Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Travel Tuesday : The Thames Path, day 10 - Maidenhead to Windsor

Walked May 27, 2002

This stretch, walked with my good friend Suz, was an excellent day out, despite the weather. We took the train to Maidenhead, and then walked the long, dull road from the station. Dickens (Jr.) describes the town as "not very important or of itself attractive."

We crossed Maidenhead Bridge to get to the path, stopping to admire this flood memorial on the bridge. When I was at the Rowing and River Museum in Henley, I had read that the 1947 floods were some of the worst in history.

Maidenhead Bridge is quite handsome, especially as seen from the river. Here's looking at it from downstream.

Very soon we came to Brunel's Maidenhead Railway Bridge, an engineering masterpiece.

He needed to span the towpath and the river to provide a bridge for the broad gauge line to the West Country. The resulting bridge may not look like much, but it remains the widest, flattest brick arch in the world. And I, for one, think it's marvellous. Then again, I love that sort of thing.

J.M.W. Turner painted this study called Rain, Steam and Speed in 1844, capturing a Great Western Railway train crossing this viaduct.

Not long after the path crosses under the M4 motorway bridge--much less impressive than Brunel's. And much noisier. And I doubt a masterpiece has been painted of the traffic on it.

And on this day of bridges and river crossings, we came to Summerleaze Bridge. Sharp pretty much sums it up correctly:
Now you come to a new footbridge over the Thames, substantial but puzzling, as it does not serve any obvious purpose. 

Who is the mysterious Summerleaze Ltd., and why did they build this big bridge, seemingly to nowhere?

No, it's not a "Torchwood" sort of secret organization. They're the company that at the time was excavating a new rowing lake for Eton and running the gravel on a conveyor belt across the river and, apparently, somewhere they could more easily move it away.

I find this sort of this fascinating ... but I don't know why. How fascinating? Well, here's a picture of the gravel conveyor belt, humming and clacking away.

Oh, and did I mention that there's a gravel conveyor belt?

Once again, the Summerleaze Bridge gravel conveyor belt. I love this mixture of private industry and public benefit. It has since been tied into the national cycle trail network. Lovely! One disappointment -- the conveyor belt was running, though empty.

Suz waited below, out of the drizzle, while I wandered across the bridge. I saw that the conveyor belt stretched into the distance and wondered how building a large, sturdy footbridge and a conveyor belt be cheaper than just trucking the gravel out, unless the roads were too small, the land nearby too dear.

Across the bridge I could glimpse the gravel workings excavating the new rowing lake. One hopes it will eventually be open to the public as it's an awfully big expanse of land to serve a small group of boys.

And I could definitely spot Windsor in the distance from the top of the bridge.

I was so overly excited by this footbridge to nowhere / conveyor belt system that I completely failed to photograph Dorney Common -- still owned by the Lord of the Manor of Dorney Court, currently the Palmer family. According to their website:
A right of common is the legal right of one or more persons, the "Commoners", to take or use some part of the natural produce of the land. The Commoners of Dorney Common are the owners of certain properties in, and around, Dorney. That part of the product of the common which is not lawfully taken or used by the Commoners belongs to the owner of the common."
Basically, the Commoners are still allowed to graze a certain number of cows, hogs, goats, sheep, or horses on the common, just as they were at the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066. How many actually do, I have no idea.

On downriver we spotted Oakley Court, a high Victorian Gothic fantasy, though we couldn't spot the animals on the roofline. Sharp described it as "With a puff of dry ice it could well serve as Dracula's Castle, and indeed probably has." (BTW, according to IMDB, it's been the filming location for multiple vampire movies.)

It's now a luxury hotel (of course!); here's a better picture from their website... where you can see that IT'S FRANK N. FURTER'S HOUSE FROM THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW.

The path was delightfully rural again for a while -- which is remarkable when you see how built-up Dedworth is across the river. But for us, bliss and swans and cygnets. Look at this little fluffy one, riding in style.

Or these lovelies, paddling with a parent.

We stopped to take a look at St. Mary Magdalene, Bovney. Sharp says "Rubble chalk courses are well buttressed and crowned with a clapboard belfry, sitting at a rakish angle. The earliest parts are 12th and 13th century, and it probably served a wharf here, shipping timber from Windsor Forest." The only lighting inside is by candle. I read somewhere that in 1859 the churchyard was thick with gravestones ... but now there's no sign of them.

Soon we reached an unassuming platform that marks Athens, the traditional bathing place for the boys from Eton. As Suz was already wet with rain, she decided to take a swim.

Bathing Regulations at Athens

Fifth Form Nants in First Hundred and Upper and Middle Divisions may bathe at Athens. No bathing at Athens on Sundays after 8:30 a.m. At Athens, boys who are undressed must either get at once into the water or get behind screens when boats containing ladies come in sight. Boys when bathing are not allowed to land on the Windsor Bank or to sim out to launches and barges or to hang onto, or interfere with, boats of any kind. Any boy breaking this rule will be severely punished. (From "School Rules of the River, 1921")

There's also a sober dedication stone at Athens to a student who died while trying to learn to fly so he could join the RAF during the Great War.

This bathing place of Athens was presented to Eton College by Hiatt C. Baker in memory of his son John Lionel Baker, a brilliant swimmer who spent here many of the happiest hours of his boyhood. He was killed in a flying accident in August 1917 while still a member of the school.

From Athens we could see Windsor Castle in the distance, though I didn't realize that Windsor Race Course was right across the river, too.

We walked into town and decided, as we were feeling fit and feisty, to walk into Windsor Great Park. And then, why not? To walk the Long Walk. How long? Three miles. The Long Walk was created by Charles II in 1680, and extended to its current length in 1683.

Looking back toward the castle from the Long Walk...

Along the way we spotted some resident red deer -- a herd of 500 or so descended from 40 hinds and 2 stags introduced in 1979.

A questionable garden ornament.

And I accidentally captured this artsy photo with my hair and a woven steeplechase jump.

What's at the end of the Long Walk? A monumental copper sculpture of George III, erected in 1838.

Was it "worth it"? Well, to be honest you get a better view of the sculpture from farther away!

Though you can read the "patria optimo" dedication for George III from the base.

But of course the best part is the view from George III.

Tired out from the extra miles of walking, we made our way to the train station and happily headed back to London.

Next up: Windsor to Shepperton

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