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.