Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Travel Tuesday : The Thames Path, day 8 - Sonning to Marlow

Walked May 16, 2002

Today I returned to Sonning via Reading.

Took another peek at the exterior of St. Andrew's -- such a lovely church!

Then back to the river, where I crossed the redbrick Sonning Bridge. These views upstream and downstream show how gorgeous a morning it was!

This stone on the bridge marks the county boundary, mid-river, between Berkshire and Oxfordshire.

Just across the bridge you can see the Great House. The Great House is now a hotel/restaurant, but until 1989 it was a public house called the White Hart, named after Richard II. Behind it is the Deanery, designed by Edwin Lutyens for Edward Hudson, founder of Country Life magazine. I was lucky to visit several years prior with the Victorian Society -- and got to wander around Gertrude Jekyll's gardens. But today, they were just across the river, out of reach.

One last glance upstream back at Sonning Bridge...

And then I set off for the day. I mean, this is the poster child of riverside paths, isn't it?

Two funny little islands fill in the curves of the Thames: Hallsmead Ait and The Lynch. Nope, no idea why. But here's Hallsmead Ait.

I passed The Lynch and looked back upstream. Apparently, though the county boundary between Oxfordshire and Berkshire travels down the main navigation channel of the river, one corner of The Lynch is in Oxfordshire.

Approaching Shiplake, I decided to have a peek at the church. No luck -- I had somehow come up a gated lane and was locked out. But the church is handsome... fron a distance.

I continued toward Shiplake lock, where a young cow gang blocked the path. They all seemed pretty mellow, so I just walked slowly toward them... AND DIDN'T MAKE EYE CONTACT.

I noticed this lovely campground at Shiplake Lock -- why didn't I think of camping? Ha, that's easy. I didn't camp then! Seems as good a time as any to say that when I decided to walk the Thames Path, I realized I'd need some sort of daypack, but then realized I didn't know whether England had outdoor gear stores. Yeah, I guess when you don't ever look for something, you don't notice it. True story -- I went to a big bookstore/newsagent, picked up a copy of "Country Walking" magazine, and looked for ads. Millets? Yeah, I lived within a mile of one at the time. And had passed it probably 3 or 4 times per week. Just so you know where I was in my "outdoor adventurer" timeline.

Just past Shiplake, the path passes this pretty garden at Bolney Court. Umm, yes, that *is* a miniature railway line.

Between trees and hedges, you can even see a miniature station, which I am reliably told is a replica of the St. Moritz station.

On downriver, I passed this adorable fairytale house, near Henley Lock. The boathouses on the river are probably my dream houses.

Okay, probably not this little 2-story playhouse, but that's still amazing.

Approaching Henley, there's a long wooden causeway around Henley Weir / Marsh Lock -- an amusing diversion, if nothing else.

Henley Weir:

Back on the path I noticed another diversion sign... and ignored it, too.

Soon I was on the outskirts of beautiful Henley-on-Thames.

Here's Handsome Henley Bridge, Isis side -- showing the sculpture of Isis by Anne Seymour Damer. (Tamesis is on the downstream side of the bridge...)

I headed into town to visit the marvellous River and Rowing Museum.

My notebook is full of scribbled notes from the museum -- notes about major floods, the Thames Barrier, otters being back in the Windrush, locks, mills, and towns along the river. Also this great T.S. Eliot quote:
I do not know much about gods, but I think that the river is a strong brown god.
Also a great gift shop. Because who doesn't love a gift shop.

Then I went to the Parish Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Henley. Over the door leading to the 16th-century towers hangs a pair of rowing blades, painted with the following:

(strokeside blade): On Saturday, 28 October 2000 in 2hrs 59mins a peal of 5008 Plain Bob Major. 8 ringers, 1 conductor, and a composer.
(bowside blade): Rung as part of the day's civic celebrations at Henley-on-Thames. To mark the success of the British rowers at the Millennium Olympics in Sydney, particularly Steve Redgraves 5th Gold Medal & Matthew Pinsent's 3rd Gold Medal in consecutive Olympic Games.

You know I don't usually like taking pictures in churches, but this memorial for Dame Elizabeth Periam, looking for all the world like she was reading under the covers, was irresistible. Bless. Elizabeth was the sister of Lord Chancellor Bacon, married three times, and outlived them all.

Having walked, museumed, and churched, it was CLEARLY time for a break. Well, hello Angel on the Bridge.

I sat outside on their nice riverside patio, ate their tasty food and drank their lovely cider, and eavesdropped on a young mother, her friend, and young daughter Chloe. Chloe was bored to tears, and kept wandering ever close to the edge of the patio. She came back to her mom's table a few times, saying "I hurt my knee" or "I fell down" or "I bumped my head". In a very calm voice, her mother would say, "Oh, did you? Have a drink of your lemonade." And all would be well.

Back to the river, where I spotted the newly erected temporary boathouses -- which seemed a bit early as the Henley Regatta wasn't for several weeks.

I also passed what seemed like a lot of birds -- a heron watching me over his shoulder, ducks, black birds with white beaks I later determined to be coots, and great crested grebes. Oh, and swans, so many swans. I had seen a few swans squabbling from the patio at the Angel. Out here, alone, I would see a swan and it would paddle furiously (though gracefully, obviously!) toward me.... though I suspect they were looking for a handout rather than a fight.

Which reminds me of a sketch from John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme where Leda of Sparta encounters a large, talking swan. "I'm Zeus, king of the gods." "Are you?"

Zeus keeps talking and Leda just can't get over that he's a swan. "You're a woman, I'm a swan... what do you think I want?" "Umm, bread?"

Continuing along the river -- the stretch where the regatta is held -- I spotted Temple Island, the starting point for the regatta. But what I love is the folly designed by James Wyatt in the 18th century. Originally designed as the fishing lodge for nearby Fawley Court, the space is now an events venue managed by -- who else? -- the Henley Royal Regatta. The main room features wall paintings based on designs which had just been discovered at Pompeii when the Temple was built in 1771.

As the river makes a long sweeping turn, I passed Greenlands, "the house that newspapers built". Newsagent supreme W. H. Smith bought the existing house in 1871 and expanded it. The family lived there until just after WWII, when they rented and eventually sold the building to the Administrative Staff College -- which is now after a few shifts the Henley Business School.

A little farther along that curve is Hambleden Lock a mill operated until 1955.

Not long after the lock the path turned inland again, as the towpath shifted to the other bank, crossed by a no-longer-extant ferry.

On the plus side, the hill provided a pretty and different view of the river near Culham Court.

Looking upstream from Culham Court:

And, of course, pretty Culham Court itself.

Back down to the river I spotted something I had honestly never seen before: baby Canada geese:

For wildlife of a very different nature, here's Medmenham Abbey, home of the famous 18th-century Hellfire Club. Sir Francis Dashwood leased the abbey and had it rebuilt and expanded in a Gothic revival style. Underneath the Abbey Dashwood had a series of caves dug out and decorated with mythological themes -- mostly of a sexual nature. The club met twice a month to perform "rituals" with their female guests. Oh, those naughty naughty politicians.

Pretty Frogmill Barn had been converted into yuppie housing -- but at least they kept the building, right?

I could just see the Danesfield Hotel up on a hill across the river -- the building was once home to the Sunlight Soap magnate Robert William Hudson, served in WWII as the base for the Intelligence Section of the RAF, and has been a luxury hotel since 1991.

I had almost arrived at Temple Bridge, a footbridge opened in 1989 to replace a ferry that closed in 1953. You can see by the map above that the crossing (in the very lower left corner) means you can continue on the old towpath, rather than walk through the village of Bisham on busy roads.

Isn't she a beauty?

View downstream from Temple Bridge:

Once across the river I soon came to Bisham Abbey, a Tutor house built by Sir Philip Hoby using fragments of the original abbey. It's now operated by Sport England as a residential training center for athletes.

Farther along is All Saints Church, Bisham, with its lovely riverside cemetery.

And -- a little farther along -- my first glimpse of Marlow, my destination for the day. I don't know why, but I was ridiculously tired at this point.

Marlow's suspension bridge was designed by William Tierney Clark -- who had previously designed lovely Hammersmith Bridge. Marlow Bridge opened in 1832 and restored in the 1920s with its ironwork replaced by steel. Here's something extra amusing -- this bridge served as the scale model for the first bridge to connect Buda and Pesth.

I happily hopped on a train back to London -- NOT EVEN STOPPING FOR A PINT. Yeah, wild.

Next up: Marlow to Maidenhead

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