Last year I got as far as Henley on Thames on the Thames Riverwalk – this was the furthest ‘out’ on the western end of the Thames, although not complete. I’d walked to Bourne End and walked the other way from Henley aiming to connect to Bourne End, but it had gotten very cold and no escape route (buses around there) as it was a Sunday so as it got dark ended up with the ‘delights’ of Marlow, which was in full Fair mode with chavvy kids and whole trucks of Police getting ready. So that meant a few loose ends, and sadly this walk was also too far, so that left two small gaps – Bourne End to Marlow and Shiplake to Henley, both of which were covered in the next walk.
Talking of the delights of Marlow, Reading was it’s usual lovely self:
I know? Makes you want to jump on the train and go visit! The odd thing is, Reading wasn’t bombed into the dust like Coventry or Dresden, Reading is an old historic town. They chose to make it look like this. *mindboggles*
I’d sadly ‘enjoyed’ the delights on a few occasions DJing, one of which was on a barge outside the Reading Festival which ended messily, so let’s just say the Ghosts of Reading Chav rest heavy on this walk. Certainly I recognised a few of the locations as where we’d parked the barge. So I hot-footed it away from the 1970’s horror of the station and eventually found the Thames Path, it’s over the massive road you can see above and then to the left, but well hidden.
So as I walked down the street of probably scarily expensive houses (yes, it’s closeness to London means people actually pay high prices to live in Reading, eyenorite?) I was wondering what evil deed river had done to make the city hate it so. Certainly like many towns and cities it’s back was most definitely turned to the river, in this case a concrete back covered with tags, but shunned it seemed to be. Amazes me that only fairly recently in cities and urban spaces have they learned to ‘use’ the river, with a few exceptions like Kingston and Henley (but even there quite a few massive shopping blocks with bricks walls and no windows by the water).
Under the bridge, and no Reading Hot Chavvy Peppers (see what I did there?) but there is a nice collage of abandoned signs, an odd floating steering wheel (driving lesson gone very wrong) and the requisite graffiti which failed to make the bridge any more cheerier. There is an interesting walkway into the Thames here though. Onwards along the path with the usual of barges, begging swans, anglers and couples with the addition of some massive families and you get some rather odd features. A floating polystyrene boat with ‘The Ice Age Is Melting’ written on it, anyone?
And this is unusually creative for Reading, like the David used as a fender and skeleton additions, I assume some anarchists or green campaigners live here and the ‘iceberg’ was theirs…Anyway I like their style.
I kept my camera out for this walk, always a trade-off whether it’s worth missing a shot of a boat speeding by – like the canoeists at the top – for the risk of getting your camera snatched. I have been mugged for my camera, in the rather more posher environs of Naples, and the awareness/waryness of others never goes, you lose that innocence. So I walked very fast, which turned out to be fortuitous later.
So over a small bridge over the River Kennet, there seemed to be a lot of people in visi-vests doing community cleanup, not very effectively. Volunteers rather than prisoners (back to Oscar Wilde again?) I think. On the bridge was this sign. Good luck with that around here:
Yes the requisite shopping trolleys sur-mer and the funny sight of a gaggle of younger swans doing the swan version of sliding a bannister with the strong Kennet current…And on the opposite bank is the other side of Reading, which is just as garish and bling as the Elizabeth Duke wearing mothers, the romantically called ‘M4 Corridor’, one of the claimants to the UK’s Silicon Valley, vying with the stupidly titled Silicon Fen around Cambridge, the Silicon Glen and the Silicon Roundabout…which at this point we stop and shake our head at their unimaginative and childish names born of idiots spending far too much time in Business School and not down the pub like normal people.
Anyway all you need to know is there are loads of tech companies here clustered around Heathrow and the M4, and for some reason Oracle needs what look like 4 or 5 or more massive buildings. I mean they do databases? Not build cars? Why do they need all that space, the bits and bytes are quite small?
But after much furious walking you leave Reading behind, and onto the delights of Sonning Lock and St Andrews, the church at Sonning. Some real money has been spent here, on the amazing gates – nice idea to make the gates in memory of someone – and in past history. It’s right by the Blue Coat school so I don’t know if it or the chapel (St Olaf?) have anything to do with them and their 1950’s modernist glass block, but it wasn’t open so I couldn’t find out. It’s nice to see a church that isn’t just Victorian pomp, that has some genuinely old bits on it. << Pevsner eat yr heart out! Check my descriptive abilities, Mr EE!
I think shortly after this a sausage roll strangely stopped existing in the vicinity of my mouth. Alas poor roll, I knew it well.
Over the bridge and across the road and over a small pedestrian only bridge and onto the other side of the river. It’s obvious the Thames is still running high, and very fast from the floods earlier in the year, and remains of the flooding which took out boats and houses alike are everywhere, as well as the tide mark of mud on the path.
Which sadly wasn’t all dried out as we will find…
After a few more barges just before the Lynch, we come to one of the victims of the flood. After seeing the pictures of various locks and places I’d walked neck-high in water and with various plastic Rich Men’s Toys making sastifying glugging noises, I’d thought I’d see more carnage on these walks, which wasn’t the case. But this barge shows you what happens if no-one loosens the ropes during a flood. It was probably abandoned or the owner was away…if not I hope they got out quickly.
So past the fields with electric fences, over the massive ponds of water and mud *sigh* and onto Shiplake itself, where the path got rather interesting, and a classic case of the local landowners and newly arrived arrivistes conspiring to try and delete existing rights of way. At Shiplake lock the path veers inland, and according to the signs, goes across the fields away from the Thames. This makes no sense, and also according to my OpenSourceMap and Ordnance Survey there are paths along the river…in fact there used to be one from Mill Lane, looks like the new homeowners there have blocked it off for ‘private use’ – I found the other side ending as a gate under the rail bridge. Who approved this, or another landgrab? Looks like the Ramblers had to go to court to enforce right of way in 2010-12, and the landowner is trying to make it as difficult as possible.
And plenty of homemade signs trying to redirect you back to the lock, and we have CCTV *smileyface*. Right. Always the first sign of a landowner trying to dissuade people from a public right of way when the DIY signs start appearing, like some Terry Prachett skit. At least they didn’t use!!!! loads!!!! of exclamation marks!!!!??
Talking of which, there is a path marked on both OSM and Ordnance Survey going around from there, from the Shiplake rail bridge around the river to Lashbrooke Ferry. You’d not know this from the ‘helpful’ signs, (there’s also a path across the field too as part of the Wokingham Way, and also might have difficulty getting there as the landowner has left a downed tree blocking it. I almost tore my trousers on barbed wire trying to get around it. I’m starting to really wonder if this is intentional…
Then you get to Lashbrook Ferry, and a sign helpfully details the history of what occured in the past might have bearing on the present. I tweeted recently about Harvey Milk and that one victory is a victory forever – but the other side is if you allow one small defeat, then the powers of darkness pile in. One such defeat was Bolney Court, who stopped the tow path in the 18th century from going past their land, with much outrage and the need for the ferry which closed in the 1950’s leaving the path stranded. And then like the little minded folk of Mill Lane it seems their friends joined in (apparently one fellow neighbour is Robert McAlpine, yes THAT McAlpine. I’ll show you pictures of his miniature trainset in the next river blog!)
There is a path across the fields, I think the one they went to court over – different to the Wokingham Way before – across all that mud. Oh. Joy.
Well at least I don’t have to walk all the way back, I guess?
I walked across the fields to be greeted by this – yes this definitely confirms the local landowner HATES this path, and is trying to make everything difficult for walkers. They must be stopped. Otherwise the likes of Bolney Court will win, and this will become another Windsor Great Park, or many of the other detours 100-200m from the river that I’ve had to endure on these walks – usually with the nice bonus of a 6 foot fence or hedge both sides.
Blog Now With Extra Photies!
I’ve now decided that Picasa is the best place for my photo galleries, as much as I distrust Google and pay for Flickr the latter seems oddly inflexible for a paid site with geotagging and feeds/API (they won’t even work with any of the WordPress maps I found, or have a limited 20 or 50 photo in a geoRSS feed? Also no idea how to create a compatible KML or geoRSS with all the images in a set – shame because I prefer Flickr). Picasa has a nice map, and more importantly a KML/Google Earth file that works with the map below! So either look at the pictures along the walk (you might want to click the expand icon for fullscreen) or see them on the Picasa site. You’ll see that there are quite a few older walks already geotagged on Picasa, and I’ve been punting the best ones over to Panoramio too. All my Thames River pictures are tagged ‘riverwalks’ (don’t click on the tag, it oddly takes you to some shite G+ page – search for it within my photos) or ‘coastalwalks’ and will be so for future uploads.
You will now see the geotagged photo albums on the Map of Walks too (I did try and add them individually but like with the map below strangely Picasa doesn’t show every picture in it’s KML files, even for small amounts. Oddness)