Henley and the Thames

In the hot sunshine, beside cool water, the Thames has many charms all along its length, and none better to my mind than the middle reaches below Oxford. here we wandered on a short family walk, just six or seven miles, from Hambleden Lock along the Berkshire bank up to Henley, then back over the hill.

We started at Mill End, Buckinghamshire, where there is a convenient car park. This is a boaters’ place, once built around a mill, Hambleden Mill (which still stands grandly by the river), but now a village with possibly more boats than people, some in its snug marina. The river is crossed here by an odd-looking crossing system: a long, narrow footbridge crosses slantwise across the river above a long weir, then reaches Hambleden Lock, which seemed constantly busy with pleasure craft, and it was a fine day for it.

Having reached the south bank, all in Berkshire, we met the Thames Path, which runs up beside the river, following a big loop. The houses we could see over the water on the Buckinghamshire bank are quite something, each with a garden running down to the water, some with private boathouses, and all no doubt with eye-watering price tags. The Berkshire bank at first is mainly green fields, though which estate it belongs to I could not say.

In time, the river bends round, and we were fortunate to encounter a cluster of boats moored up for a display which was officially cancelled but they came anyway: for the fortieth anniversary of the Dunkirk evacuation, several of the ‘little ships’ were there. It is astounding that such small vessels, designed only for the river, not the towering open sea, could take to the ocean to perform the miracle of Dunkirk, but there they were; small, heroic boats.

Passing on, Henley soon comes into view. Now there were boathouses on both banks, and a couple of private lodes (or that’s what they would be called in Cambridgeshire, about which I will be writing before too long) linking boathouses to the river.

We crossed the river on Henley’s stone bridge, pausing to admire the views up and down. This was our brief encounter with the Oxfordshire bank. This is also incidentally the end of the Oxfordshire Way, so I can say that I have walked the beginning and reached the end of the Oxfordshire Way; it’s just that I have not yet done the 68 miles between.

After a very pleasant lunch, we re-crossed the river and headed away from the Thames for the first time.

The way we took is part of the Chiltern Way Berkshire Loop (the other end of which I had encountered on the Buckinghamshire Way). It is a gentle climb over the hill cutting off the loop of the river, but with the river below always in evidence.

The path drops down to Aston, where there is a beautiful pub, the Flower Pot, seemingly in the midst of leaves, and a lane runs down to a riverside meadow full of revellers with picnics, canoes and paddleboards or just swimming.

The path then leads back upstream to Hambleden Lock again, busier still in the early afternoon, and over the weir-bridge back to the start.

Maps

Downing Street to Maidenhead walk

It is too enclosed for the mind to breathe, too urban – why seek to walk to Downing Street, when it is best sometimes to shut the door and walk away from it, to a quieter, riverside town where there is rest to find and less trouble.  So, while many have started looking towards that street, and we have provided a series of ‘Downing Street Walks’ to assist them to find the way, what of an escape for rest, to a gentle town beside the green reaches of the River Thames; a place such as Maidenhead?

The back way out of Downing Street westward opens onto St James’s Park, with little paths by the lake leading to Buckingham Palace, but here it is time to bid farewell to the pomp of power and splendour – there is a walk ahead.

The mapped route follows through the Royal Parks, by the river, by the canal with is a monument to the industrial age, and into the beauties and otherwise of southern Buckinghamshire and eastern Berkshire, all to reach the refuge from the unforgiving town which you so need.

Main articles:

Maps

  • Ordnance Survey Explorer (1:25 000) series:
  • Ordnance Survey Landranger (1:50 000) series:

Route

See also

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Whatever happened to the Berkshire Way?

Several years ago there appeared on the BBC’s local pages for Berkshire a series of 14 articles on walks all around Berkshire, which could be put together to form a proposed ‘Berkshire Way’. No more has been heard since.  Maybe it is time to revive this.

I have added a new Berkshire Way project page to WildþingUK: have a look and see what you think.  I have walked some of the paths but nothing like enough to judge the route from experience.

The route is an eccentric one, apparently because it is designed as a series of relatively short half-day walks rather than a logical whole, and as such it loops wildly and bends back on itself as it finds new, interesting places to go.  Seen in that way, it makes more sense – it is a way to see the highlights of the county, although in a county of so many beauties there will be plenty of highlights omitted.

The first published version has a major failing in that it misses a major part of Berkshire altogether, namely the north of the county all amongst the Berkshire Downs and Vale of White Horse.  Therefore our project fixes this, adding a new first stage from the St John’s Bridge near Lechlade, on Berkshire’s short border with Gloucestershire, to Lambourn by way of the Ridgeway and the White Horse of Uffington.  There is far more to be seen in the north of the county, not least in the greensward valleys leading down to the ancient county town, Abingdon, but we cannot see everything.

From Lambourn the route runs south to the highest point in the county, on Walbury Hill, then back across its waist, through the rich farmland in of western Berkshire.  It takes in the main towns; first Newbury then back up to the Ridgeway and along the county’s northern border, the Thames, to Reading.  The forests of eastern Berkshire are the next to be discovered. The finishing point is at Queen Victoria’s statute in Windsor.

It is an ambitious route but it provides a variety of experience truly to soak in nature of Berkshire as a whole.

Map

(On the Project page)

Links