The Monthly Newsletter of Chelmsford YHA Local Group
Thames or Bust
Back in November 2007 a brave bunch of CYHAers started walking the Thames path from sea to source. The full length is 184 miles and in the last 9 years we’ve covered about 71 miles (or 39%). Admittedly this is a pretty slow rate of progress, but this March we thought it was time to tick off a few more miles. Basing ourselves at Jordans in Buckinghamshire, one of our favourite hostels, we made use of buses and trains in order to arrange two linear walks covering another 17½ miles.
In March 2016 we finished at Marlow Bridge, so on Saturday we drove to Henley and caught the bus to Marlow for the start of our walk. The weather on Saturday was pretty good – mild and spring-like – but the rain earlier in the week had made the path a bit sticky underfoot. From Marlow the Thames snakes slightly southwards and you start to see some very grand country houses. Some are still owned by obscenely rich people, others have been converted to hotels or conference centres. At Bisham Abbey there was a manor house which had a tower where a strict disciplinarian mother had locked her son in for not doing his homework, and the poor boy had starved to death. This was in Elizabethan times and the teachers amongst us assured us that you’re no longer allowed to beat and starve pupils, although Doug did look a little wistful.
Harleyford Manor was a lovely manor house, close to the river and had been the inspiration for Toad Hall – Parp! Parp! At Hurley we passed the house where a number of nobles had planned the Glorious Revolution (the overthrow of James II and his replacement by William of Orange). At Danesfield there was a huge white castle-like building, high up on the chalk cliffs above the river flood plain. Now a hotel, this mansion was built by Robert Hudson the soap flake magnate. The next stop was Medmenham where the hedonistic ‘Hell Fire Club’ was first started – there was a story of prank played on the Earl of Sandwich where a baboon was dressed up like the devil and set upon him. Apparently after that he gave up drinking and started making bread-based snacks instead.
Shortly after lunch we stopped at the Flower Pot Inn at Aston for a little light refreshment. In years past there used to be a ferry here and the next bit of the walk was to return to the river by ‘Ferry Lane’. The afternoon walk had us approaching Henley, passing numerous rowing clubs and the famous Temple Island, which forms the finish line of the Henley Regatta. Henley itself is a charming town with a very satisfying array of nice teashops. It would have been rude not to avail ourselves of one, so it was tea and cake that finished off our day rather than an educational visit to the rowing museum.
The Sunday wasn’t quite as nice weather wise. We’d had a bit of overnight rain and the day felt damp. As a result the conditions underfoot were pretty challenging. We parked at Henley again, but this time walked from here, continuing our journey roughly south-westwards to Reading. This was probably the most rural stretch of the path so far, with more sheep fields than mighty mansions. However, at Wargrave the path notably deviates away from the riverside in order to preserve the view for a cluster of very grand houses – one even had a miniature railway in the garden. We managed to find a charming pub at Sonning for our post-lunch drink. After all that sliding around in the mud, this was a very welcome break. Luckily the path from here on was a little firmer underfoot and we arrived in Reading with plenty of time to catch our train back to Henley.
By my calculations we are now 88.8 miles along the route, which is roughly 48% in ten years. At this rate we are fset to finish in 2028. Might need to step it up a bit….
Thank you to Robin and Sarah for a brilliant slide show on their recent trip to Iceland. Although they did bag a couple of the tourist hot-spots, it was notable for all the days spent well off the beaten track. And also for the remarkably sunny weather. I’m really not that jealous.
We are the Champions!
Under the captaincy of Dave J a team of eight triumphed at the Wednesday night quiz at the Railway pub in Witham. The food was good and the evening was remarkable for Cress’s knowledge of MC Hammer (I had no idea she was a fan) and my crushing ignorance of Shakespeare. Must try harder. Ali
Please send any comments on these pages to Dave Plummer