Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Travel Tuesday : The Thames Path, day 9 - Marlow to Maidenhead

walked May 19, 2002

This stretch was a bit of a strange one. Strange because I walked with a friend who was decidedly uninterested in countryside walks, pub lunches, or exploring a small village immortalized by the artist Stanley Spencer. As such, there are few notes and even fewer pictures from this brief stretch of river.

In Dickens's Dictionary of the Thames, 1887, Charles Dickens's son (also Charles) described the stretch between Marlow and Maidenhead as:
the best known and most popular part of the river. And its popularity is well deserved; for whether for the angler, the artist, the oarsman, or the simple tourist; whether for fishing, picnicking, and it has been even whispered 'spooning', to say nothing of camping out, there are few places in England to beat the Cliveden reach at Maidenhead or Quarry Woods at Marlow.

We took the train out to Marlow on a much cloudier day than on my previous visit. Here's that lovely bridge again.

Marlow city seal on the bridge:

As Sharp notes, there is no towpath from the bridge to Marlow Lock, so back in the day bargest had to be hauled on a long towline while their towing horses were led round on a winding path. The Thames Path -- always a stickler for tradition -- follows that route, known locally as "Seven Corner Alley."

Once back at the river we detoured onto the weir for a "classic view of Marlow Bridge and Church from Marlow Lock":

We continued downstream, seeing this pretty little castle house, with Winter Hill rising behind it.

A bit further along we passed this handsome fellow outside the Upper Thames Sailing Club.

When we reached the railway bridge -- to which, thankfully, a pedestrian bridge had been added  -- we looked back upstream at the jetties and river boats.

And I looked longingly at beautiful Cock Marsh across the river -- a National Trust-owned meadow that has been common land since 1272, and is still grazed in the traditional manner.  But I would not get to roam that meadow on this day.

Soon we arrived in Cookham and popped in to the handsome Bel and the Dragon pub for lunch. As the building is a 600 year old coaching inn, I expected traditional fare. Nope. Rather than pub grub they offered a sophisticated menu of sauteed goose livers, rabbit stew with herbed mash, saffron risotto, etc. Luckily they also had a posh version of fish and chips, which is what my companion wanted. Still, though the food was exquisite, it wasn't what had been desired. Another knock on the day.

Cookham is famous for its association with Stanley Spencer, and he called it "a village in heaven" an set many of his famous paintings there. We stopped in to the Stanley Spencer Gallery for a too-short visit, where I picked up some postcards and got my bearings, and then headed for a very quick spin around town. I loved that he painted biblical scenes, but set them in contemporary Cookham.

We walked past Cookham Church:

As well as the Angel:

Both of which were painted by Spencer:

I love this comparison, from the Stanley Spencer Gallery site. Here's Spencer's painting of Cookham High Street (painted 1929):

And here's a recent photograph:

But we needed to move on, and followed the path from the village back to the riverside.

In the woods across from us was Cliveden, bought by William Waldorf Astor in 1893. According to the National Trust (to whom the Astors gifted the estate in 1942, with the proviso that the family could continue to live there as long as they wished), Nancy and Waldorf Astor entertained frequently during the first half of the twentieth century, and the house became famous for lavish hospitality and a diverse mix of guests ranging from Lloyd George and Winston Churchill to George Bernard Shaw, Ghandi, and Henry Ford.

In 1963 it became known that John Profumo, Secretary of State for War, had met a 19-year-old call girl named Christine Keeler by the swimming pool at Cliveden. Because Keeler was also involved with a Soviet naval attaché, the relationship caused concern for national security. The Profumo Affair was the end of his career and it nearly brought down the government.

The house has been turned into a Very Fancy Luxury Hotel, but the ground floor and gardens can be visited on certain days. One day I hope to visit!

Here's a view waaaaay back upstream showing Cliveden at the top of the hill.

As we went through the woods approaching Maidenhead we came across this lovely sign -- though not, sadly, across lovely Merrily ("deaf and tailless but otherwise content").

Very soon we arrived at Boulter's Lock, much quieter than in its Victorian heyday.

I love this painting, Boulter's Lock, Sunday Afternoon, by Edward John Gregory. (Currently in the Lady Lever Art Gallery, Liverpool)

People used to gather at Boulter's Lock to peoplewatch, especially the weekend around Royal Ascot. The railings had to be added to keep people away from the water's edge!

Once past Boulter's Lock, we were almost at Maidenhead.

We soon arrived at Maidenhead, walked to the train station, and went back to London.

Next up: Maidenhead to Windsor and a much more fun day!

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