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Reading to Windsor - narrative


This stretch of the Thames follows about 32 miles of path next to the River, and passes fine houses and grand estates such as Cliveden. The views range from peaceful waterside meadows, with beautiful willows and a mixture of wild flowers, to busy towns. The pleasures of level walking include covering greater distance and choice of where to stay.

We walked this on three sunny days in July 2011. There are plenty of choices of accommodation and eateries in the towns, but a noticeable lack of tea-rooms between them.

One of the friends we went with,
Maryon Mintz, commented:

"What I liked about this walk was to develop a sense of 'owning' the river - as a Londoner, to take ownership of something that belongs to me."

DAY 1: Reading to Henley-on-Thames: 9 miles. Four and a quarter hours.
We took the train from Paddington to Reading (half an hour) and walked for an hour and a quarter to get to Sonning. Before long we were clear of the town, with the wetlands nature reserve on the opposite bank. The Bull Inn had good beer (it was the beginning of a beer festival) and tasty light lunch platters. Back on the River, there were attractive lock cottages, with bright hanging baskets and flower tubs. Wild flowers included purple loose-strife, thistles, and pink campion. There were some beautiful golden wheat fields.

As well as swans and cygnets, the river had plenty of holiday boat traffic, and was a pleasant companion. After the rural idyll, Henley seemed a generally up-market-trendy place. We stayed at the comfortable Maple Lodge B&B (£80; tel 01491 578781), 83 St Mark’s Road, a ten minute walk from the centre. The Little Angel pub in Remenham Lane provided a good evening meal, though their beer was stored too cold.

DAY 2: Henley to Maidenhead: 16 miles. Seven hours.
True to its reputation, Henley was full of rowers; we even saw the start of a race of coxed fours. Not surprisingly the whole day was punctuated by boating of various kinds, including public and private pleasure boats, and later in the afternoon, single and double canoeists. Snaking along with the river through the day gave a sense of its power, with the long, continuous flow, and the regular punctuation of locks.

We lunched at the Old Bell in Hurley, which had a nice garden and a good rotisserie. This was a good day for glorious English trees, from the elegant willows by the water, colourful copper beeches, stout horse chestnuts, and lines of tall-standing grand green avenues. There are many splendid houses, water-side abodes of wealthy country residents, with well-tended gardens.

I couldn’t find a suitable B&B in Cookham (which would have been our preferred stop), so we walked in to Maidenhead. It made a long day, but we were lucky with a beautiful evening. We passed the grand estate of Cliveden, with its boathouse and notorious cottage, enjoying the lovely clear light and sense of end-of-day peace. We stayed at the Thames Hotel (£60, tel 01628 678500), conveniently situated on the road into town. The exterior is slightly in need of a lick of paint, but it was a perfectly OK B&B. The decent in-house Italian restaurant was fine, after such a long walk.

DAY 3: Maidenhead to Windsor: 7 miles. Three hours. This morning walk was through a mixture of paths among the tress, by the fields and meadows. The increasing numbers of pleasure crafts showed what big business boating is in this part of the Thames. The silhouette of the Castle can be seen looming up from a good distance, approaching Windsor. This is a very touristy town, and on this sunny Sunday, it was choc-a-block with people. We lunched at The George; the food was good, but with so many people, the service was slow. We returned to London on the train via Slough (just over an hour).

© 2011 Diana Ambache