High expectations of a scenic day and the forecast was good, it always seems to be down here.
Over the lovely brick bridge and onto a muddy path along the north side of the Thames. Hand painted signs add a little character to the route. Nothing much happened until Shiplake where there was one of those exclusive schools charging £10,000 a term basic fees. They had rowing facilities on the river naturally. The village itself seemed doomed to mass development with building proceeding everywhere. There was a great corner shop selling coffee and pastries, perfect for elevenses. Posh houses kept the path away from the river for awhile. One particular grand house had a miniature railway through the gardens. Lots of gates and cameras – who lives here?
Back on the river the area around Marsh Lock was fascinating. Wooden bridges weaved in amongst the lock and weirs. Volunteers were busy painting the lock fixtures ready for the season. Marsh and Mill Meadows had popular paths leading into Henley. Rich houses abounded with their boat houses and moored cruisers. No barges here, the size of your house determines the size of your boat. I don’t understand why you would need an ocean going yacht to potter up the Thames. The marina as you enter Henley is full of tourist boats offering river trips all seemingly run by one organisation – Hobbs of Henley.
I found a basic cafe riverside, Chocolate Cafe, for the usual fillip. It seemed popular with cyclists, maybe the cheapest in town. The town itself was busy with shoppers and all the usual shops – best avoided. There are classic riverside properties. I did peep into the churchyard at Dusty Springfield’s simple grave.
On the other side of the river my onward journey took me past lots of rowing clubs, the Leander is one of the oldest in the world, 1818. The Remenham had a smart clubhouse.This is the site of the annual Henley Royal Regatta races downstream over a virtually straight 2000m course from Temple Island. I assume champagne takes as much importance as rowing. Anyhow I could see the Temple over 1mile ahead of me for the next up river section. Exclusive houses lined the route. At the bend before Hambleden Lock was Greenlands Mansion once owned by W H Smith of newsagent fame, it is now the business faculty of Reading University and very nice too. There is a plaque on the lock commemorating the first ever boar race in 1829.
I was diverted, yet again, away from the river into the little village of Aston and then into the Culham Estate. I don’t know what goes on here but they don’t really want you there, lots of officious signs and cameras in trees, woe betide if you step off the path – I expect you would be shot. There is a big house in the grounds and something that looks like a mausoleum on the hill. The deer seem to be white. The sky is full of free flying kites.
Eventually back on the river I escape from the estate and conversely walk through a humble caravan site. Above on the opposite escarpment is a large ostentatious white building, Danesfield House, now a hotel I could have stayed in for £300.
I walk into the quiet village of Hurley to my more modest evening in the 800yr old The Olde Bell, still costing an arm and a leg. The church had been a priory and the whole village has a monastic feel to it. One of the quietest and most delightful villages on the Thames so far.