Wallingford – Goring – Pangbourne.
The Thames pre ice-age flowed north through the area of East Anglia, when its exit was blocked it forced a way through the chalk at Goring Gap and hence to what is now London. On its north side now are the Chilterns and to the south Berkshire Downs. I had been here before on the ancient Ridgeway Path. Today busy road and railway share the gap with the Thames, frequent high speed GWR trains sped past and there was a constant traffic roar.
A gentle rural stroll out of Wallingford on a frosty morning, the mud was still frozen in the fields. A few oarsmen were out on the river, singles, doubles, coxed and coxless fours and even the odd eight. I watched with fascination as they sculled and rowed rapidly through the water. I have just learned that in rowing you have one oar and in sculling two – it adds up. There were several rowing clubs alongside the river including Oxford University from their state of the art Fleming Boathouse.
Passing under a beautiful bricked railway arch the path was diverted onto roads around schools and private properties. The Ridgeway I remember had a better route on the opposite bank. I dropped back down to the river at The Beetle and Wedge restaurant. They were preparing for a busy lunchtime, expensive riverside eating is popular, but the lads were happy to sell me a decent coffee. I sat outside with my muddy boots before the well healed arrived. The restaurant is in what was the boathouse to the original Beetle and Wedge. The unusual name refers to a beetle, an old term for a hammer used with a wedge to split wood.
From here on the path was a good surface through a well manicured landscape with the gap in the hills visible ahead. Moored boats becoming more luxurious, gardens more ornate and houses impressive. Birds were making their presence known as Spring approaches with lots of noise. The Kites, ever present in the sky, make a more whistling sound than the Buzzard’s cry. The geese, Canada and Greylag, are honking incessantly. Grebes, Cormorants, Coots, Waterhen and Swan get on with life on the water in a quieter manner. Herons seemed less common.
The bridge over the Thames at Goring gives good views of the lock and extensive weirs. I knew of Pierreponts Cafe on the far side and enjoyed a quiche and salad in the sunshine. Chance conversations with strangers, they are curious about the muddy boots and trekking poles, alerted me to the fact that George Michael’s house was just across the road. I couldn’t believe the amount of floral, memorabilia, flags and other tributes adorning the whole of the property.
Back on the river was a popular little promenade for locals and tourists. I was amused by two young au pair girls racing their charges in all terrain baby buggies along the next muddy section, I warned them of tossing the babies into the river. Again the railway was in close proximity.
A diversion away from the river had me walking through mature woodlands on the edge of the Chiltern escarpment. And what was this – a steep hill to climb as the path went higher, all a bit of a shock on the Thames Path. A private road was joined past gated and camera watched houses. This brought me out onto the road into Whitchurch and then down across a toll bridge [ pedestrians are now free ] over the river into Pangbourne. The evening commuter rush and school run was underway – chaos. in a different age Kenneth Graham author of ‘Wind in the Willows’ was brought up on the Thames and retired to Pangbourne. Shepherd’s illustrations to his book are thought to have been inspired by the local riverside. And lets not forget ‘Three Men in a Boat’ by Jerome K. Jerome which covered the Thames from Kingston to Oxford. I always was a Kenneth Graham fan when I was 5 or 6, I think due to the illustrations and later in life felt that ‘Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow’ was Jerome’s better work.
My old coaching Inn for the night was bang in the middle of town with the railway on one side and the main road the other. A stroll out reveled a Lamborghini showroom next to a Bentley, next to an Aston Martin one. The local estate agent had houses advertised at over £3 million.
And there was an elephant round the corner, feels like Alice in Wonderland.