Tuesday 29 September 2020

DATCHET TO MAIDENHEAD: a continuing walk along The Thames Path. (Friday 25th September 2020)


Datchet is located in the south east of the screen shot map. Maidenhead is in the north west part of the  map. We walked on the north bank of The Thames, which is the lower loop of the river shown  where the Thames Path wends its way.

Tony Brown and I continued our Thames Path walk on Friday 25th September. On recent sections of our walk along the Thames we have been getting further away from London into Berkshire. The sections of the Thames we have walked recently, have taken us  from Hampton , near Tony’s home, to Lower Halliford and then on to Chertsey, Egham and Staines. It feels a long time ago we first started walking the Thames Path, beginning at Woolwich Ferry east of London with John Lodge , who has joined us on many of the sections.  Tony and I last walked from Staines to Datchet so Datchet became our starting point for this recent walk. The Thames has many tributaries, islands, loops, locks and  reservoirs and we have enjoyed so many of them, as well as each other’s company.

The Thames Path is a National Trail following the Thames. A path was first proposed in 1948 but it only opened in 1996. The Thames Path's entire length, 184 miles, can be walked and some of it cycled.

Tony Brown beside the Thames at Datchet.

  As each stage of our walk moves further away from London going west into Berkshire, we have to plan carefully how we get to the start of the next part of our walk along the river.  This Friday I got the train from Raynes Park to Hampton. London Freedom Passes ( over 60s and only eligible for those living in a London Borough) are not valid on trains past Hampton. We can use our Freedom Passes on buses all over the country however.  Tony met me at the station. We drove to Datchet and discovered a layby with free parking,   beside the river.  

 The aim of Fridays walk was  to reach Maidenhead.  In the past we have planned short routes of no more than five or six miles along the river and then returned, walking back along our route to the car at the start. This Friday we decided to walk from Datchet to Maidenhead, a  longer walk. To return we thought that we would get the bus back to Datchet. 

Datchet is a lovely place. Until recently I had never been there. Often, driving along the M4 to Wales  I have seen signs branching off the motorway to Datchet but had no idea what was there and what it was like. The centre has   a village green with Georgian and Victorian houses and shops set around it. It feels peaceful and appears to be a very nice place to live with expensive houses set in park like grounds bordering the village and along the banks of the Thames. When you look at the map, you see Datchet beside The Thames but you also notice that the M4 motorway is  north of the village close by and that Heathrow Airport is just a few miles towards the east. Aircraft taking off from Heathrow have risen to a few thousand feet by the time they fly over Datchet but they are still climbing and the sound of their engines wining away is evident.

The centre of Datchet.

One of the features of The Thames along this stretch are the water meadows with reed beds and wooded paths and also extensive fields surrounded by tall hedgerows. It is rural and much farming goes on in the area. That seems to be an anomaly with the closeness of major roads and low flying aircraft and the centre of London not that far away. It appears that the world has passed it by and taken detours around it. Surrounded by this idyllic setting we anticipated a pleasant walk amongst trees and fields beside a sparkling full flowing Thames.

There are many houses beside the Thames  with lawns reaching down to the waters edge. The Thames path encroaches on peoples land in some places. Many of these houses are set in beautifully manicured gardens with shady trees and shrubbery’s bordering smooth green lawns. The houses are often extensive in size and I  imagine in price too. Some are modern and are built on stilts. Some have hydraulic pillars positioned under their foundations. The older houses appear to be built on raised ground with high stone walls fronting  them. Of course all these architectural  features are there to deal with  flooding when the river rises above its banks.

Houses beside the Thames.

Many of the larger islands, called aits, have housing on them too set in idyllic settings. Some of these properties have their own piers at the side of the Thames with luxurious launches and motor yachts moored at them.

Each time we walk the Thames Tony and I see canal boats and sometimes large motorised barges that have been converted into luxurious water born  homes. Many of them have stainless steel chimneys for log burning stoves, small wind turbines and expanses of solar panels. Some have satellite dishes.

A barge home on the Thames.

A little way along the river from Datchet we approached Windsor and crossed over a  stone bridge with iron ornate shields attached to the stone parapets informing us that the Queens commissioners had built the bridge in 1851. The Queen being Queen Victoria. The middle span of the bridge was replaced during the 1960s with a concrete arch, topped with rails on each side, making the bridge look like a poor ill designed hybrid. The two stone ends recall an attractive sturdy bridge of the past. We can only guess its former elegance. Windsor Castle rose above the roof tops of Windsor town to our left.

This was the original part of the bridge before the modern central arch. 

It was interesting to see on the opposite bank of the river the expanse of Windsor Race Course. Neither Tony or I had known such a racecourse existed. The grandstand in the distance looked old in style, perhaps Victorian. We wended our way across meadows and fields called ,”The public fields of Eton College.” It occurred that Eton College must own a lot of the land in the vicinity.

Every so often we came across locks with their gate systems allowing boats to pass from one level of the river to the next. We stopped at Boveney Lock ,  to eat our packed lunches. The weather was mild although the day had begun with some rain . The temperature was  a little lower than of recent, about 17 degrees but the wind was strong. Tony found a spot that was sheltered from the wind at the bottom of the levee bordering the river here, near the lock gates. We drank tea from our flasks and ate our sandwiches and fruit. Locks have been built along the Thames since the 17th century. Boveney Lock was built in the  19th century to help control flooding and to ensure the Thames remained navigable at this point.

Boveney Lock.

We walked on past Dorney Lake that is an Olympic rowing lake used in the London 2012 Olympics. It belongs to Eton College.

On the opposite side of the river, set within rolling lawns and tall trees was a castellated stone built manor house called, Oakley Court. We could see extensive patio areas with large sun shades. Marquees were set up within the grounds. This is an exclusive hotel and spa complex. I Googled Oakley Court later when I got home. A room for the night costs between £400 and £1000 with views over the Thames and the lush meadows and fields surrounding it. The bar is open to casual callers but the restaurant must be booked ahead, especially in these times of Covid 19.

Oakley Court.

We walked on past the fields surrounding Dorney Reach. We could hear the sounds of the M4 motorway in the distance. We approached the massive hulk of the bridge taking the M4 over the Thames. Widening of the motorway is happening at this point so the usual pathway is blocked. Pontoons with non slip surfaced walkways have been constructed, floating on the river under the bridge . We walked under the motorway and saw  the impressive long steal arches that support the bridge and motorway above.

A pontoon passing under the M4 motorway.

Often along the Thames we have come across boatyards. All the various luxurious motor launches and the canal boats and barges need to be taken care of. Their bottoms need to be scraped and renovated. Many of the boatyards appear to be family businesses and by the look of these boatyards and the buildings comprising them they look as though they have been there a long time. I remember , as a child seeing workshops, garages and boatyards in Southampton made from corrugated iron and painted a dirty matt green. Many of the boatyards along the Thames , with their mess of ropes, chains, cranes and rusting buoys have this same timeless feel.

A boatyard on the Thames.

We soon reached the next lock at Bray. The village of Bray on the other side of the river was out of view at this point because a series of aits stretch the length of the river here. One of the  aits is called Monkey Island Estate. The grand white stuccoed mansion on the island is another exclusive hotel. Two famous restaurants are at Bray, The Fat Duck run by Heston Blumenthal and the Roux Brothers’ Waterside Inn.  Bray is famous from the culinary point of view nowadays but much earlier than that ,

In good King Charles’s golden days,
When Loyalty no harm meant;
A Furious High-Church man I was,
And so I gain’d Preferment.
Unto my Flock I daily Preach’d,
Kings are by God appointed,
And Damn’d are those who dare resist,
Or touch the Lord’s Anointed.

And so the Vicar of Bray is remembered. He changed religious allegiance to whoever was on the throne so he could keep his job. The poem actually refers to a number of vicars of Bray from Tudor times when religious allegiances could cost you your head up to  vicars in the 17th century  who were also keen to keep their incumbency. We walked past Bray Lock on the north side of the river.

Bray Lock

From Bray,  we were getting tired by now our legs feeling the effort, we walked on to Maidenhead passing under the elegant Victorian railway viaduct, designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel and featured in J W Turner’s painting  Rain, Steam and Speed.

Maidenhead Railway viaduct, painted by 
 J W Turner. His painting is called ,"Rain, Steam and Speed."(1844)

On reaching  the road bridge, we walked into the centre of the town. We asked people as we walked along where we could catch a bus back to Windsor. Eventually Tony and I found a bus stop, walking through the market and out the other side of the High Street. We took the number 15 to Windsor. The bus took a rather circuitous route looping past the local hospital, through  a housing estate, all the time  travelling, in apparently, the wrong direction  but eventually it drove on to the centre of Windsor. 

Windsor town and castle.

We alighted near the old town hall designed by Christopher Wren which is also close to the public access to the castle. We waited some  time for a number 10 bus to take us back to Datchet. Windsor to Datchet is not far and this part of the journey took no time at all. 

Before we departed from Datchet, an enticing pub called The Royal Stag overlooking the village green beckoned for a reviving pint of beer. Parts of the Royal Stag date back to 1400. Since the Covid crisis we have not been into many pubs.  A sign instructed us to put on our masks and  wait to be shown to a table. We both have the recent National Health Service Covid 19 app on our phones so we scanned the NHS QR code. This new device will turbo boost track and trace,I hope. There were not many people in the pub and it was not long before  one of the bar staff came and showed us to a table. Sitting at the table we were permitted to remove our masks. There was a good social distance from other people at other tables.  A menu enabled us to order beers. I chose a local brew called Grenadier and a packet of salt a vinegar crisps. We could go to the gents as long as we  put our masks back on. 

Part of Datchet village green.

Tony drove me to the station at Hampton. On the train  I sat back, with my face mask on of course,  and phoned Marilyn. "Can you pick me up at Raynes Park?". I felt knackered.

So the next part of our Thames Path Odyssey  will take us from Maidenhead and on past Cliveden and Cookham, then Marlow and on towards  Henley, both very beautiful historic towns on the Thames. I often get the sense that we are walking through Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in The Willows countryside and Jerome K Jerome’s Three Men In A Boat comes to mind also.


 Rain, Steam Speed by J W Turner (The Great Western Railway', painted in 1844.)