Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Travel Tuesday : The Thames Path day 7 - Goring to Sonning

Walked May 14, 2002

I've come to the realization that one of the reasons I never sat down and wrote up or even scrapbooked this trip is because I made pretty shoddy notes. Luckily I do have all of the photo captions, my guidebook, and my notes. I've decided that just getting the photos accessible is "worth it" and a great start, so here we go.

I took the train back out to Goring & Streatley. This was the first time I had seen directions to the path while still inside the station!

On the way to the river I stopped to visit St. Thomas of Canterbury church, Goring. This church was built around 1100, probably by Robert d'Oilly, a Norman baron who was awarded 60 manors by William the Conqueror. One of those was "Garinges", where the name "Goring" comes from.

The rood screen, circa 1920, is carved from oak from HMS Thunderer, a bomb-ketch which fought under Nelson at Trafalgar. I'm sorry these interior shots are so dark, I always feel weird taking any photos inside a church, let alone flash photos!

The church was expanded over time, but still have its medieval arches and roof.

The church has a ring of eight bells in the tower, all recast or new in 1929. The oldest of the "working bells" was originally cast in 1556 in Reading. The bell below hangs above the doorway that leads from the nave to the west door, and is one of the oldest bells in England. It was cast about 1290 and bears the Latin inscription: Orate pro petro exoniense episcopo. Richard de Wymbis me fist (Pray for Peter, Bishop of Exeter. Richard de Wymbis made me).

Back on the river, I had another quick look at Goring Lock and Weir.

I also took a gander at the Swan, Streatley -- another nearly irresistible riverside pub, but resistible on a Tuesday morning.

Then it was time to say goodbye to Goring...

Oh no, another diversion, Goring ... luckily this was a brief diversion.

And soon I was back to the river. I loved this modern picnic room, near Goring... note the hills in the background. This is the Goring Gap, where the Thames cut a new channel through the chalk hills during the ice age.

View of the Downs, near Goring.

I love this shot of the path, downstream from Goring -- shady and woody but still right next to the river.

Stretches like these were my favorite. Quiet and serene ... and not far from pubs. 

The Chilterns, near Goring.

The path took me under another one of Brunel's railway viaducts, near Goring.

The majority of the Thames Path is specifically a footpath -- just for walkers, not bikes or horses. Once or twice during the entire stretch I saw a cyclist, somehow obviously American with panniers and lycra shorts. It was, thankfully, very rare.

Looking upstream to the viaduct, the Downs in the distance.

The path was about to diverge from the river and climb a hill -- it made me laugh because, well, it was supposed to all be downhill. Nope.

The path moving uphill through the Chilterns. Sharp described this as "a pure Chiltern interlude".

Occasionally I could catch a glimpse of the river and the Downs on the other side.

The Downs stretching away in the distance.

I passed a far and then joined a busy road into the village of Whitchurch, glimpsing the spire of St. Mary's church.

The path actually leads through the churchyard, so I took a little break to look around.

I loved this little archway in a flying buttress.

I love this memorial -- were they buried in a bathtub?

The church was founded by the Saxons in the 9th century, developed by the Normans, refurbished in 1470 during the reign on Edward IV, rebuilt by the Victorians in 1857, and refurbished again in 1901.

This carved angel on south door is medieval. There was also a medieval foliated cross -- a Christian version of the Scandinavian Tree of Life -- here, but it was brought inside the church to prevent further deterioration.

Inside I admired the altar and Victorian reredos. According to a pamphlet I picked up in the church, this reredos was only discovered in 1997, having been covered by oak panels for most of the 20th century. It's not actually carved, it's cast from some sort of "reconstituted stone" and clearly bought off the shelf and then cut to fit the space -- see how the roese are cut off on the edges rather than the pattern being designed for the space?

After leaving the church I approached Whitchurch Bridge, another private toll bridge across the Thames. In 2002 most cars would pay 40p to cross, though pedestrians were allowed to cross for free.

I crossed the bridge, looking back at St. Mary Whitchurch.

Once across I could actually step away and see how handsome Whitchurch toll bridge is:

When I crossed this was the third bridge to stand in the location. A wooden bridge was built in 1792, then replaced in 1852 by a second wooden bridge. This in turn was replaced in 1902 with the iron bridge I crossed. In looking up the current info, I learned that a new new bridge was built in 2013-2014, which retains the handsome look of the 1902 bridge.

The path returns to the river here and makes what Sharp calles "a vast, majestic curve". Jerome K. Jerome describes the stretch of river between Streatley and Mapledurham as "glorious".

Strolling along I spotted Hardwick Stud Farm and the Chilterns behind:

And, a little farther along, the sweet gables of Hardwick House, a Tudor mansion that is the possible inspiration for Toad Hall. (Kenneth Grahame, author of Wind in the Willows, lived in Pangbourne, just up the river from here.)

Eventually I arrived at Mapledurham Lock, where I took NO PICTURES. Perhaps I was already a victim of lock fatigue... But look at this lovely postcard!

Past the lock the path turned away from the river again.

In Purley I walked through a strange suburban stretch.

But, happily, returned to a more rural Thames, near Tilehurst station.

The path and the railway and the river are all a bit on top of each other here, but you break away again before too long, and it's lovely and rural again just outside of Reading.

Friendly swan, near Reading.

Of course, then you arrive on the outskirts of Reading. Jerome K. Jerome described the Thames as "dirty and dismal here", but it's much nicer now. Here's Caversham Bridge and Thames Side Promenade on the northwest edge of Reading.

This swan frenzy may include more swans than I have ever seen in one place.

Sharp says that Reading "is an odd town, in that it stands on the Kennet rather than the Thames, and has never quite worked out a relationship with the river."

I walked past Fry's Island, which is home to a private house (Demontfort House), a boatyard with a residence (Caversham Boat Services) and a private bowling club (the Island Bohemian Club). Each of these occupants runs their own private ferry service.

Sharp does praise the area between the Caversham and the Reading Bridge for being a pleasant mix of new and old buildings replacing the industry that may have polluted the river in Jerome's day. I loved this ultramodern office block.

Finally I walked under Reading Bridge (via a nice built causeway over the river).

In the lovely King's Meadow I saw my first millennial milepost -- 1000 of these cast iron posts were placed on cycle routes around the country as part of the millennium celebrations.

As I walked through the field I saw four dirigibles serenely floating along. German invasion?

At some point I also reached a sprawling suburban shopping center -- with megastores and huge parking lots, American style. I confess to going in and looking around a little. I wanted to look at the massive craft store -- though I don't remember buying anything. I did buy, in some large store, a handsome, lion-shaped garbage can that I am still happy to own.

Weird shopping urge sated, I returned to the path.

Soon I came to pretty Sonning Lock. James Sadler, the lockkeeper from 1845-1885 wrote a sweet poem about Sonning:
Is there a spot more lovely than the rest,
By art improved, by nature truly blest?
A noble river at its base is running
It is a little village known as Sonning.

And pretty Sonning Bridge.

And when I reached the village,which Jerome described as "the most fairy-like little nook on the whole river. It is more like a stage village than one built of bricks and mortar." I visited pretty St. Andrew's church, passing this handsome old flint building.

Lovely St. Andrew's, Sonning:

I was happy that the church was open. Here's the south porch -- I love this woodcarving.

Inside I admired this strange little monument ... like a bunch of people waiting in line to pay. The church's lovely pamphlet says these figures are "one of the church's mysteries: they were found in the old Blagrave family vault, under the Vestry, and are evidently in 16-17th century dress, but they have not been identified and nothing is known about them."

And I saw this monument, to Stuart Carnegie Knox, in the churchyard. It still makes me giggle a little, nearly twenty years after.

I ended my day at the Bull Inn, Sonning, behind the church. Jerome says "It is the veritable picture of an old country inn, with a green, square courtyhard in front, where, on seats beneath the trees, the old men group on an evening to drink their ale and gossip over village politics; with low, quaint rooms and latticed windows, and awkward stairs and winding passages."

I'm afraid I didn't stay at the Bull; I'd reached an area where frequent trains and cheap day returns meant it was less expensive to "commute" to the path, than to overnight there. I did, however, enjoy a lovely pint there before catching a bus back to Reading and the railway station. It was beautiful inside, with wavy timbers inside, and wisteria in full bloom draped across the outside. There was a "locals bar" area ("dogs allowed in the locals bar"), some sheltered tables out front, and a rear garden. A delightful place to stop the day.

Next up: Sonning to Maidenhead

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