

Maidenhead to Marlow on 20 August 2021

7 miles/ 11.2km

Leaving the car in Marlow, we headed for the station, which was much smaller than expected, indeed only a platform for this single track between Marlow and Maidenhead:

It is quite a trek from Maidenhead station down to the river, adding almost a mile to our day’s walk. We met two fellow walkers also doing the Thames Path, but in 4 day stretches, so their final destination this time is Goring.

And so we are ready to go on a humid, overcast day with no wind so it will be a sticky walk!

However, this proved to be a walk full of variety with interesting conversations along the way, always an added benefit to these walks.

Soon after Boulter’s Lock, apparently the river’s longest and deepest and once its busiest, our guidebook told us to look out for the grey wooden home formerly occupied by the distinguished broadcaster Richard Dimbleby who those of us of a certain age remember as the voice of all important national events when we were growing up. He was known to shout at speeding boats to slow down.

And there he was!

Passing the impressive Victorian edifice of Islet Park House —-

We continued our walk along the towpath, stopping to admire the wonderful craftsmanship of two wooden gates, which seemed to lead to nowhere in particular;

We fell into conversation with a couple who told us that the land had been bought but so far had only a few yurts on it, which we couldn’t see. They also told us to look out for the home of Steve Backshall and Helen Glover once we had passed Bourne End. They lived on a boat alongside whilst it was being built.

Moving on, we approached the Cliveden estate on the opposite bank, the main house set high on the plateau above so not visible from the riverbank. We looked across though to Spring Cottage which featured in the Profumo affair for which Cliveden attained some notoriety in the sixties.

We now had to turn inland as the towpath switched sides and the My Lady Ferry hasn’t operated since 1956. The diversion is quite long, but not unpleasant as it wends its way through woodland —-

——- eventually ending up in the village of Cookham.

This birthplace of the artist Stanley Spencer (1891-1959) has a gallery dedicated to his paintings, housed in the old Methodist chapel. Spencer became famous for his paintings depicting biblical scenes as if they took place in Cookham which he referred to as ‘a village in heaven’.

As we ate our sandwiches in the very English churchyard a passing resident told us about the excavation of an Anglo-Saxon monastery which was taking place in the field just behind us. It had made the national news only a few days previously, but we had forgotten about it, so were most grateful to her for letting us know. We went through the gap in the hedge and the dig was fully accessible, though shortly to be cordoned off, so we were most fortunate to be able to walk amongst the various sites and to see the lead archaeologist with the team from Reading University.

The site of an 8th Century monastery that was believed to have been lost has been unearthed next to a church.

The exact location of the monastery ruled by Queen Cynethryth – the widow of the powerful King Offa of Mercia – had long baffled historians.

However, archaeologists said they had finally found it in the grounds of Holy Trinity Church in Cookham, Berkshire.

It is hoped it will give a unique insight into one of the most prominent women of the early middle ages. (BBC report)

We now rejoined the river and progressed to Bourne End where we crossed the river on the footbridge alongside the single track railway we’d travelled on earlier, discovering a record of a memorable event along the way!

Once past Bourne End, passing through the Upper Thames Sailing Club grounds we approached Spade Oak where we looked out for Steve Backshall’s and Helen Glover’s new home. We think this is it:

All along this bank of the river are prominent lifebelt stations labelled ‘Kyrece’s legacy’ in memory of a boy who drowned along this stretch in 2014. The charity set up by his family aims to work with schools to promote water safety as well as placing safety equipment and signs to warn of the dangers of open swimming.

Nearing the end of our walk we pass under the Marlow bypass and approach the town spotting large residences on the opposite bank:

—- and so to end the latest stretch of our Thames Path challenge.

WINDSOR TO MAIDENHEAD ON 23 JULY 2021

6.5 Miles / 10.5 km

And so we start again, two lockdowns later. It’s getting easier to organise on this stretch as we are nearer to home territory.

Looking at a week of temperatures around 30c we decided on Friday when a high of 24c was forecast. Careful planning beforehand by travel agent Val took us to Maidenhead where we entered a spookily empty car park in the town centre, discovering as we left that it was cash only, something rarely used these days, but let’s park that problem for later – excuse the pun.

Arriving in Windsor via two short hops by train, we crossed the bridge into Eton High Street, quickly turning left onto the riverbank, with fine views back to the castle, as our guidebook tells us.

Easy walking and frequent patches of welcome shade from trees as skies were blue and cloud free, and it was a little warmer than forecast.

On the far bank we could see Windsor Racecourse, whilst on our side we passed a bank known for some reason as ‘Athens’. This was an Eton College bathing spot where rules required that ‘boys who are undressed must either get at once into the water or get behind screens when boats containing ladies come in sight.’ Wonder if it’s still the case?

Very English views on a very English summer day – not for hay fever sufferers though.

After Boveney Lock, our next point of interest was the church of St Mary Magdalene in Boveney, dating from the 12th century, erected close to a now vanished quay, at which barges were loaded with timber from the Windsor Forest for shipment downriver – hence its popular designation as ‘the bargees church’. It passed into the care of the wonderfully named charity Friends of Friendless Churches in 1983 – it has no doors so we could see right through to the other side but has a beautiful Norman window and is a tiny oasis of peace, worth a visit. Because the previous day had been the feast of St Mary Magdalene, there had been a service there – lack of doors probably a blessing in the high temperatures we’ve had this week.

For some way we tracked the Eton College Rowing Centre at Dorney Lake on our right and in spite of the fact that ‘Dorney Lake is a world-class rowing and flat-water canoeing centre in a spectacular, 400-acre parkland setting near Windsor’, it doesn’t get a mention in our guide book until later on when we learn about the transport of gravel from the excavations required to build it! Ex-rower Col is surprised and somewhat disappointed.

Further on we looked across the river to Oakley Court built in 1859 as a residence for an Englishman who hoped its Gothic style would make his homesick French wife happy. Bought by Hammer Films in 1950 and turned into a very smart hotel in 1970. Col remembers it as a favourite place for his German colleague Andreas to stay when visiting Mars on business. Obviously very generous accommodation allowance!

The path went on, not too busy with most cyclists thankfully pretty considerate – not of the Lycra brigade – and still plenty of shade from trees. We remembered spending a pleasant afternoon on board as we travelled upstream to celebrate the 70th birthday of another of Col’s colleagues a few years ago. The residences of the rich and famous start to appear on the opposite bank, some, like Rolf Harris, with rather more tarnished reputations these days.

Going under the M4 motorway bridge (we usually look down on this stretch of river if we drive up to London), we came to Bray lock, which was quite busy with boatie people, some more experienced than others. Bray is famous for some of us in the older generation for the song ‘The Vicar of Bray’, for others for the Waterside Inn where your starter and main course will set you back between £45 and £65 each with cheese coming in a bargain at £35. Col remembers an edict going out from Mars that no further business lunches were to be booked there after an eye-watering expense claim that included two cigars for afters!

With memories of walking this stretch with the family years ago we just had to test out the Sounding Bridge for its wonderful echo; it is just as good as we remember! ‘Maidenhead Railway Bridge, completed by Brunel in 1839 is depicted by Turner in his painting Rain, Steam and Speed and has the largest and flattest brick arches ever built and many thought they would collapse under the first train’; obviously they didn’t.

And so, we went on to Maidenhead Bridge where this stretch of our walk finished. An excellent late lunch at the Strawberry Grove which we are pleased to hear has another branch at our next stop, Marlow.

Back to our car which now has a solitary companion on the empty level to find our 5 hours parking cost the princely sum of £1!

Another good day out – and hopefully not too long until the next stretch this time.

Staines to Windsor on September 12, 2020

The year of Covid 19! When we finished our last walk in March, there were already rumblings of the impending virus, but we had no idea of the impact it would have on us, our country and indeed the world. On that last day we used two cars to avoid using public transport and apart from a trip on an open top bus in Keswick, this was our first return as we parked in Windsor and took the train the short distance to Staines to carry on where we left off almost six months ago – a very long train to enable social distancing, a term which was unknown to us at the start of this year.

Here the towpath passes from Surrey into the ‘Royal County of Berkshire’ and as we set off it was a beautiful morning with just a hint of autumn in the air.

We should have remembered from our Hampton Court to Chertsey stretch that Saturday morning is the time for running events short and long with participants running up and down the riverbank one or many times depending on the length of their planned run. On the path out to Runnymede we did a lot of dodging out of the way.

As we walked along we were very aware of low flying planes from Heathrow passing directly overhead. We have become used to quieter skies during lockdown and presumably this is still much reduced air traffic. We noticed that local residents sitting out in their riverside gardens seemed oblivious to the intrusive noise!

Indications that we are nearing Runnymede, the site of the signing of the Magna Carta appeared along the riverside: powerful messages.

With riverside homes in view across the river and easy walking apart from dodging the runners we reached an impressive statue of the Queen, unmistakeable in profile, better from this view.

And so the path ran between the river and the road along the length of the Runnymede Meadow, with plenty of visitors around. By now it was quite warm and a layer of clothing was removed.

A bit of history from the guide book:

King John agreed to Magna Carta somewhere in this field in 1215.The signing of the document has been called ‘the first ground and cornerstone of the Common Law of England’. It confirmed the Thames as a highway by declaring that ‘all fishweirs shall be entirely removed from the Thames.’

The John F Kennedy Memorial is here visible and behind we saw the Commonwealth Air Forces Memorial but failed to read the guidebook at that point so didn’t photograph it!

We entered old Windsor, home of Saxon Kings, where one motorist had clearly not followed the instruction to ‘Drive carefully’, shortly sneaking into the Bells of Ouzeley Harvester to use their facilities without being caught by the Track and Trace police.

We learned from our guidebook that the pub featured in ‘Three Men in a Boat’ spelt as ‘Ousley’. The bells are believed to be those of Osney Abbey in Oxford and were being spirited down the river by monks trying to save them from Henry VIII’s agents. When the barges went aground here the bells were hidden in oozing mud. They have never been found, but the bells of Christ Church Oxford are claimed as those of Osney.

Old Windsor is where Edward the Confessor had a palace before William the Conqueror moved the royal residence to the present castle.

Time for lunch and a spot of gongoozling at Old Windsor Lock. Nearby is Friday Island so called because it is shaped like a footprint. A small thatched cottage was almost hidden by willows, but we failed to see Honeypot Cottage where actress Beryl Reid lived for many years, taking in stray cats – 13 at one time. Her ashes are scattered in the riverside garden.

We seemed to see Windsor Castle a long time before we got there – a big bend in the river comes shortly after this first view. We had to walk through Datchet before reaching the river again and recognised this as part of a walk we’d done not long ago. Apparently the High Street used to continue across the river, through Home Park to Windsor. The road featured in Shakespeare’s ‘Merry Wives of Windsor’, using first a ferry and later a wooden bridge.

40 minutes later and that castle is still a distance away!

Getting closer with a view of Eton College across the green field. Sadly, the cricketers stopped for tea just as we got near enough to get a very English picture.

The castle looking resplendent on a sunny September afternoon. There is a – surely apocryphal? – tale of an American visitor expressing surprise that Her Majesty had chosen to build her castle directly under the Heathrow flightpath —

And this is where the next stretch to Maidenhead will start, as we approach home territory, before heading out towards Gloucestershire, a long time hence!

Chertsey to Staines, on 22 March 2020

This was always intended to be a short walk, around 4 miles to make the next two stretches to Windsor and Maidenhead of a suitable length. Our navigator, Colin, had planned that we would use one car and take the bus back to it at the end of our walk. It was clearly only a half day jaunt in any case. In fact this may turn out to be the most historic post in the entire blog; it is certainly the last stretch of the Thames Path that we will do in – who knows how long? As the day chosen for the walk came nearer, the worldwide pandemic of Coronavirus, Covid 19 to give it its proper name, really took hold in the UK. Boris gave guidance – not instruction at this stage – to maintain a safe distance from those outside the immediate family. It became clear that public transport was not a sensible option, so we used two cars, not very climate friendly, but needs must. In Staines Val parked in the wrong retail park, so an entertaining few minutes was had while we found one another! Both then drove in one car to Chertsey where the walk started.We had chosen a Sunday when the forecast was best, and indeed it was a beautiful day. It was also Mothering Sunday; unable to take Mums out for lunch, the Brits came out en masse, abandoning any thought of social distance, still a new concept, and descended in their thousands to the coasts and parks, presumably with mum in tow. We passed the Virginia Water car park on the way and it was full. A bonus for us was the closure of all pubs and restaurants a couple of days earlier which meant we could park in the pub car park ignoring severe warnings of clamping.

Anyway, to the walk!

Apparently Charles Dickens features this bridge in Oliver Twist and there are connections with the poet Matthew Arnold. A brisk and rather chilly wind was blowing as we set off, but thankfully this was quite a quiet stretch and we basked in the glorious sunshine – Spring had well and truly sprung. The guide book described this section as ‘through countryside which has long been a centre for riverside residences and holiday homes’. That was certainly the case; it was an enjoyable stroll.

One of the first things we noticed was that although we were very close to Heathrow, the skies were almost silent, in fact we only saw a couple of planes the whole day. The walk would have been very different under normal cirumstances: ‘every cloud-‘

Those of you who know where Val was born will appreciate this one. Longwood is a village on the outskirts of Huddersfield. The owner of the barge did not look too impressed, but as Col pointed out, someone who lives on his own year round in a barge is probably not the most sociable of beings.

And on we go, giving passers by a wide berth as we gained this new skill of ‘social distancing’ whilst greeting our fellow walkers – no need to be unfriendly about it.

Grand residences and manicured gardens along much of the way.

We headed towards Laleham Lock near where an Eel screen was being built to prevent the young eels (elvers) entering the intake. Amazingly Eel populations in the river Thames have crashed by 98% in just five years.

Laleham means ‘village by willows’ and we did see lots of willows coming into bright lime green leaf as we walked along. Laleham House was the home of the Lucan family and the missing earl was golf club president and patron of the church where there is a Lucan chapel. Laleham Lock was very picturesque and had attracted quite a lot of folks, probably walking out from Staines. We were lucky to find an empty bench on which to eat our sandwiches and drink our water.

There was another reason that this spot was popular:

No one had thought to mention ice cream vans to Boris! We decided against it and carried on our way.

There is a curious stretch next where the river takes half a mile to travel 20 yards. Penton Hook Lock saves the loop. This was the highest of the locks controlled by the City of London whose arms are seen on the lock cottages.

Now approaching Staines past some grand riverside houses and Truss’s Island which the guide book says was ‘restored in 1992 with water again on all sides’. The path was getting quite busy now and social distancing was obviously a concept not yet learnt by the good folk of Staines – we had to do quite a bit of dodging off the path. Staines has a number of interesting sculptures, the first is of a Swan Upper: ‘Originally starting in the City of London and running to Henley, Swan Upping now starts in Sunbury and travels the Thames over a 5 day period to finish in Abingdon. The move out of central London was due to the lack of breeding Mute Swans, with the main area for breeding now being further upstream. The Swan Uppers search the river for Mute Swans and their cygnets and on sighting fence the swans in with their boats, then record, mark the cygnets, measure and check their health before moving on.’

A more modern metal swan sculpture caught the light at different angles, standing near the old market hall which was in the process of redevelopment.

Staines railway bridge carries the Reading to Waterloo line so we have travelled over it many times from Wokingham. It has apparently been painted with yellow lines to stop swans flying into it. Here the towpath but not the Thames Path switch banks, a point known as Shooting Off and the early 19th century cottages immediately upstream of the bridge were called Hook on and Shoot Off as this was where the barges were poled across to the towpath on the right bank while the horses were taken through the town to the bridge.

We followed a footbridge over the entrance to the River Colne which rises at Colney Heath – near where I lived in St Albans just before we married and moved to Harpenden.

And so we reach the end of the walk back to the Two Rivers retail park where we have left Val’s car, crossing the River Colne again (hence the name of the retail park). We were surprised at how many folk were out shopping – maybe they knew that by the following week all except food shops would be closed?

That’s it until we are allowed out of social isolation, who knows when.

NO PUBLIC TRANSPORT, COFFEE SHOPS OR PUBLIC TOILETS WERE USED IN THE MAKING OF THIS BLOG

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