2002: The Thames Path

Day 0

Flight for Adrian from Hahn into Bournemouth. Cannot comprehend why this airport was chosen. Perhaps a relic from our original idea to walk to Stonehenge? Or was it a particularly good deal from Mr O’Leary? In any case, Peter unquestioningly accepts the logic as well as a four-hour round trip and so we drive from Bournemouth to Culham station near Abingdon in Oxfordshire.

We stay at a charismatic (i.e. old and draughty) railway hotel designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel and are tormented all night by ghost trains rumbling past the station and, it seems, right through the middle of our beer-fogged dreams.

Day 1: Culham - Goring

Start our walk on a very busy main road out of Culham. Thankfully, after about 1 mile we are able to turn off to join the Thames path at Clifton Hampden. Thereafter we find ourselves for many miles traversing broad muddy meadows which are heavily punctuated with plops of duck/goose/swan poo (notably more copious and repellent than, say, sheep poo).

Sonning Bridge, with ghost of Euan's Birthday Party never far away.

Our lunch stop is in the charming town of Wallingford, where we change riverbanks at the weir. Time for some browsing in an antiquarian bookshop, where Adrian buys lovely contemporary edition of JKJ’s masterpiece.

The Thames footpath is often little more than a boggy, single-file trail squashed in between some fenced-off private properties and the river. After Wallingford, the valley becomes narrower and a bit gloomier, as the Thames cuts its way through the Chilterns. We finally make it to the locks at Goring and Streatley.

Goring Railway Bridge, another masterpiece from IKB.

Very picturesque scene, but we are altogether rather sore and muddy and needing a rest. We still have a bit of a climb to our B&B in uptown Goring. Our landlady is a pleasant Highland lady from Auchiltibuie in Sutherland, we are made to feel very much at home. Evening meal in lovely local pub.

Day 2: Goring - Reading

Rather tedious day’s trudge, especially the long part going past industrial Reading, which seems to take hours, and indeed does. We partake of lunch in a pub which is a bit off the Thames path, in Purley.

The absurdity of Adrian having flown into Bournemouth is reinforced by our route, which is also the flight path of countless jet aeroplanes which have just taken off at Heathrow, just a few miles ahead. One memorable observation is when Concorde thunders immediately overhead (presumably on one of its last scheduled flights).

We finally emerge from Reading’s suburban detritus. And, where better to recover from the city than at the beautiful and serene Sonning Bridge, which marks the boundary between Oxon and Berks?

To celebrate our return to the idyllic river bank landscape of our imagination, we splash out on a lavish hotel room.

Day 3: Reading - Marlow

Meanwhile in the county of Bucks, we enjoy some nice straightforward walking through the village of Shiplake. Peter insists that he has read in a newspaper that Uri Geller, the famous psychic phenomenologist, lives here. Probably somewhere around the bend, I quip, as we try in vain to locate a spoon-shaped house. We take a short break at Henley and watch some young sportsmen and women sculling effortlessly on the water.

Some young sportsmen.

On our way to Marlow, we pass historic Bisham Abbey, looking very splendid in the sunshine. In Marlow, we find adequate lodgings in a pub in the town centre. Evening stroll through the charming, olde-worlde half-timbered town. As a remedy for twee-ness, we pick a throbbing techno-music temple for our obligatory evening pint. Packed and grimly lit, we realise we are 20 to 25 years older than the remainder of the clientele. We leave. More unexpected entertainment is provided by a spatting couple in the High Street. Parental guidance needed for this one also, both on account of the strong language and gratuitous violence on offer. The guy seems to come off worse. Back at our inn, we cannot face joining the Yahs in the lounge, who are loudly celebrating a rare victory over the Welsh at the Millenium Stadium. We glumly watch Scotland’s predictable defeat on the telly in our room instead.

Day 4: Transport back to Culham

Walking is over for another year, and not a moment too soon, as we hirple to take the train to Maidenhead and Reading, where we get train tickets back to Culham station. However, just because First Great Western railways are happy to sell you a ticket to Culham station, it doesn’t automatically follow that their trains actually stop there. Vexed, we are forced to travel on as far as Didcot, before taking a taxi back to deserted Culham station, where Peter’s car awaits, not surprisingly, as the only car in the car park. Arrive much later than intended in Cheltenham.

Day 5

Time to go home. Adrian has something of a logistic challenge, to secure a train connection back to Bournemouth in time for his return flight. The usual strikes and commuter delays just add to the excitement. Check-in is achieved with but a few minutes to spare, following some nifty platform-hopping in Newport, i.e. Wales, and Southampton