Friday Flickr – How Cows Chill Out

What to do on a hot day? Go to the beach or have a paddle in the river of course. Even if you’re a cow.

I like cows.

I’ve met a few grumpy ones and a few over-boisterous ones, but usually they’re docile and occasionally they’re curious. I like their their big soulful eyes and the fact that they make chocolate. And ice-cream. And cheese.

I take far too many pictures of cows, but by far my favourite ones are when they are doing what they do best; relaxing and watching the world go by.

I especially like photographing cows when they are in the water or sunbathing on a beach. They just look so chilled out. We could learn a lot from them.

The photos in this week’s Friday Flickr album were taken in the Outer Hebrides, along the Thames Path and in the Peak District.

Click on the image below to access the album.

How cows chill out


Thames Path – Henley to Reading

A miniature railway, a missed train and three ways the Thames Path deals with private gardens that reach to the river.



I’d googled parking in Henley before leaving home and discovered I could park for free in a small car park by the section of the Thames Path I was intending to walk.

I parked, got my boots on and walked across a field to the river. As it was a nice half term day and not too far from the centre of town there were plenty of families about.


Close to where I was starting today’s walk, houses and their gardens reached down to the river bank which should have necessitated an inland detour, but didn’t because a long, winding, wooden walkway sits in the river like a bridge connecting two parts of the same bank.

The walkway leads to a small island from which Marsh Lock can be accessed. The current lock dates from 1773, though there have been locks here for at least 600 years. The walkway, which continues from the island and returns to the bank, was originally created as part of the towpath, but is now a structure used for pleasure rather than work. An information board explains how the fish ladder to the side of the lock and weir works.

035Once the walkway deposited me back on the bank I was able to follow the river through a meadow until the path turned inland towards the village of Shiplake.

The path led alongside some rather large houses including one that has its own railway running through the extensive grounds. The railway is of the miniature sort, but still has its own station building looking very real, albeit scaled down to about half ‘actual size’.  The house is Thameside Court and has been owned by billionaire Urs Schwarzenback since the 1990s. It was after he moved in that the gardens were landscaped and the railway built. I guess if you’re a billionaire a miniature railway is no big deal. He could probably buy out Network Rail should he ever feel the whim.


I followed the road by the houses until Thames Path signs led me along a narrow path before leading to Shiplake Station (the full-size one) and through the village. Eventually, I was able to walk across a field to get back to the river.

As I walked through fields, I was overtaken on the river by a military task force canoeing their way on, I presume, a mission to invade Reading.


Houses and gardens yet again reached down to the banks of the river. So far today the problem of pesky private houses had been resolved firstly, by a walkway over the river the itself and secondly, by a long inland detour. I now found the third solution: to tramp right through the gardens themselves.


Each garden had fences or hedges running right down to the river and in each fence or hedge was a gate with a Thames Path footpath sign. I felt a little strange wandering into people’s gardens, but soon got over my hesitation as no-one seemed to be around and the gardens were far too interesting to keep my eyes averted anyway. Each owner had their own style, though there is obviously a bylaw compelling everyone to have a Buddha and wind chimes in some form or other. My favourite garden was the first which had a lovely summer house at the bottom right by the river.

065The path signs eventually led right up someone’s garden and through a gate onto their driveway, I followed the road for a few minutes before getting back to the river at Shiplake Lock. The walk continued along a pleasant towpath with boats chugging by.

I crossed the bridge taking me back from Oxfordshire to Buckinghamshire and continuing now on the opposite bank, I stopped for a short break at Sonning lock and finished the coffee in my flask. There were a lot more people around now with many obviously just enjoying a short stroll.

I felt I was in Reading a long time before I actually reached it. I walked along playing fields with the river on my right and a busy road lined with modern office buildings on my left.


As I came closer to the town centre an offshoot of the river disappeared behind apartment buildings on the far bank. I could have reached it by crossing a bridge, but had no reason to. Instead I took photographs of swans swimming amongst rubbish with backdrops of huge gas storage tanks.

It was only when I stopped a bit later on and checked the map to see where I should turn away from the river in order to reach the train station, that I realised the narrow offshoot I’d seen was actually the Thames and I was now walking along the Avon and Kennet Canal. It wasn’t a problem as I was still able to easily get to the station.

There’s a Riverside Museum in Reading that I’d quite like to come back and have a look at one day. If I do, I may also walk a loop of the Thames and the canal so as to complete the small section of Thames Path I missed out on today.


I found Reading Station, bought a ticket to Henley, checked the platform number and time of the train, then, as I had lots of time, went for a wander. It was only when I went to catch my train that I realised just how big Reading Station actually is and I hadn’t allowed enough time to get to the platform. I arrived in time to see my train pulling out.


I had to wait a while for the next train and by the time I arrived back in Henley it was completely dark. I set off along the river to follow the Thames Path for today’s final kilometre to the car park. Although it was dark my night vision soon adjusted and I didn’t need to dig my head-torch out of my backpack. I’d expected this to be a lonely stretch as it was dark, but there seemed to be plenty of joggers and dog walkers still about. I quite enjoyed this last part of my walk even though I couldn’t see anything. It felt like I’d sneaked an extra bit onto my day.

Thames Path – Marlow to Bourne End

A lovely evening provided the perfect opportunity to fill a gap in my walk.

Thames in the evening light

I was heading south for half term. I planned to leave early on Sunday morning and spend the day walking a section of the Thames Path before arriving at a friend’s place in the evening. However, feeling grotty with the remains of a cold meant I didn’t get myself into gear until much later than I’d intended.

By the time I got anywhere near the Thames it was far too late to think about doing a long walk. Particularly as the clocks had just changed and so I’d be losing daylight earlier as well.

duck on the river

It was a beautiful afternoon, perfect for a walk along the river, so I churned ideas over in my mind as I chugged down the motorway. I remembered I still had to walk the couple of miles between Bourne End and Marlow, as when I’d previously walked this section I’d had to cut out this bit due to flooding.


Ideally I would walk from Bourne  End to Marlow as I’ve generally been heading west on my walk, but I knew I could park for free in Marlow and it wouldn’t  be a problem returning in the dark. I didn’t know if I’d be able to do this at Bourne End.

Marlow lock
Marlow Lock

Train times between the two places meant it made sense to start walking straight away and catch the train back from Bourne End rather than take the train to Bourne End and walk back to Marlow from there. Not a problem. It’s not the only section I’ve walked ‘the wrong way’ and I don’t really mind which direction I go in as long as I eventually walk the whole path.


I parked my car, got my boots on and walked the short distance to the river. A year ago when I was here and walked to Henley it was a hot, sunny day and I couldn’t quite believe it was the beginning of November. People were out in hordes strolling along the riverbank in t-shirts and eating ice-creams. It was a nice day today, though not quite as warm as last year and being later in the day, there weren’t nearly so many people around.

Turning east at the river I walked towards the weir and lock. As I looked back  the low sun cast Marlow in a beautiful light.

Marlow Lock

I soon left the houses behind on my side of the bank and stopped frequently to take photos of the dazzling array of autumnal colour trying to capture the perfect image of red, orange and gold reflected in the silvery river. Although I was quite happy with some of my photos I never quite got that perfect shot.


Across the river, the wooded bank rose steeply and was dotted with mansions, some in colours vivid enough to rival the autumn leaves with their brightness. If you’ve ever hankered after a Barbie pink mansion, this is the place to find one.

Pink mansion


The Marlow bypass is the only ‘ugly’ bit of this walk and it’s soon passed by.

Quarry Wood on the opposite bank is thought to have been the inspiration for the ‘wild wood’ in The Wind in Willows.

I kicked my way through the leaves and eventually came to a series of fields, the first of which was home to a herd of very inquisitive cows. A couple of young cows were standing in the river eating from the side of the bank. I wondered how they’d get back up, but as they seemed quite content presumed they knew what they were doing.

As I tried to photograph them one cow in particular was very curious about my camera and kept pushing its face towards the lens. I was worried it make try to take a bite out of it, but I think it was just trying to photo-bomb my pictures.

These were the fields that had been completely under water when I’d tried to walk here a couple of years ago. The fields are bordered by the river on one side and the train line on the other and there’s no way of avoiding them without a long detour along roads away from the river.


There were quite a few boats on the river, some were posh yachts, others were like this tiny boat with two men balanced inside enjoying a bit of fishing.

As the sun started to set and the moon began to rise, lights started to come on in some of the houses opposite and smoke puffed out of chimneys.

Large flocks of geese rose and nosily made their way across the river to their roosts.


I passed the benches I’d photographed from the train last time I was here. Then I could see only the tops of them above the water.


Coming towards Bourne End the path passed through a narrow walkway with wooden houses lining both sides. Exiting this walkway I continued past the marina before turning in to find the main road and the train station.




The Thames Path – Marlow to Henley

I found a herd of white deer, some very large pumpkins and mansions galore on this stretch of the Thames.

I had to drive home from Kent on Saturday and as it was such a beautiful day, despite being the first day of November, I really didn’t feel like spending it sitting on the M25 and the M6. Instead I detoured to Marlow and spent the day walking along the Thames to Henley and only completed my drive in the evening. 

I parked in Marlow as this is an easy place to return to by bus from Henley and the street parking is free. I had wanted to walk from Bourne End as this was where I’d had to finish when I walked the Thames Path at New Year and flooding prevented me getting through to Marlow. Backtracking to Bourne End from Marlow proved quite difficult as the trains were only every two hours and my timing was out. I didn’t want too late a start as I knew I’d have to be finished by 5pm as it’s getting dark so early since the clocks went back last week. I never thought to check out the buses, so with hindsight maybe I could have got there. But not to worry, I’ll try to do this ‘missing section’ next time.

Marlow was buzzing with Saturday morning activity. The sun was out and so were the people. Some were wandering up and down the high street, others wandering by the river. The local park was full of families with young, and not-so-young, children and the ice-cream van was doing a roaring trade.

I popped into the church, an impressive building with a chequer-board tower just by the river. All Saints was rebuilt in 1835, replacing a 12th century church. Inside I met a sprightly old lady who spotted my walking boots and informed me brightly that she was 93 years old, and not so brightly, that she’d recently had to give up walking as an activity. Her face momentarily clouded over as she remembered the day she’d taken her boots to the thrift shop. She brightened as she added that she’s still driving and still attending yoga and aerobics classes regularly. Feeling inspired, and determined to make the most of my next fifty years’ walking before I have to hand my boots over to the charity shop, I strode down to the river and started walking west.

A man sat on the river bank shouting commands and encourgement through a loudspeaker to rowers whizzing past making it look easy. Large boats with families and groups on board chugged past, not allowed to exceed 4 knots per hour. 


Bisham Church soon came into view on the opposite bank. Next to it, one of the UK’s National Sports Centres can be found at Bisham Abbey, the 13th century manor house near the church which replaced the original priory. It was on this stretch of the Thames that poet Percy Shelley spent his time bobbing about in a skiff whilst writing about a boat and river in ‘The Revolt of Islam’. 

Passing Temple Mill Island, I soon reached Temple Lock. A young couple were launching dinghies which they then paddled out of the lock and downriver. I sat and ate a sandwich, watching a boat pass through the lock as I enjoyed the sun on my face. 

Remembering I still had a lot of walking to do before I’m 93 I didn’t linger for long and was soon off towards Hurley Lock and Islands. First I had to cross to the other bank using Temple Bridge which, with a span of just under 50 metres, is Britain’s longest hardwood footbridge. Once at Hurley Lock I followed the path over a shorter bridge to reach Hurley Island, then walked the length of the island before crossing back to the towpath.

The path, which so far had led through trees and was deeply littered with autumnal leaves, now took me across open meadowland and fields. Looking back, the opposite bank rose into a high cliff with a mansion house sitting right at the top. This is Danesfield, named after the Danes who built a fortification in the field here. The present-day mansion is a hotel. 

A large caravan park lay to my left, the river was to my right. Large, expensive-looking houses soon came into view and the path joined a road labelled as private. The houses were to the left of the road and what seemed to be private gardens alongside the river were to its right. I puzzled for a moment, before realising that the path doesn’t follow the road, but actually goes right by the river through the gardens. A couple of them had seats, lanterns and potted plants and looked like wonderful little spots for sitting and reading or just watching the world go by. 

Medmenham Abbey soon came into sight across the river. The Abbey had been founded in 1201, but all that remains of the original building is one derelict tower. The rest has been rebuilt over the years and now forms a luxury hotel. In the 1700s it became infamous as a meeting place for Sir Francis Dashwood’s notorious Hell Fire Club. Members became known as ‘Franciscans of Medmenham’ after their host was said to have performed obscene parodies of religious rites there. 

Walking through more meadowland and crossing several bridged ditches led me to Culham Court. The strange looking sheep I saw from a distance turned out to be a very large herd of mostly white deer. A few were browner with spots and as far as I can make out they were fallow deer. I could be completely wrong on this. The house with its sixty-five surrounding acres is a privately owned family home, bought by financier Urs Schwarzenbach and his wife Francesca in 2006 for £38 million. 


After passing in front of the house the path then veers away from the river to reach the small village of Aston. The Flower Pot pub is a local landmark with chickens running around the garden. Outside was the largest pumpkin I’d ever seen. It was carved for Halloween and the inside could easily have held a small child. I touched it to check as I couldn’t quite believe it to be real.

Walking from the pub along Ferry Lane to return to the river I passed several more huge pumpkins. One had an array of ‘normal’ sized pumpkins around it which looked tiny in comparison.

Back at the river, it was through a kissing gate and just a short way along a grassy path until Hambleden Mill came into sight. A long weir glinted in the low sun, backed by a splendid display of autumn colour. Realising I’d easily make it to Henley before dark, I sat awhile on a bench scoffing a snack and looking at my map. 

Greenlands was the next mansion to appear. White and palatial it stood proudly on the opposite bank, facing the river, and making me think of the White House in Washington DC. It had been built in 1853 for bookseller and First Lord of the Admiralty W H Smith. These days it houses Henley College. 

The sun was started to set behind the trees as I approached Temple Island. This is the start of the Henley Royal Regatta which runs to Henley Bridge. The ‘temple’ on the island, now a private fishing lodge, was designed in 1771 by James Wyatt who added frescoes inside. It was originally built as a folly to draw the eye to the view from Fawley Court which is situated a little further upstream. 


Facing Fawley Court is the hamlet of Remenham with its 19th century church. It was built to replace a Norman church and has its apse built on the line of its Norman predecessor. 

Houses and dog-walkers started to appear more frequently alongside the path and, rounding a bend, Henley itself came into view. The light was fading now and lights on the bridge and in the shops and houses along the bank produced bobbing gold reflections in the water. A raft of ducks, strung out in single-file, were out for a final swim of the day. I walked into Henley as the town was closing up for the evening. A bus was waiting at the stop when I arrived and twenty minutes later I was back in Marlow. 


Distance: approximately 8.5 miles.

Thames Path – Maidenhead to Bourne End

Today’s walk was cut short by flooding.

Friday 3rd January, 2014

Today I planned to walk from Maidenhead to Marlow but things didn’t quite work out as I’d hoped. I drove to Marlow and found free street parking just round the corner from the train station. I caught the train to Maidenhead so I could continue my walk from where I’d left off yesterday. 

Taken from the train window

From the train window I could see an awful lot of flooding. It was worst on what would be the last section of my walk from Bourne End to Marlow. The Thames had overflowed so much that what should be green parkland running alongside the riverbank was completely under water. I could see the tops of park benches looking as though they were planted mid-river ready for any passing swimmers to take a semi-submerged rest. I couldn’t see any option for getting round the flooded area as it was bordered by the fenced-off train tracks. The railway fortunately ran along the top of a higher bank, otherwise it would have been under water too. I had a feeling my walk would have to end at Bourne End, though I didn’t want to make a decision until I’d actually got there and checked it out. 

Arriving in Maidenhead, I made my way down to the river. According to the official tourism website, Maidenhead is one of the most affluent areas of the UK with house prices often exceeding those of Central London. It goes on to give the reasons for this as being the ease of commuting into London from here, plus the proximity of the Thames countryside. There were some very posh houses along the riverbank and a few old buildings around the town centre, but on the whole it didn’t do it for me. It was too bland. If I had money, Maidenhead would not be high on my list of desirable locations to reside in. 

Crossing the bridge to the far side of the river, I set off walking. The first part of the path on this section leads through a manicured riverside park. This soon turns into a roadside walk before reaching Boulter’s Lock. The lock is the longest and deepest on the Thames. At one time it was also the busiest. 

The path was muddy with puddles, but I wasn’t wading through long stretches of water as I’d had to do on my first day of walking. The Thames was very high though. I saw a lovely house on the far bank; it looked really idyllic and serene, but the serenity seemed to be finely balanced with impending doom. Another day or two of rain and the scales would be weighted on the side of doom as the bank would be breached and everywhere flooded. An elderly man was sat on the decking looking as though he was enjoying the bit of sun, but I wondered what was really going through his mind.*

Not long after this house, the grounds of Cliveden appeared on the opposite bank. Cliveden, a large mansion house, is a luxury hotel. In its former life as a private house it was the home of Nancy Astor who was known for her holding of lavish parties. Anyone who was anyone attended including Charlie Chaplin, Winston Churchill, Gandhi, Lawrence of Arabia, Rudyard Kipling, Henry James, A J Balfour … the list goes on. It gained notoriety in 1961 when it became the background setting for the Profumo Affair. Christine Keeler met John Profumo here and they began an illicit affair. As he was the Conservative Secretary for War and she was having a simultaneous affair with a suspected Russian spy, and it was the height of the Cold War, the resulting scandal brought down the government.

Although the house is now a private hotel, the grounds are owned by the National Trust and a few years ago I spent a pleasant afternoon wandering around them. From my side of the river today, I could see very little. Knowing how lovely the grounds are made me wonder what else I might be missing out on by being on this side of the river. But of course, if I was on the other side of the river, I’d be thinking the same about this side. Ah well, grass is greener and all of that. I continued walking. 


Next up was Cookham. Here the path detours from the river to pass through the small town. Cookham is usually associated with painter Stanley Spencer and there is a small gallery here dedicated to his works. Although Spencer painted on an array of themes he is probably best known for his biblical paintings created with Cookham as the backdrop. I’d been into the gallery on a previous visit and so with the days being so short, and not knowing if I’d face a long detour further on, I didn’t linger and followed the path through the churchyard. 

The dramatic statues of angels in the churchyard made me think of the Weeping Angels in Doctor Who, though I’m sure their sculptor meant for them to be figures of other-worldly goodness and not scary other-worldly creatures who preyed on humans and zapped them back in time. 


Meeting the river again the path continued along soggy grass to Bourne End. Houses, boats and small jetties lined both sides of the river. Crossing the  railway bridge the path continues on the far side of the river. This is where I came to the area I’d seen from the train window. The water was sloshing deeply along the path and I knew that this wasn’t a short stretch I could easily wade through, but continued most of the way to Marlow. I wandered into the town away from the path to look for an alternative route, but with the railway line now between me and the path I would have had a pointless walk along the main road if I was to continue. Instead I made my way to Bourne End train station for the ride back to Marlow and my van.

*As it happened, a month after my walk the banks broke and the news was full of properties along the Thames being underwater. I didn’t see my little blue house on the news, but it’s hard to imagine it surviving unscathed.

Thames Path – Windsor to Maidenhead

A school for Prime Ministers and a school for rowdy girls are passed on this section of the Thames Path.

Thursday 2nd January, 2014

It’s always difficult timing walks at this time of year. I had a fairly long drive to Maidenhead, but didn’t want to leave early and sit in rush hour traffic. On the other hand, without an early start, there aren’t many walking hours before dusk. However, I think I got my timing right and had an easy drive to a multi-storey car park in Maidenhead town centre. I popped into a bakery to buy a pasty and ask for directions to the train station. Ticket bought, I was soon on the train to Windsor. 

I’ve been to Windsor several times in the past and so didn’t feel the need to spend time poking around. I took a few photos of the castle and headed for the bridge across to Eton. I did digress from the Thames Path to take a quick walk up to the top of Eton High Street and back and took a few photos of the school. 

Formally known as Eton College this is the posh public school Princes William and Harry attended. Apart from the princes, it has also been responsible for the education of nineteen British Prime Ministers including current PM David Cameron. Oh, and Bear Grylls was a pupil here too. Does that mean he’ll be Prime Minister one day? As it’s the Christmas holidays, if there were any future prime ministers wandering around, I couldn’t tell because they were not in the long-tailed jackets and pin-striped trousers that comprise the school uniform.

Back at the river, I turned right and continued along the path. Walking over a grassy meadow along the bank I passed under the railway bridge and over a footbridge on to a small island. The path skirts the edge of the island, alongside the main river before leading another over another footbridge back to the ‘mainland’.

Continuing, I soon came to Athens. No, I hadn’t taken a wrong turn, this Athens was an Eton College bathing place. Rules stated that boys who were ‘undressed’ when any boating ladies passed by must either get immediately into the water or else hide behind screens. These days there are no screens, but there is a nice bench to sit on.

Leading past Boveney Lock and Dorney Lake, the path passes under the M4 motorway. Before reaching the M4 I stopped to peer across the river at Oakley Court. The house was built in 1859 by an Englishman for his French Wife. The French connections continue with General de Gaulle who is known to have stayed there. In 1950 Hammer Films bought the house, possibly swayed by its Gothic style, and used it to film St Trinian’s and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The house looked very sedate and peaceful when I passed by. Maybe because it’s been a luxury hotel for the past 40 years? 

Once on the other side of the M4 more people start to appear as the path draws closer to Maidenhead. I passed under the railway bridge before reaching Maidenhead road bridge over which I crossed the river and headed back into town. 

Thames Path – Staines to Windsor

Who’d have thought walking the Thames Path could be so hard-core? I could’ve done with a snorkel and machete.

Tuesday 31st December, 2013

First view of Windsor Castle

Leaving friends in Kent, I drove to Windsor and parked in the long-stay park and ride car park. At only £3 a day including the shuttle bus into town it was a bargain. I didn’t need to take the shuttle bus as I walked a short way along the Thames Path from the car park to the Windsor and Eton Riverside train station where I caught a train to Staines.

Staines was a major linoleum producer

I was a little confused exiting the station and so used the GPS on my new smartphone to guide me in the right direction for the river. One of my objectives on this trip is to learn how to use my phone and to figure out all the different things I can do with it. I’ve brought my big camera, but want to use my phone as much as possible to take photos to check out its ability.

I soon found the path where I’d left it last new year and crossed the road bridge to follow the continuation of the path on the other bank. The weather forecast hadn’t been good and there have been more flood warnings on the radio, though not for the part of the Thames I was walking alongside. It was a dry start to the day though, but as soon as I started walking on the path proper the heavens opened. I sheltered by some trees and struggled to get my waterproof trousers on and put the cover over my daypack. That was the rain set in for the rest of the day. It did ease a bit but never really stopped. I struggled with my waterproof pants all day. As it is a flat walk I wanted to take big strides, but each time I tried, the lack of flexibility in my trousers acted as a barrier my legs were pushing against. I felt like I was getting an extra workout and could feel my legs getting quite tired towards the end.

I was also trialling my Sealskinz socks on this walk. I’ve always been dubious about paying nearly 30 quid for a pair of socks, but several people have raved about them to me and I’ve read good reviews online so I’d decided to try a pair. They really got put to the test and failed miserably. As well as the Sealskinz socks, I was wearing gaiters and waterproof trousers and had waxed and sprayed my boots. I’m sure it all would have been fine if it wasn’t for having to wade through water that came halfway to my knees on more than one occasion. As water poured in over the tops of my boots I knew the socks would have no chance and the ‘test’ was probably a bit too extreme.

The river was very deep. Even the boats were underwater

One of the flooded bits I had to wade through

Besides flooded bits of path, there were also a few parts blocked by trees which had fallen in the recent gales. Each time I was able to get around or under though, including one time where I had to force my way through the middle of what had become the equivalent of a very thick hedge across the middle of the path.

Leaving Staines behind, I passed under the busy M25. This is the motorway encircling Greater London and the first sign that I’d really left the city behind. The first bits of it were built in the early 1970s, but it wasn’t completed until 1986. At 117 miles (188km) long, it’s Europe’s second longest orbital road, beaten only by the Berliner Ring which is a mere five miles longer. As one of the UK’s busiest motorways it often seems more like a car park than a high-speed roadway, particularly the stretch near Heathrow Airport. 

Passing under the M25

Passing below, I could hear the hum of traffic above, but felt like I was in a different world. I walked on towards the day’s second landmark: Runnymede.

Runnymede is a flood plain now in the ownership of the National Trust. The name is possibly derived from the Anglo-Saxon ‘runieg’ which means regular meeting and ‘mede’ which today is written as mead or meadow. This meeting meadow is considered to be where the signing of the Magna Carta took place in 1215. This charter was instrumental in the development of the parliament and laws we have today. 

There are several memorials in the area including the Air Forces Memorial commemorating the men and women of the Allied Air Forces who died in the Second World War. Another memorial is that dedicated to former US President John F. Kennedy.

Continuing, the path heads towards Old Windsor and alongside Old Windsor Lock. Old Windsor is the original Windsor and only became ‘Old’ when the newer town of Windsor was built near the castle a few miles away. Elton John apparently lives in Old Windsor. Although I looked, I don’t think he was one of the people I saw out walking their dogs.

Heading back to Windsor

At this point, it’s possible to walk directly to Windsor. But as I was following the Thames Path my walk looped round via the village of Datchet. I crossed the Albert Bridge and had a bit of road walking before joining a riverside path again just before Victoria Bridge. Then it was past Romney Lock before following a lane back to the car park and my van.

Distance: about 8 miles

Planning for New Year

Making plans to walk more of the Thames path over New Year.

As I don’t have any family planning to stay with me over Christmas this year, this means that right after Christmas Day I can get away. I’ve thought about heading overseas for a week but as I’m spending rather a lot on my van conversion at the moment and as I only came back from Oman a couple of weeks ago, I’ve decided to spend the time catching up with friends in the UK and trying to walk a bit more of the Thames Path.

Last time I walked the Thames Path (which was also at New Year) I finished in Staines. Not the most salubrious of places. I’ve been told by a local that they’re thinking of re-naming it Staines upon Thames to make it sound a bit more upmarket. I think St. Aines would sound even posher, but I’m not sure who to forward my suggestion to officially. And whatever it’s called it’s going to take a bit more than a name change to improve its image.

But I digress. Last year I finished in Staines and so that is where I need to start from this year. If I can get three days’ walking in, I should be able to make it to Marlow. On day 1 I should get as far as Windsor; day 2 should get me to Maidenhead; and then if I have chance to do a day 3 I’ll make it to Marlow. As usual at this time of year daylight hours will seriously impact on how far I can walk. Even with a headtorch I wouldn’t want to be walking along lonely riverside paths in the dark.

I spent a couple hours in the week researching parking and trains and it all seems very easy. I’ve found relatively cheap parking in Windsor, Maidenhead and Marlow and good train connections back to my starting point each day. Hopefully the traffic won’t be too heavy as it’s just after New Year and schools won’t be back in. Big time-eating traffic delays at the start of each day would mean me having to re-assess my plans for that day.  

So, all I need to know now is what’s the weather going to be like?

Thames Path – Shepperton to Staines

Walking and wading along the Thames.

Looking back in my Thames Path guidebook I can see that it’s over 11 years since I arrived in Shepperton on the Kingston to Shepperton leg of my Thames Path walk. I left London almost 11 years ago and so this was one of the last walks I did before I left. Since then, on brief visits back, I’ve filled in a few of the gaps I had on the London stretch of the walk but I’ve done nothing further up river. Part of the reason for this is feasibility. Once out of London public transport connections get a lot more tricky. Also I can’t do the walks as part of a day out in London as they’re too far away, so I have to have the time to factor in an extra day just for this.

Over New Year I had just such an opportunity. I stayed with friends in Kent for New Year and had a day in London using their house as a base. The following day I was due to leave, but rather than driving straight home I decided to spend the night with another friend who lives in Buckinghamshire. The logistics of getting from one friend’s house to another (basically a drive round the M25) meant I could have a day walking the next section of the Thames Path without having to go much out of my way.

The length of the walk I could do was determined by rush hour traffic, bus timetables and early dusk. I didn’t leave Kent until 9.30am as to leave any earlier would only have meant me sitting frustratingly in traffic and probably not arriving any earlier in Shepperton despite my earlier start. I’d planned to walk to Staines as from here there is an hourly bus back to Shepperton where I could pick up my car. However, rather than driving straight to Shepperton I detoured to Runnymede to see if it would be possible to leave my car in the National Trust car park there, catch a bus to Shepperton (possibly via Staines) and then do a slightly longer walk by walking to Runnymede instead of having to finish in Staines.

However, as I drove along what seemed to be a main road to get to the NT car park I didn’t spot any bus stops or any buses. When I arrived at the car park a sign informed that the gates would be locked at 5pm. I really needed to finish my walk by 4pm as after that it would be too dark, but I like to have a safety net of extra time if need be (and I did have a head-torch) and so the 5pm gate-locking worried me. Reluctantly I realised I’d have to stick to my original walk of only about 6 miles.

Old Shepperton

I drove to Shepperton and found the car park I’d earlier googled. It wasn’t too far from the river and the old part of Shepperton and only cost £1.50 for the day. Booted up I left the car park and had my first look at the village and a wander round the outside of the church (it was locked so I couldn’t get inside). This old part of the village is quite quaint with a few pub/restaurants. According to the Domesday Book Shepperton originally belonged to Westminster Abbey and has had a church for many centuries. The original church was destroyed by flooding in 1605-6. The present church is its replacment and was built in 1613. The rectory behind the church was often visited by Dutch theologian Desiderius Erasmus who was a friend of the rector.

It’s not possible to walk along the river from here, so I backtracked along the road for a few minutes and then back down to the river by the ferry pier.

The ferry takes passengers and cyclists across the river on a regular basis throughout the day. Usually. When I’d arrived in Shepperton 11 years ago and needed to get across the river it was the end of the day and the ferry had stopped running, so I’d needed to detour over a bridge. This time the ferry wasn’t running because of flooding. The heavy rains meant the river was in full spate and the little jetty leading out to the ferry was well under water. Fortunately, for this leg of the walk I was on the right side of the river and so it didn’t matter.

For most of the walk I was wandering along a path with the river on one side and very large houses with equally large gardens on the other. As the trains into London only take 48mins from Shepperton this is well within the wealthy commuter belt. The first point of interest I came to was Shepperton Lock. There were no boats in sight and so I continued walking.

Pharaoh’s Island

Pharoah’s Island soon appeared on my left. It was named after the Battle of the Nile when it was given to Lord Nelson. It is a relatively large island for the Thames, with 23 houses built along the water’s edge; apparently they all have Egyptian themed names such as ‘Sphinx’ or ‘Thebes’. There is no ferry or bridge and so access is only by personal boat or dinghy. Two years ago a dinghy capsized here, costing two people their lives. Today the high water was lapping at the edges of the residences and they didn’t seem quite as desirable as they probably do in summer.

Pharaoh’s Island
Flooded path

The path became very flooded and I waded through glad I’d re-proofed my boots before Christmas. The locals had decided the flooded path was not enough of a challenge and had arranged the ropes tying their boats across the path at various heights meaning I had to work out whether to go over or under whilst still picking the shallowest part of the path and walking on tip-toe to keep the water from flooding over the tops of my boots. 

This challenge surpassed, the path then became a track through a meadow which was very flooded and I had to pick my way through the driest bits detouring away from the river a little. 

Which bit’s the path?
The path’s this way

As I reached Chertsey Bridge the signposts for the Thames Path directed me to walk underneath it. This was impossible as the water was lapping high up the sides of the bridge. I walked up onto the bridge and looked down at the river, taking some photos of the benches that would normally be quite pleasant to sit on alongside the river. Today, only the tops of the back of the benches could be seen. Similarly, only the very tops of the litter bins could be seen. I took the opportunity to cross the bridge and follow the road 100m or so towards Chertsey to a garage where I bought a sandwich for lunch.

Spot the benches and the bin
Water park

Back on the path I walked towards Laleham. Laleham is home to the Lucan family; as in the family of the missing Lord (this site has the story and conspiracy theories). The road ran alongside the path and as it was quiet I found it much easier to walk along the road as the path was a quagmire of slippery mud and water. I stopped in the park at Laleham to have lunch at a sole non-waterlogged picnic table. I took photos of the swing park which had become a  water park and was amused by the frog shaped bin whose open mouth seemed to express surprise at suddenly finding himself in a pond. 

Penton Hook Lock (island on the left)

At Penton Hook Lock I was able to walk over the lock and briefly explore a couple of little islands. The river loops so much here that it actually takes half a mile to travel 20 yards. The lock opened in 1815 thus saving boats tedious journey time and in the process creating the islands out of the land inside the loop.

From Penton Hook I could feel I was getting closer to Staines as the path became busier and busier with people out strolling, pushing prams, walking dogs, jogging, cycling and so on.

Staines itself is a modern, built-up town with ugly shopping malls full of chain shops and teenagers hanging around in groups smoking. After a quick walk around I headed for the bus station and the bus back to Shepperton. 

Welcome to Staines

The bus dropped me near the train station which is in the modern part of Shepperton and I followed the busy main road back down towards the old town and my van.