|Day 7 – April 30||Henley-upon-Thames to Pangbourne|
|Weather: Sun and Cloud||B&B: Alushta Guest House|
|Departed: 8:50 Arrived: 15:15||Distance Today: 15.8 mi / 25.5 km|
|Total Distance: 91.6 mi / 147.5 km||Pint of the Day: Swan Ale|
I awoke to sunshine and, for the first time, a forecast that didn’t include any form of precipitation. I was away from my Henley guest house and on the Thames Path by 8:50, my earliest start so far.
Although the sun was shining the aftermath of yesterday’s rain was apparent as I noticed that the river level was noticeably higher than last night. The first part of today’s walk included two locks, two wooden footbridges and a somewhat soggy meadow. The path soon veered away from the river and into an extremely posh residential area called Bolney Court. One of the residents was a obviously a model train enthusiast but one who was not content with a track layout in his attic. His property was crisscrossed with train tracks and included a scale model of a St. Moritz railway station. His neighbours properties were similarly grand and one even sported a “Beware of Fierce Dogs” sign.
The Thames Path weaved it’s way through Lower Shiplake before rejoining the river in a meadow that had me thinking I had finally returned to the green and pleasant land. Unfortunately I was soon to discover that some of the green and pleasant land was under water. Shortly after passing Shiplake College the Thames Path disappeared under several inches of water. I picked my way around what I could but eventually I ran out of options and had no alternative but to roll up my pant legs (or trousers if you prefer) and take off my socks and shoes. The water was surprisingly cold and so I was glad the crossing was short. With the help of my trusty pack towel I was back on track within a few minutes.
My trek on solid ground lasted about two minutes before I was confronted with another flooded section of footpath. This one was much deeper looking and extended around a bend such that I couldn’t tell how long it went on for. I decided to backtrack and follow a path that paralleled the river along the edge of a field. I followed this for at least 15 minutes but there was no escape from the barbed wire and electric fence and so I was forced to return. My only option was to wade into the unknown or return to the college and follow the Henley road all the way to Sonning. At this point I met two ladies who were walking the TP in sections and a local woman wearing Wellies. Her dog proved useful as it bounded into the water and so I was able to judge its depth (calf-height in places). The wellie wearing woman was sent ahead and sent back word that the trail was dry further on. Off came the shoes and socks for a second time and I plodded along in bare feet for some time until I was confident the portaging was over.
The path remained above water until the final approach to Sonning. It then merged with the river in several places and I was forced to bush-whack. If you followed my LEJOG blog you may have remembered my bush-whacking exploits on the day I left Roadwater. I employed some of the same carefully crafted cuss words on this short sojourn into the undergrowth.
The situation underfoot improved substantially after I crossed the bridge at Sonning and walked the last couple of miles into Reading. The Thames Valley Business Park signaled the outskirts of Reading and the sight of three large Oracle buildings made me wonder how the Oracle RAC migration was going back at work. Fortunately that thought passed quickly, even after I found myself surrounded by office workers sporting photo ID and polyester suits.
Once clear of Reading I was back in the countryside and rambling alongside a nice dry stretch of the river. There were several interesting sights but the Zombies were definitely my favorite. I can say this because they were on the other side of the river and apparently content to stand in the middle of a field.
The path left the river at Purley and climbed up and over the mainline rail tracks and into a relatively recent residential development. I weaved my way through suburbia for about 15 minutes before crossing the tracks again and heading down a nice country track to Mapledurham Lock. From here it was two mile walk along the meadows into Pangbourne. I encountered one more waterlogged section near a stile but I was able to climb along a fence and avoid removing my shoes for a third time.
I spent a week in Pangbourne in 1999, creating a website for a friend of mine, and so I was familiar with it. Before catching the train back to Henley I enjoyed a pint on the riverside patio of “The Swan”. It brought back good memories of a friend I’ve lost touch with over the years.
This evening the news is reporting that this April is the wettest since records began. Many of Britain’s rivers are rising and localized flooding is widespread. I’m not sure what to expect up river but I’m now looking at what roads I can use if the footpaths become unusable.
Note: I’m having problems posting photos on WordPress so check out the Day 7 photos on Flickr