|Day 6 – April 28||Maidenhead to Henley-upon-Thames|
|Weather: Cloud and light rain||B&B: Dee and Steve’s B&B|
|Departed: 10:45 Arrived: 17:00||Distance Today: 16.2 (+1.2) mi / 26 (+2) km|
|Total Distance: 76.8 mi / 123.6 km||Pint of the Day: Brakspears Bitter|
This leg of my walk included 3 counties, 2 herds of cows, 1 fantastic pub and the best scenery so far. If the views continue to improve then I will be pleased with my decision to walk upstream from London. The walk so far has been fine but I’m happy to have finally escaped the drone of jets from Heathrow.
The weather was bleak when I awoke and when I checked the forecast just before heading out the BBC had changed the outlook from cloud to showers. This was disappointing but it promised to be worse tomorrow and so there was no option but to go. I returned to Maidenhead by train (via Slough) and walked the 1+ miles back to the river to rejoin the path.
Maidenhead’s posh residences lined the river west of the bridge for at least a mile and many brandished signs warning walkers to keep out. One owner posted a large white sign proclaiming that their property was protected by laser beams.
Eventually the suburbs were replaced by open fields … just the sort you’d expect to find cattle grazing in. In my excitement I mistook a white horse wrapped in a black blanket for a Hereford heifer. Sigh.
The Thames Path veered away from the river and cut through the small village of Cookham which included a very nice cricket pitch (but rain stopped play before it even started). It also included a beautiful medieval church which I walked through on my way back to the river. I then followed a big sweeping turn where I crossed the river by way of a railway bridge and into Bourne End. The persistent rain and some very narrow footpaths made for some greasy ground underfoot. It was about two miles to Marlow, much of it spent walking along the edge of large meadows, the entrance to which bore a large sign that exclaimed “Cattle Frequently Graze Here“. Note the use of the word “frequently“.
By the time I arrived in Marlow the light rain had tapered to drizzle. The walk through the town included a short but remarkable jaunt through a brick maze. It was constructed in what I assumed to be a relatively new housing development but I couldn’t be sure on account of the very high walls. Whatever it was I expected to find a large chunk of cheese at the end of it. Unfortunately there was none but on the edge of town I rested at a small park to rest my weary feet and have a snack.
When I resumed the drizzle had almost stopped and I was further rewarded when just outside Marlow I spotted my first herd of cows. It wasn’t quite as rewarding as when I spied my first lion in the Masai Mara but I can now check cows off my list and turn my attention to foxes, badgers and wild boar.
By this time the footpath had deteriorated from greasy to downright sloppy and the section to Temple Lock took some time to navigate. The conditions improved significantly after the lock and the scenery from this point on was easily the best of the journey so far.
I passed Hurley Lock and through a short but beautiful section of forest before emerging onto open grazing meadows. There were pockets of caravans and camping sites but these gave way after Frogmill Farm and I soon found myself in proper countryside. I passed right through a second herd of cows before veering away from the river to cross the Culham Court estate. This wealthy landowner was keen to keep walkers on track and so there were no shortage of signs, including one that warned of CCTV cameras and mobile patrols. The stately home at the top of the hill was indeed impressive and the views from the footpath over the Thames valley were as well. This marked the first time on the walk that I had to climb anything resembling a hill. After five days of dead flat terrain it was nice to see slopes rise up from either side of the valley.
On leaving the estate I walked down into the tiny hamlet of Aston. At a small junction lay the Flower Pot Inn, an inviting looking pub just a few miles from Henley. Initially I walked past the pub on my way to the river but then I scolded myself for not venturing inside an intriguing (and warm) pub on such a cold and dreary day. So in I went and I’m glad I did. My pint of Brakspear Bitter wasn’t cheap (3.50) but the front bar was a cozy affair with a coal fire, two dogs and some good banter. Glass cases containing stuffed fish and a few hunting trophies mounted on the wall gave me lots to look at and the warmth of the fireplace on my back felt good. I was tempted to have a second but it was nearing 4pm and I still had 3 miles to go.
The last section of the walk followed a wide sweeping turn of the river before it straightened out and made for Henley on Thames. On a warm sunny evening this would be a wonderful walk but it was still enjoyable on a dull and breezy day like today. As I neared the town centre I passed a long procession of tents in various stages of assembly, in preparation for the annual Henley Regatta in June. On crossing the bridge I entered Oxfordshire, my third county of the day, having started in Berkshire and having passed through Buckinghamshire.
I was soon back on the train and heading for Windsor, via Twyford and Slough.