Otherwise known as Path Wars: Attack of the Cyclists, this was a walk back in May continuing the walk from Reading to Goring & Streatley. Original plan was just to go to Pangbourne or Tilehurst if the weather changed or I had to abandon, but actually the weather was fine and I made good progress. I knew that after Goring it was a bit fun to work out the next exit, so that was another walk.
First up was the Victorian drinking fountain on the Thames Promenade car park. It had seen better days, but an amazing survivor from days when public drinking water was a health issue. It was erected in the 1890’s to commemorate Frank Attwells, Mayor of Reading 1891-2, in fact he died in office – I assume put up by his wife Sarah, who died in 1905 and was also commemorated. I wish modern fountains were as grand. As usual, it had become an impromptu dumping area for rubbish 🙁
Walking onwards past the very pitchurskew canal boats and very posh houses on the other side of the river, and the swans, ducks and geese en masse. I was struck by the view across the fields of what looks like a disused Leisure Centre, or at least a very beat up one. In it’s sorry state, it reminded me of a concentration camp, a sort of Ghetto of Fun. Those places creep me out, in fact, the enforced jollity factory nature makes me think of people or leisure being processed, like a sort of meat. It’s one of my favourites, hence why it’s the featured image at the top.
Also being late afternoon on a sunny day there were many people leisuring themselves on the river, along the river playing table tennis in their gardens or just enjoying the sunshine. Hate to think how many millions those houses are worth. I seem to be making a habit of taking pictures of canoeists and rowers recently, and this was not an exception:
Cuteness to the max were the baby ducklings and baby swans, a contrast to the dark thoughts about factory fun palaces. But it was a nice stroll along the river, and the Promenade is quite wide and thus you don’t mind the cyclists whizzing by. This was an all too brief respite, sadly.
Walking Reading to Pangbourne along the Thames Path. Lovely day, depressing how many cyclists think they're entitled to ride the path tho. — Twitter May 14, 2014
The promenade narrows into a small path along fields. You’d think this would mean the cyclists would slow down, but not at all. The path is at some points barely wide enough for two people to walk side by side, at some points only big enough for one person. Definitely NOT a cycle track. I looked around for signs, but apart from a later No Motorbike sign I saw none until later…but surely cyclists had more sense than to bomb down a single track path en masse?
Bloke I mentioned this too told me to 'chill out' cos 30+ cyclists use it. Wonder if the local council know, or care? — Twitter May 14, 2014
You can see from the picture how being passed by cycles at speed walking on the path might be not only intimidating, but dangerous. Many cycles passed me, quite a few at speed helmed by Lycrablokes with expensive mountain bikes. This is a cycling rat run! But I mean it’s not like there is anything suggesting that you shouldn’t ride down here or anything…
There are quite a few gates after this, but it seems that the cyclists don’t take the hint that like commuters and towpaths, maybe bombing down small paths isn’t that pedestrian friendly, nor encouraged (otherwise why are the gates there to make cyclists dismount?). Apparently according to one I accosted, 30+ bikers use this route. It’s the Thames Path, which usually doesn’t allow bicycles, but the bloke was using the classic ‘there’s no sign telling me not to’ argument which is always the response of someone who isn’t thinking, or usually doing something they know is anti-social. I pointed out that there are many things that don’t have signs, like not killing people or not being a complete dick…doesn’t mean you’re allowed to. Sadly I think Thatcher’s Children and beyond have the idea that they are entitled to do as they please as long as the Nannystate has not explicitly and visibly forbidden it. This is why we have so many silly redundant signs for people like this, like ‘Danger! Kettle Is Hot!’ and ‘Warning! River Contains Mud and Deep Water’ – because if there isn’t a sign they bleat as they sink below the muddy water. Let these (not) grown-up children drown, I say. It’s Darwin in action.
Happier thoughts, or trying to have them as you come along side the brick railway embankment, lots of old fading graffiti, CND signs, skulls, that sort of thing. You try and ignore the bikers bombing past within an inch of your nose – even though there are a few families with pushchairs, I hate to think what happened when they screeched around the corner and there wasn’t space for either bike or chair. It’s quite dark here, with trees, a bit cold actually even with the sunshine. But you happily stroll on until the path suddenly and inexplicably runs out. Name and shame time here: ROEBUCK FERRY COTTAGE – COME ON DOWN!
Yes it’s one of the destroyed ferries, I guess the path would have switched to the other side at some point, but not any more. So you have a happy traipse along a massive road for several miles ahead of you. Before heading up to the massively and impressively over-engineered bridge, you see this strange pub sign. Maybe the Cottage used to be a Hotel? Maybe you could get through there? No sign of the Hotel, and give the sign’s repair, looks like it hasn’t been running for some time?
Not shown is the ‘Welcome to Reading’ sign behind it, tempted to add sarkily ‘Enjoy our crazy cyclists’. It’s a good thing those cyclists were quite often doing some sort of sprint back up the path back where I came from, because on the bridge and beyond they weren’t that welcome. The bridge not having ramps or any concession to cyclists again suggests they weren’t in the right, either.
Over the railway bridge and up onto the quite busy road, you after a short while come to another path, through a private wood. This makes it very clear that there are no cyclists allowed. Yippee! Problem is, the wood is far too short, and you get dumped into a very strange Surrey-like housing cul-de-sac. Not unpleasant, but a long way from the river (now the other side of a railway too) and not exactly green nor pleasant. This is the delights of Purley, and after a mile or two of it’s never-ending middle class estates, you’ll be tired of it. It’s one hell of a detour so some people can play ping pong in their garden!
There is another classic Thames Path misdirection trick here though at the junction of St Mary’s Avenue where it says ‘Thames Path to the Lock’. This skirts along the edge of the housing estate but doesn’t go near the river for quite some time like it might suggest. Ignore that and head down the avenue towards St Mary’s church if you want a much nicer walk along the river. This must be some weird way of appeasing the locals that they get their path in peace without pesky walkers? Very odd, and not the first time I’ve seen signs directing you AWAY from the actual/nicest path. I’d always prefer to walk along the river, rather than up a small road across an estate, any day.
So if you walk past the church along Waterside Drive to Brading Way you’ll see a path off Chesnut Drive to the river. This is where you’ll find a Path Ends 100m sign back where you came from – the exciting end of that path is pictured above. The inhabitants of what seems to be 26 River Gardens, Purley are building a really ugly building, as well as blocking off the path for everyone. I suggest if they want to sell you that building tell them where to go, since not only does it look fucking awful, it follows that if they treat us mild walking types badly they probably then have no scruples in other dealings too (Hello Google! Hello Estate Agents! This is a lesson in name and shame, allow public rights of way or I’ll call you out and lower your property prices :-P)
A much nicer sign reminds you this is Wind in the Willows land, Kenneth Grahame not only grew up in Cookham – we’ll visit there in an earlier walk – he died at Pangbourne near here. By which I mean he lived there, it wasn’t some accident or suicide tourism (Come To Pangbourne And Die! Oh You’ll Laugh!’). As a result you do see a lot of Ratty tat, but this one on a barge is really nice.
The River Gardens looks severely private, and tries to give that ‘you shouldn’t be here air’ but actually it isn’t, as you will find the gate to the a well hidden, (possibly intentionally) footpath sign. This part of the walk is beautiful, the best part, and you can see why the locals might want to keep this secret.
COOOOWS! The river meadow walk along to Mapledurham Lock is very peaceful, and a nice respite from all that tarmac and concrete. At the lock you’ll join the path from St Mary’s Avenue, and be grateful you didn’t go that way. I promise you.
Onward past the lock and again, some amazingly scenery across the river – towards Goring Heath looks like it has some landscaping – remains of gardens? But on your side there is also Much Pichtureskew. Wow. Such lovely. So photo.
Quite a few boats along the river, the high bank makes this look like it’s actually sailing on grass, not water.
I’d love to live on this boat – old school and an amazing setting.
You can see what I meant about landscaped, those hills aren’t naturally like that.
No idea what birdy this is. Grebe? Crested grebe? Big bird? Blue tit? Red Metal Headbanger Bird? IHNI. I usually get annoyed at those signs everywhere which you hope to have interesting local info, and usually all have the same canned info that this place is the place in the world you’ll find a Lesser Great Crested Booby Fartywhoopbird and a really rare Blue Buttocked Ant, or something. I’m sure someone loves those, but I’d rather not know what type of grass is so special it grows upside down, or whatever it is. Give me historical info! Walking info! A Map? Just something that isn’t just ganked from an Osborne House Nature Book?
Proud of the timing of this picture…was already aiming and the crow just photobombed me. I have two shots, with and without. This is my favourite. Nothing else to report here, really. PICCIES!
It was around here the insects started to get a bit much, and I saw more rowing & canoeing. There seems to be several canoeing schools here, and one especially at Pangbourne – I guess that’s the embarassingly titled ‘Adventure Dolphin’ – and Goring. And onto Pangbourne Meadow – with sadly the return of the bicyclistes. The path diverts somewhat at Pangbourne, as they haven’t finished replacing the Whitchurch-on-Thames tollbridge. Yes they still have one of those, no idea how they kept their sticky hands onto it…but it’s all a Big Hot Industrial Mess at the moment.
You can still get over the river on a footbridge though. I was 50/50 whether to stay and find a nice pub, but it was only 8pm and I could see Goring & Streatley was only a few miles away. I watched a canoeist do endless eskimo rolls from the bridge and shuddered – I once did one of those PGL/summer camp things, but never could do canoeing because I couldn’t swim, so got left alone on the shore for hours. Very boring, but I hate being underwater…truth was I was dreading doing those rolls anyway. What happens if you can’t get back up?
This is where it gets rather odd, not sure if it was the bridge or lateness but I got a bit lost around the mill – the path to the church is well hidden. Then through the very pretty churchyard, past the Tudor houses (ooh nice pub! Boo! Now having second thoughts about that eating/drinking thing…) and onward past about 10,000 galleries. It seems Whitchurch exists for small galleries and tat shops. Well it certainly doesn’t exist for footpaths, pavements or easy rights of way, that’s for sure.
When you find Hartslock Bridleway, apart from the severe looking PRIVATE CARRIAGEWAY type signs which are slightly off-putting, it’s very much a direct mostly un-rivered (is that a verb? Is now) slog to Goring. It gets quite steep in places, and sadly I couldn’t get a good shot of the sunset. On the upside, I didn’t get a shot of the sunset. So it works out really (I know, I have to take them even though I never post them, because it’s JUST SO CHEESY).
One of the interesting things is the sudden arrival of pillboxes. No, not the drug sort, the military sort, out of the blue. You’d not think sleepy Pangbourne or Goring as being the frontline of the Second World War, but on my next walk I spotted quite a few RAF bases, such as Abingdon and Benson – and a few that the Yanks won’t give up. So I guess they were worried about crack German Barge Commandos, slowly making their way up the river in Cammo Narrowboats, pretending to be tourists when all tourism had stopped…no, that wouldn’t work. The mind does boggle, but then again I guess small boats could make their way up river, so hence the pillboxes along it. There were many more on my next walk…this deserted one looked rather poetic in the forest. I didn’t go inside…far too late, dark and I hate those kinds of spaces!
As it was nearing the elections, I found it funny someone had thrown blue paint on the UKIP sign in one of the fields. Really, if you were voting UKIP you should not only be ashamed, you shouldn’t really be advertising it. I ended up at Goring & Streatley station just in time for the train, was a bit of a scamper but made it, so went back to Reading. I went to get some coffee, and had an interesting conversation with the Reading University student serving me. I mentioned the cyclists and she said she was from Oxford and cycled everywhere there, but in Reading the traffic was too much, and she gave up after a week. She wondered where the cyclists were…suddenly it made sense! The cyclists were using the paths as rat runs to avoid the cars…so much for Reading the new silicon city!
They bringing their stress to a nice quiet place, bombing up and down at high speed, ringing bells, zipping by. That’s what roads are for?— Twitter May 14, 2014
I suspect some are scared of the roads, and are using footpaths as cycle ratruns. If so, that’s sad, because motorists will never learn.— Twitter May 14, 2014
As I tweeted back then, it did seem an own goal though, the problem with doing that is not only does it annoy the likes of me, it also means motorists don’t get used to cyclists. The same argument over riding pavements I had with Critical Mass people applies here – that separation/avoiding traffic doesn’t work, it means the drivers get away with bad habits and never learn, and the pedestrians get annoyed with the bikes in their space. I walk on footpaths to avoid traffic, the commuter rat-run that goes through where I live 4-7pm, the idea is to get away from people and traffic. This completely fails if then the traffic then comes zipping by at high volume?