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Stage 3 - Windsor & Eton Riverside Station  to  Bourne End  (11.1 miles)

Start: Grid Reference SU 96852 77207 Post Code SL4 1NA StreetMap

If you just want to print out the "Route" instructions of stage 3 of this walk, without all the blurb on the website, you can download this as a Word Docx by clicking on the link.

ROUTE DESCRIPTION 

The route follows the Thames Path all the way. At times the path can be narrow, so be aware. The route crosses Windsor Bridge to Eton, then turns left to follow the Thames past Boveney, Dorney Lake. Oakley Court, Bray Studios and then Bray village are soon visible across the river. We continue through Maidenhead, along Cliveden Reach and through Cookham to cross the Thames to finish at Bourne End.

From the station go west along Datchet Road. After 100 yards turn right into Thames Street and continue straight on towards the pedestrian bridge to Eton.

On the left just next to the Windsor Bridge is the Sir Christopher Wren's House Hotel. Wren's father was appointed Dean of Windsor in 1635 when Christopher was two years old. He spent a lot of his childhood living in Windsor, and studied mathematics, science and Latin at Oxford. By the age of 30 he was elected Professor of Astronomy at Oxford. He was President of the Royal Society from 1680 - 82. However, he is best known as one of Britain's greatest architects, and St Paul's Cathedral in London is his most famous work. He was knighted in 1672. Wren built the house in Windsor as his family home in 1676. In the 1920's the house was converted to a restaurant and guesthouse. Since then it has changed hands many times and has been extended greatly, but has retained many of its original features. Currently it is a Grade II listed, 4-star, 96 bedroom hotel. Directly across the street, and also next to the bridge, is a smaller house which is also called Christopher Wren's House, maybe this was his original house at Windsor. The house featured in the popular ITV drama, Midsomer Murders and is one of the first of numerous locations used in the series which we pass on our route. I will mention a few of the others along the way.

In the late 1990s, archaeology evidence was found to suggest there was a bridge between Windsor and Eton as far back as 1400 - 1300 BC during the Bronze Age - so states the Windsor-Berkshire website. However, during Roman Times there is no evidence of a bridge. The next bridge was believed to have been built just after the Norman Invasion of 1066 when William the Conqueror fortified the town with his wooden castle. From the Domesday Book we know a farmer called Osbert de Bray collected over 4 pounds from tolls for boats passing under the bridge. In 1242, the bridge was rebuilt using local oak trees and this stayed in place until the 1820s. The older bridge was replaced when the current one was opened in 1824. This was a toll bridge, but with local campaigns, led by Joseph Taylor, the tolls were removed in 1898. A blue plaque at the toll house remembers Taylor and Charles Hollis, architect of the bridge.

With the growth of motor vehicles through the 1950s and 60s, Windsor Bridge started to develop cracks and by April 1970, it was decided to close it to traffic. By the start of this millennium, the bridge needed reinforcing due to the volume of pedestrians who used it. When the work was completed, Queen Elizabeth II officially reopened the bridge on 3rd June 2002. There were many new additions such as seats, flowers and other things to add to it appearance. The occasion was commemorated by the unveiling of a circular plaque on the ground in the centre of the bridge.

Where Thames Smooth Waters Glide has a wealth of information of everything to do with the River Thames. You can visit the section on Windsor Bridge by following the link.

There are so many other things to see in Windsor and I could go on for pages, but will stop here. To find out more, follow the link to Windsor Castle on the British Monarchy website, and visit Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead. Both the Windsor and the ThamesWeb websites have some great photos of Windsor and the surrounding area.

Cross over Windsor Bridge to Eton, then turn left into Brocas Street.

On the corner is the old George Inn and to the right is the narrow old High Street of Eton which leads to the famous college, there will be more on this below.

Continue along Brocas Street and straight on past the Waterman's Arms, staying left of the pub. At the Eton College Boathouse, take the narrow alleyway to its right. Follow this past some cottages to the large open meadow of The Brocas. On reaching the meadow, veer left towards the river and follow the Thames Towpath west.

The George Inn dates from 1750 and was the first pub to be owned and run by the Windsor & Eton Brewery. It was used as a location in "The Magician's Nephew" episode of Midsomer Murders. The Waterman's Arms is older. According to the pub website:

"Built circa 1682, the deceptively large building has had a multitude of uses. It was originally the home of brewer Robert Style, and was formerly the Eton Parish workhouse, before becoming a watering hole for the Watermen and Lightermen. The original Waterman's pub was next to a sawmill in Kings Stable Street, back then the street also housed Royal carriages and horses for Windsor Castle."

The Brocas gets its name from Sir John de Brocas, who acquired this and much other land in the area in the early 1300s. King Edward III appointed him Master of the King's Horse and later Chief Forrester of Windsor Forest. The Brocas stayed in his family for generations before being given to Eton College.

Eton College was founded by Henry VI in 1440 as "The King's College of Our Lady of Eton beside Windsor". It has many old buildings and valued treasures, including Eton Chapel with its magnificent wall paintings. The original of Grays Elegy is amongst its manuscripts and is kept in the college library.

The college was originally built to provide free education for 70 poor scholars, who would then go on to further their education at King's College, Cambridge, founded a year later. The college now has about 1,300 boys aged from 13 to 18 and is one of the world's most exclusive schools. It still has its reduced fee scholars and up until recently for full fee-paying pupils (costing over 40 k pounds per year - 2018/2019 fees), the boys had to have their names down from birth and still pass the entrance exam. Their school uniform is very formal and includes a black tailcoat, pinstripe trousers and a stiff collar. 

Eton has educated many statesmen from around the world and at least 20 former British Prime Ministers including the Duke of Wellington, Walpole, Pitt the Elder, Macmillan, Douglas-Holme, David Cameron and Boris Johnson. Two more recent notables are Prince William and his younger brother Prince Harry. Their grandmother (The Queen) is often in residence just across the bridge at the castle and it would have been handy for the boys to pop in for afternoon tea or Sunday roast.

The college is famous for rowing, but for a period up until the 1840s the river was out of bounds to the boys. However, during this time, if a master saw a boy heading for the river, he took no action, provided the boy raised his arm in front of his face in a ritualistic gesture which indicated that he shouldn't be there. The boy was theoretically invisible, nothing was said and honour was saved - hence the saying "saving face".

Through the centuries, there have been so many well-known people educated here, more than I have time to write about. However, Humphrey Lyttelton (1921 - 2008), jazz musician and broadcaster deserves a mention. Humphrey was born at Eton College on 23rd May 1921 where his father George William Lyttelton (2nd son of Lord Lyttelton) was a teacher of classics and English literature. He was educated at Eton where he was "fagged" by Lord Carrington. At Eton, he enjoyed listening to jazz, taught himself to play the trumpet, and at the age of 15 formed a quartet with fellow pupils in 1936. Ludovic Kennedy (1919 - 2009), journalist, broadcaster and author, was on drums. Humphrey Lyttelton became one of England's most famous jazz musicians and one of the country's most respected broadcasters, chairing BBC's radio programme "I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue" for 40 years.

You can read more about the history of Eton College on the college website, the fictional people from films and books who were said to have studied here, such as James Bond (007), Ronald Eustace Psmith and Justin Finch-Fletchley (from Harry Potter), and about the scenes from movies made here - including, Shakespeare in Love, the race in Chariots of Fire, etc. By visiting Wikipedia, you can see an incredible list of celebrities, authors, politicians, scientists and artists who studied at the college,

Some of the traffic signs around Eton are a touch one-sided when it comes to sexuality "Beware Boys Crossing" and it's surprising that in this age of political correctness the college has not been taken to task about them.

Eton High Street, which runs from the bridge to the College, is a delight with many old shops, galleries, inns, restaurants and hotels. The oldest being the Cockpit, a half-timbered building dating from 1420 and until recently an Indian restaurant. This was once the setting for the barbaric sport of cock-fighting. The original cockpit still exists behind the building and is one of only a few remaining in the country. It is said the building is haunted by a little old lady who flirts between the tables, as if looking for something lost. Her manner is so unobtrusive, that successive owners have left her to her own devices.

If you do decide to take a short detour along Eton High Street there are many little pieces of history to look out for. My favourite has to be the 25 mile marker for the 1908 London Olympic Marathon. The race started at Windsor Castle and finished in front of the Royal Box in White City Stadium at Shepherd's Bush. The distance was 26 miles and 385 yards. It was supposed to be about 25 miles, but Polytechnic Harriers who organised the race adjusted the distance. Eventually, this became the recognised marathon distance and is still today. The race had a dramatic finish with the winner collapsing just before the finish line and was disqualified for being helped to the end. After the games a Polytechnic Marathon was held every year up until 1996. West 4 Harriers were the last running club to organise it from 1993 to 1995. A commercial company took over in 1996, but due to traffic congestion the event was then cancelled. Two members of West 4 Harriers, and previously involved in organising the Polytechnic Marathon, Tony Hopkins & Mark Critchlow, continued to run the route each year up until 2006, 

Following the river from Eton to Maidenhead is peaceful, but the towpath can be narrow and in places congested. The route follows the path next to the river across The Brocas.

Look left and back to get a good view of the castle, over Windsor and of the Royal Windsor Wheel at Alexandra Gardens (during certain summer months). To the right the top of Eton College Chapel is visible above the trees. In front is Brunel's "bow & string" rail bridge over the Thames. This was first opened on the 8th October 1849 and is the oldest wrought iron bridge still in use. To the right of the bridge a lengthy viaduct carries the railway over the flood plain for an extra mile on its way to Slough and eventually to London Paddington.

A plaque on the pile of the bridge, next to the Thames Path, states, "This plaque was unveiled on 20 June 1991, by the Mayor of the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, Cllr Miss Ursula Badger, to mark the restoration of the bridge by network rail".

Shortly after passing under Brunel's bridge, cross a footbridge to an island, then another footbridge to a second island.

To the RHS is Cuckoo Weir Island. It is occupied by Swan Lifeline, a charity devoted entirely to the care of sick and injured swans. The charity was started from private houses, but in 1992 when looking for a suitable site to expand, they were offered the island on lease and free of charge by Eton College.

After another 200 yards the Thames Path passes under a large road bridge. Stay straight on.

The Queen Elizabeth Bridge was opened in July 1966, a few years before Windsor Bridge was closed to traffic. The road bridge carries the A332 (Windsor & Eton Relief Road) over the Thames towards the M4 and Slough and keeps most of the through traffic away from the quiet and picturesque streets of Windsor and Eton. Through the years the wall of the bridge, next to the Thames Path, has been a popular place for graffiti artists. At the time of writing a tasteful mural of faces adorns the wall.

Just past the bridge look left across the river to get a glimpse of Windsor's oldest building, St Andrew's Church at Clewer. It dates from around 1100, though its Saxon font indicates that a much older church may have once stood on the site. It is believed William the Conqueror attended services there, and in 1848, William Gladstone established a refuge at a convent in nearby Hatch Lane to help prostitutes from London to rehabilitate. Clewer church can be reached by following a path, immediately past the bridge, to the right of the towpath, up the side of the road bridge and then over the river on the pavement.

60 yards after the road bridge, with a large meadow in front, take the well-defined path to the right. This is the main path and a short cut across the island. Some may choose to follow the grassy path around the shore but this does add a few hundred yards to the distance.

The path eventually leads to a footbridge (at 1 mile) across a stream to leave the island. From here, stay left along the towpath following the bank of to the river.

After a short distance a bench overlooks the river, this marks a place known as Athens. It is a bathing area for the boys of Eton College. The bathing regulations are laid out on a granite plinth behind the bench.

"BATHING REGULATIONS AT ATHENS

Fifth Form Nants in First Hundred and Upper and Middle Divisions may bathe at Athens. No bathing at Athens on Sundays after 8.30 a.m. At Athens, boys who are undressed must either get at once into the water or get behind screens when boats containing ladies come in sight. Boys when bathing are not allowed to land on Windsor Bank or to swim out to launches and barges or to hang onto, or interfere with boats of any kind. Any boy breaking this rule will be severely punished.

From School Rules of the River 1921"

On the opposite bank, through the trees is the parade ring of the Royal Windsor Racecourse. The racecourse is on an island formed by the Mill Stream and occupies the opposite bank for well over a mile to past the finish of the stage at Boveney. Hidden behind the racecourse is the Racecourse Marina, formally the Royal Windsor Racecourse Yacht Basin. The entrance to the marina can be seen further upstream opposite the boathouse at Dorney Lake.

Continuing upstream along the towpath, at points signed the Thames Path.

To your LHS is the River Thames and to your RHS a huge open meadow and flood plain named South Field. Possibly owned, like most of the other land along this stretch of the Thames, by Eton College. Paths do branch off through the field, but stay along the path next to the Thames.

At Boveney Lock keep straight on through the gate and past the lock, staying on a narrow path next to the river. NOTE: Do not take the lane on the right.

The lock was first built in 1838, but in 1898 it was rebuilt closer to the north bank of the river. On the site of the older lock boat rollers were installed and are still used today. The weir runs from the other side of the lock island to the south bank. Below the weir is a large pool used by pleasure craft as a turning point. On summer days the lock can be queued by other pleasure craft. On the RHS of the towpath, and just before reaching the lock is a novel sculpture next to the path. A fishtail sticking up from the ground points the destinations in both directions. A cycle path to the right leads away from the river towards Boveney and it's tempting to follow it. However, stay with the river.

420 yards past the lock is an open grassy area with a bench and an old church to our right.

The church of St Mary Magdalene is partly 12th Century, is a Grade 1 listed building, and has been restored by the Friends of Friendless Churches, a charity founded in 1957 to save disused but beautiful old places of worship. The church was built to serve as a place of worship for bargemen who plied their trade nearby at a wharf on the river used for transporting timber from Windsor Forest. It was also thought to have been used as a chapel of the nearby Boveney Court, owned by the Abbey of Burnham.

Once again "Where Thames Smooth Waters Glide" has a great history section on Boveney, the lock and the church.

The path away from the river and past the church leads to a small car park, aka the "Ramblers Car Park", owned by Eton College, and the tiny village of Boveney. Here there are some beautiful old houses and large open pastures. This is a very peaceful and well-hidden part of this country, and one of the houses provides self-catering accommodation. Near the entrance to the car park, a path leads to the boathouse of Eton College at Dorney Lake.

For a more detailed history of Boveney and its old church visit British History Online. It also gets a mention in the Domesday Book of 1086.

From the church of St Mary Magdalene at Boveney stay straight on along the Thames Path for 4.25 miles to just after Brunel's railway bridge at Maidenhead.

Soon, through the trees to the right, is a well-designed modern building. This is the boathouse at Dorney Lake, a purpose-built rowing lake. It took ten years to build, was completed in 2006 and is the property of Eton College. The lake extends parallel to the river for over two kilometres.  It was the main centre for rowing and canoe sprints during the 2012 London Olympics & Paralympics. Temporary grandstands were erected next to the lake, which meant crowds of up to 30,000 could be accommodated each day.  A large temporary footbridge was also built across the River Thames from Windsor Racecourse to just upstream from the old church. That way the racecourse acted as a transport hub and spectators just had to walk over the footbridge to reach the venue.

During the Olympics the name of the venue was changed to Eton Dorney. There are many videos of the 2012 Olympics at Dorney on YouTube. The venue was famous for the loud noise made by the huge crowds - "the Dorney Roar".

After 300 yards the path passes a strange building to your RHS. This is one of the many boathouses belonging to Eton College. The path crosses the slipway which runs down to a landing area next to the river. A path, just before the building and going down the side of it leads to Dorney Lake. It's a very short distance and well worth the diversion.

Immediately across the river, although not obvious is an island, behind which flows the entrance channel to the Windsor Racecourse Marina. You should be able to see it emerge after another 150 yards, at which point the huge boat club at Dorney Lake will be to your RHS.

Half a mile later, across the river is the entrance to Windsor Marina. Then after another half a mile look across the river to see Oakley Court. A magnificent Victorian, gothic, turreted house built in 1859 for Sir Richard Hall Say. The area around the building is called Water Oakley which has Roman and Iron Age connections. It was also once the site of the Saxon church of Bray parish.

According to the Oakley Court Hotel website, Richard Hall married Ellen Evans of the nearby Boveney Court in 1857 and was appointed High Sheriff of Berkshire in 1864. In 1874 the house was sold to Lord Otto Fitzgerald, MP for Kildare, then to a John Lewis Phipps and in 1900 to Sir William Avery. In 1919 the house together with 50 acres of land was purchased by Ernest Olivier for 27 k. He was an eccentric character and often entertained foreign diplomats, flying their country's flag from the house's flagpole during their stay. It is believed that during World War II the house was used by the French Resistance and General Charles de Gaulle (1890 - 1970) is reputed to have stayed.

Next to Oakley Court is Down Place, a pretty 17th Century riverside mansion and once home to publicist Jacob Tonson Snr (1656 - 1736). Jacob was described as the first modern publisher, making many books available to the masses for the first time - these included Shakespeare's finished plays. He was founder of the notorious Kit-Kat Club in the late 17th / early 18th century. The club's original aim was to promote literature and the arts, but it later became a Whig society helping to ensure the continuance of the Royal House of Hanover. The Duke of Marlborough, Richard Steele, Joseph Addison, Sir Robert Walpole, Jonathan Swift, and William Congreve were members. The club often held meetings at Down Place.

In 1951 Hammer Film Productions made a derelict Down Place their home and built studios here the following year. They called them Bray Studios after the local town. It was here Hammer produced many of their early horror movies, including the Frankenstein and Dracula ones. 

In 1965, Ernest Olivier, owner of the neighbouring Oakley Court died and the house was left uninhabited. The house proved to be an ideal setting for many productions including the Hammer ones. The last Hammer production made at Bray was "The Mummy's Shroud" completed in October 1966. The following year the company moved filming to Elstree. However, films and TV productions continued to be made here, some using Oakley Court as the main setting. "Half a Sixpence" with Tommy Steele (1967), "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" (1975), "Alien" (1979), "The Wildcats of St Trinian's" (1980) and ITV drama Inspector Morse were amongst some of the later ones. For a longer list visit IMDb.

In 1979 work started on converting Oakley Court into a hotel. After 2 years and at a cost of 5 million pounds, Oakley Court Hotel opened on 7th November 1981. Since then the hotel has been enlarged with new wings being added. It also now boasts a health and fitness club, a 9-hole golf course, two tennis courts and a meeting room called the Boathouse on the banks of the Thames.

A short distance past Bray Studios is Queen's Eyot. This is a small island which has been owned by Eton College since 1923 when it was sold to them for a meager 10 shillings (50 pence). Soon afterwards the college built an attractive clubhouse on the island to be used by the "boys" for their enjoyment. This burnt down in 1990 and the college built a new one. The beautifully landscaped island, covering an area of four acres, is still used by the "boys", but can also be booked for special occasions such as weddings, parties or corporate functions.

As a point of interest, the words eyot, eyte, ait and ayt are all old English words meaning island, the route passes many of these on the journey up the River Thames.

Behind Queen's Eyot hides Bray Marina which can partly be seen to the left just after passing the island. Soon after this, on the side of towpath is an iron mile post and next to it is a path going off to the right (now at 4.2 miles into the stage). This leads away from the river past the northwest edge of Dorney Lake and on to Dorney Court - it's just over half a mile walk. Dorney Court dates from 1440, is one of the most unique manor houses in the UK and in 2006 was a finalist in Country Life Magazine's quest to find the nations finest manors. The house is on the way into Dorney village and has been owned by the Palmer family and their ancestors since the early 16th Century and is still the family home today. The local pub the "Palmer Arms" dating from the 15th Century, was originally part of the Dorney Court Estate and is named after the family. The manor is mentioned in the Domesday Book, so the current house must have replaced a much older one. The adjacent 12th Century church of "St James the Less" has a Norman font and Tudor tower. The Chancel and Nave both date from the 12th Century and a record of the clergy, back to the 13th Century hangs in the nave. There is much more to see as which has been preserved through the centuries. Check out the excellent church website for more information. "The Walled Garden Centre" has a cafe and a shop selling the manor"s produce. The word Dorney means "Island of Bees" and Dorney is famous for its honey which is still produced today. Apparently, this was where the first pineapple was grown in England in 1661 and was presented to King Charles II. Another old local pub "The Pineapple" is named so to commemorate the event. The manor house and church are open to the public at certain times in May and August each year.

If you get a chance to visit Dorney Village, you won't be disappointed. This small village has 45 listed buildings and three of them are grade 1 listed. If you visit the Dorney History Group website, it has lots of information about the village and links to all the listed buildings.

Within a short distance we pass under the Summerleaze Footbridge which crosses the river. It was built in 1995 as a conveyor belt to transport gravel from the digging of Dorney Lake to the Summerleaze processing plant at Bray. It doubles as a footbridge and cycle link and takes its name from the gravel company. The payment for the gravel helped finance the building of the lake and the boathouse. Next to the bridge on the opposite bank a stream called "The Cut" goes away from the Thames through Bray to join the York Stream through Maidenhead, eventually rejoining the Thames at Cookham. This was dug in c1819 and was used as a canal or relief stream. For many years "The Cut" has been unused and has deteriorated greatly. However, the Maidenhead Waterways Restoration Group (MWRG) was established in 2006 with the aim of restoring original waterways through Maidenhead to a navigable standard so this and other streams can be used to bring river transport back to the centre of the town.

Just upstream from Summerleaze Bridge is Monkey Island. The name is thought to have derived from an earlier one "Monks Eyot" after monks who used the island. The monks were a cell of Merton Priory and had a fishery just upstream at Amerden Bank, near Bray Lock. They lived on a moated site established in 1197, on the north bank of the river. In the 14th Century the island became the property of the nearby Burnham Abbey, a house of Augustinian nuns founded in 1266. However, during the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th Century the abbey was closed. It is worth mentioning that in 1913 the remains of the abbey were bought by Lawrence Bissley who restored many of the buildings and converted the original chapter house into a chapel. In 1916 a community of Anglican Augustinian nuns moved back into the abbey and as you can see from their website the sisters of the "Society of Precious Blood" are still there today.

Up until the 17th Century the island was very susceptible to flooding, but with the Great Fire of London in 1666, Berkshire stone was brought up the river in barges from Oxford for rebuilding and on their way back they carried rubble from the burnt-out buildings. Much of the rubble was dumped on islands along the Thames, raising them up and making them less vulnerable to flooding. Monkey Island was one of these dumping grounds and as a result is indebted to the fire.  

Charles Spencer, 3rd Duke of Marlborough bought the island from Sir Francis Englefield in 1723 after seeing the property whilst attending a meeting of the Kit-Kat Club at nearby Down Place. He was a keen angler and commissioned architect Robert Morris to build a fishing lodge (now the pavilion) and fishing temple. The Lodge was built from wooden blocks made to look like stone and still survives in its original form today. On the ceiling of one of the rooms there are strange monkey paintings by French artist Andie de Clermont. Many sources claim the island gets its name from the paintings, but the story about the monks seems more feasible.

By 1840 the Pavilion had been converted into a riverside inn, reachable only by ferry from the south bank. The island became very fashionable from 1900 when Edward VII and Queen Alexandra often came here with their three children for afternoon tea on the lawn. All three would be future monarchs - George V, Edward VIII and George VI. Edward Elgar (1857 - 1934) is said to have composed his violin concerto in 1910, plus some of his other works, at his friend Francis Schuster's house The Hut (now Long White Cloud) on the Berkshire bank adjacent to the island. In 2007 a blue plaque was unveiled to commemorate Elgar's association with the property. Monkey Island was often frequented by HG Wells and Rebecca West during their 10 year love affair. Rebecca used the place as the setting for her first novel "Return of the Soldier".

The footbridge was built in 1956 making the island more accessible from the south bank. Since then many additional rooms have been added, and both the original buildings have been restored and are now Grade 1 listed. The buildings then all became part of the Monkey Island Hotel. It was here in 1991 the "Birmingham Six" spent their first night of freedom in secrecy. In 2007 the island and hotel were sold by Metropolitan Hotels International to London based Greek publisher Dr Andreas Papadakis for 7.5 million. During 2017 / 2018 the hotel and island underwent major renovations and will re-opened later in 2018 by YTL Hotels year as the Monkey Island Estate.  You can read more about Monkey Island at Wikipedia.

To the right on passing Monkey Island are some very desirable residences with their gardens coming down to the towpath. After a short distance the towpath passes under the M4 road bridge. This was built in 1960 and carries the motorway from London over the Thames and west towards Bristol and South Wales. It is the third motorway bridge passed under on the route along the Thames Path and the last as only four motorways cross the river. The other is about another hundred miles further into our journey at Dartford.

To the RHS, after 250 yards, a path leads away from the river to Amerden Lane. Our route stays with the Thames Path. However, if you intend to camp on this walk, just 100 yards along the lane is Amerden Caravan & Camping Site (see official website).

Soon the path passes Bray Lock, (at 5 miles) built in 1854 (see Wikipedia entry). The Thames previously flowed very swiftly in this area and until the lock was built, it was bypassed for navigation by "the Cut" (or "York Stream"). Originally the lock was only used when water levels were low. Closing the lock allowed deeper channels to form thus enabling barges to continue using the river. Behind Bray Lock Island, on the other side of the river, is a long narrow island called Pigeonhill Eyot. This stretches upstream from the M4 road bridge to just past the lock island. Immediately upstream from this is Headpile Eyot - again just off the opposite bank and long and narrow. Both islands are wooded and have evidence of Bronze Age and Celtic settlements. At times of drought the narrow water between both can dry up, thus joining them.

After passing Headpile Eyot the village of Bray is visible on the opposite bank. It is famous for its legendary vicar who would change his beliefs each time the leadership of the country would change hands. The old ballad "The Vicar of Bray" tells the story - listen at YouTube. The 13th Century Parish Church of St Michael dominates the village and is said to have replaced an older Saxon church at Water Oakley. An old legend tells of trouble had from demons whilst trying to rebuild the older church and why the site was moved to here. There are many interesting things to see at the church including a statue of a Sheela-na-Gig (also see sheelanagig.org). The Sheela-na-Gig was used by churches to scare men away from sex, but probably had the opposite effect. It is just inside the main door and a bit damaged. The church also has a memorial brass of 1378 to Sir John Foxley and his two wives - not both at the same time. To the south east of the churchyard is the Lych Gate and Lych Gate Cottages dating from 1448.

Bray village is a really pleasant and peaceful place with lots of history and buildings from many eras. In 2005 and 2014 it won the "Small Village Award" in the Britain in Bloom competition. The Jesus Hospital alms houses of 1627, endowed by William Goddard, still serve their original purpose. This was the setting for Fred Walker's painting "The Harbour of Refuge". The village is unique by being home to two of the world's top restaurants, The Fat Duck and The Waterside Inn, two of only a few restaurants in the UK with 3 Michelin Stars. In 2005 the Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck was awarded best restaurant in the world. The same year the nearby Alain Roux's The Waterside Inn was ranked 19th best in the world. The Fat Duck also won the top award in 2010. The properties along the riverside here are very desirable and sometimes the local press refer to the upstream riverbank at Bray as "Millionaire's Row". There is no wonder Bray attracts many tourists and is home to a long list of celebrities 

The path continues between trees and around a large bend for over half a mile. It then widens out on reaching River Road to pass yet more desirable properties, but this time on the right and next to the towpath. After a quarter of a mile, River Road passes under Maidenhead Railway Bridge.

The railway bridge was built by Brunel in 1839. It carries the Paddington to Bristol railway line. The two arches, each 128 feet long and only 24 feet above the river, are reputedly the longest and flattest brickwork spans in the world. They are known as "The Sounding Arches" because of the perfect echo. A walkway next to the road passes under one of the arches allowing the echo to be tested. The central pillar of the bridge sits on Guards Club Island, named after the club which sat on the opposite bank up until 1977 when it was replaced by Guards Club Park. Turner used this bridge as the setting of his 1844 painting "Rain, Steam and Speed on the GWR". In 1893 the bridge was widened to carry 4 tracks and in 2006 it was used on a royal mail stamp to celebrate the 200th year of his birth. If you visit this link to "Where Thames Smooth Waters Glide" website (sponsored by the "River Thames Society") you will find lots more information and some wonderful photos of this magnificent bridge.

When passing Maidenhead Railway Bridge (at 6.5 miles) use the walkway under the arch. 150 yards after the bridge turn left through a gate, signed Thames Path. Follow the path to the river, past Maidenhead Rowing Club and under Maidenhead Bridge. Once under the bridge veer right and go through a gate, then right along the pavement up to the bridge and right again to follow the pavement across the bridge.

Up to Norman Times the area around Maidenhead Bridge was a minor trading post between two Saxon burghs. However, in the mid 13th Century a wooden toll bridge was built with a wharf on the western bank of the river. The area prospered and a substantial settlement grew up next to this important crossing point of the Thames, on what was the main route from London to Bristol. The name Maidenhead is thought to have derived from this, "maiden" meaning new and "hythe" meaning wharf. Although other sources claim there was a wharf before this time owned by a local nunnery, hence "Maidens' Wharf". In 1400 the bridge was the scene of a three day battle where supporters of Henry VI fought those of the deposed Richard II. John Montacute, 3rd Earl of Salisbury led the rebellion to have Richard re-instated, but some of his followers were defeated attempting to hold Maidenhead Bridge whilst the Earl tried to amass more recruits. The Earl had earlier tried to murder Henry at Windsor Castle, but failed. Soon after the battle the Earl was captured at Sonning and beheaded.

Between 1772 and 1777 the wooden bridge was replaced by the current one. This beautiful balustrade bridge was authorised by an Act by Parliament in 1772, designed by Sir Robert Taylor and built of Portland Stone. Today it carries the A4, over the Thames as it journeys from London to Avonmouth, just past Bristol. The A4 is one of England's old main roads and is sometimes referred to as the Great West Road or Bath Road. Most of the route is dual carriageway, but as it travels over the bridge it converts to a narrow lane. The toll stayed in place for over 650 years and was removed in 1903 after a legal challenge by Joseph Taylor, the same Eton man who 5 years earlier also succeeded in having the toll on Windsor Bridge removed.  

Once over the bridge turn right on a path through a small riverside park named Bridge Gardens.

The A4 goes straight on into the centre of the Maidenhead. The centre of the town is set well back from the river because of problems with flooding over the centuries. Two plaques (see photo1 and photo2) on the foot of the bridge, next to the park, record the history of the bridge and the flood of 1947. The monument just to the left of the path and facing the A4 is a horse trough. It was donated to the town in 1908 by Mrs Ada Lewis-Hill and originally sat outside the Thames Riviera Hotel on the opposite side of the A4. In the 1970s, many years after horses ceased to be a popular mode of transport, the trough was moved to the park and in late 2010 was relocated to a more central position. Now an illuminated fountain, it sits within a pool, and is surrounded by a paved area with seating, so users can enjoy the fountain as well as views of the River Thames and Maidenhead Bridge.

On the north side corner of the park, next to the river, a digital meter shows the volume of flow of water at this point. The Environment Agency uses ultrasonic "time of flight" technology to measure the velocity of the water and thus calculate the flow rate in the river. The meter is only on display for the public as the flow is constantly monitor electronically by the Environment Agency. You can read more about Bridge Gardens at Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead.

Maidenhead was where King Charles I was allowed to say goodbye to his three younger children. The meeting took place on 16th July 1647 at the Greyhound Inn on the High Street (now the NatWest Bank). The meeting was watched by Oliver Cromwell from an upper window and is remembered by a plaque on the building. The King was later held prisoner at Windsor Castle, tried for treason and executed (beheaded) in front of the Banqueting House in Whitehall, London on 30th January 1649.

For a full history of the town follow the link to The Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead. The Maidenhead Heritage Centre lists important dates in order, or for a simplified version see Royal Berkshire History "for Kids".  

Follow the path diagonally across the park to Ray Mead Road. Turn right along the pavement staying on the RHS. After passing four houses and a wide gate turn right onto a path between houses and back onto the towpath. On reaching the river turn left along the towpath, passing Boulters Lock after another 0.6 miles.

It's a shame the path next to the river is blocked by some flats, thus making the Thames Path cross this busy road twice in a short distance. However, according to a news article, the local council is planning to do something about this. Update as of July 2018. The local council were true to their promise and there is now a pavement on the RHS of the road, so no crossing a busy road anymore.

Upstream from Maidenhead Bridge is Bridge Eyot and just above this is Grass Eyot. Both are narrow wooded islands owned by the local council and between them is a much smaller island which seems to have no name. Behind the islands on the Taplow Bank and visible between them, especially at night because of their bright lights, are some boathouses. Around the boathouses is an industrial area which once boasted at least three mills. The first recording of a mill here was in 1194, two were recorded in 1197 and by 1304 there were references to three mills. Over the years, mills would often change their uses depending on the demands of the time. They would be used for grinding corn, fulling cloth and making paper. The corn mill closed down in 1864 and Taplow Paper Mill ceased production in 2006. The paper company had their headquarters at Glen Island House (Grade 2 listed), built in 1869 for Lt. Gen. Sir Roger Palmer and described as a riverside gentleman's residence. He was an Irish landowner; a steam launches enthusiast and a survivor from "The Charge of the Light Brigade". Much of the land on the Taplow side of the river (to below Maidenhead Railway Bridge) is part of the Taplow Riverside Conservation Area. However soon after the closure of the paper mill the owners sold the land for over 30 million to a property company, and although in the conservation area let's wait to see what plans are approved. Update as of 2020, I'll cover below.

Across the road on the left is the Thames Hotel. It was opened in the 1880s and was apparently once lost by the owner in a card game. Just north of it is the Riverside Gardens and Play Area (at 7 miles) which has the added bonus of Jenner's Riverside Cafe and crazy golf.

After passing Grass Eyot the Thames widens and the bank on the opposite side is continuous. However, this is a bit deceptive as it is part of Glen Island. The island stretches for almost a mile, from just south of here to above Boulter's Lock Island. It was formed by the digging of the "Mill Race", a channel to supply the paper mill at Taplow with water. Set back on the cliff above is Taplow Court, a 19th Century house and once home to the Earl & Countess of Orkney and later William Grenfell, 1st Baron Desborough and his family. In the grounds of the house is a 7th Century Anglo-Saxon burial mound, believed to be the grave of Teappa (c620 AD), a Saxon Chieftain and from whom the place takes its name. The burial mound was excavated in 1883 and its treasures are on display in the British Museum in London. Since 1988 the house and grounds have been home to SGI-UK a lay Buddhist society. It is open to the public on Sundays and Bank Holiday Mondays during the summer. There is also a public right of way along the drive to the old churchyard and burial mound.

The next island is the long and narrow Boulters Lock Island. Behind this sits Ray Mill Island - both are joined by a footbridge. Boulters Lock  dates from 1772 and was made famous by E.J.Gregory's painting "Boulter's Lock, Sunday Afternoon" (1882 - 1897). This area of the Thames became popular in the late 19th Century with the rich and famous, and the painting depicts a busy Sunday afternoon as many small boats full of well-dressed people (especially ladies) shuffle for position as they enter the lock. 

"Boulter" is derived from the word "bolter" meaning miller, and takes its name from the flour mill built on the island by the Ray Family in 1726. The island was acquired by Maidenhead Borough Council in 1950 and is now a park open to the public. At the time the mill buildings were converted to the Boulters Inn, which just recently has been converted again, this time to The Boathouse at Boulter's Lock. One notable resident who lived on the north tip of the island was reporter and broadcaster Richard Dimbleby (1913 - 1965) as commemorated by a blue plaque on the bridge at the lock. Apparently, he often came out and shouted at boats to slow down if they were travelling too fast along the river.

The lock and islands here can be really busy on warm days. There's a wooden ice-cream kiosk next to the bridge, an old green telephone box, by the entrance to the restaurant. Ray Mill Island is a public park with laid out gardens and lots of benches. It has a fountain, a memorial statue, named "The Companions", to four local schoolboys who died in a skiing accident in 1988, another entitled "Vintage Boys", plus  a statue of a woman feeding swans.

Update from Taplow Riverside Conservation Area as I said I would do above. Glen Island, where Taplow Paper Mill ceased production in 2006, has been redeveloped as a residential area. However, the Jubilee River Path has been extended along the island and a new footbridge has been built to Ray Mill Island thus giving a new crossing of the River Thames above Maidenhead Bridge. The footbridge was designed with Brunel's Railway Bridge in mind and was officially opened, by the then Prime Minister, Theresa May on 2 November 2018. You can read about this at cowi.com.

200 yards after Boulters Lock the Thames parts company with the road. Follow the Thames Path as it veers off to the right and stays with the river for the next 1.5 miles on its way towards Cookham.

The path passes through a wooden gate, known as a TC (or Thames Conservation) gate and past the north tip of Bolters Lock Island. Here the north part of Glen Island is now visible and after a short distance look back between both islands to see Boulter's Weir. On passing the north tip of Glen Island the Mill Race Stream can be seen going off to the right. 

Between 1996 and 2002 the Mill Race Stream was extended by over 7 miles to rejoin the Thames below Windsor. This was built at a cost of 110 million and through a local poll was named the Jubilee River to commemorate the golden jubilee of HM Queen Elizabeth II. Its purpose is to take overflow from the Thames and divert it, thus alleviating floods in the Maidenhead, Windsor and Eton areas. The river forms a wet and green corridor, first through Taplow and Dorney, then south of Slough running alongside and parallel to the M4 motorway, before turning south to rejoin the Thames between Windsor and Datchet. The corridor acts like a park with parking areas, access points, paths, footbridges, picnic areas, woodland and lots of wildlife. It is managed by the Environment Agency and a detailed map of the Jubilee River is can be viewed at link, but when I last looked at this it didn't include the new path along Glen Island and the footbridge over the Thames to Ray Mill Island.  

To the left for a few hundred yards, with gardens backing onto the towpath, are some pleasant dwellings. The last of these is an imposing Edwardian mansion called Islet Park House. In 1957 Gerry Anderson and Arthur Provis rented part of the mansion as a base for their small production company AP Films. Later that year it was here they made their first television production "The Adventures of Twizzle" a 52 episode children's puppet series. Their next venture was a series called "Torchy the Battery Boy". In 1960 the mansion came up for sale for a bargain price of 16,500. Anderson wanted to buy it and expand the company but Provis thought it was too much of a gamble. This caused friction between the two and the parted company. Anderson stayed on at Islet Park working on the pilot for AP Films next production "Four Feather Falls" but before the end of the year moved the company to larger premises at nearby Slough. Anderson's work on puppets at Islet Park took this part of filming to a new level and made him famous worldwide. He later went on to produce more famous serials such as Stingray, Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet.

In front of Islet Park House, the Thames Path crosses a footbridge. The stream going off to the left is White Brook which crosses Widbrook Common then turns south to join the York Stream through Maidenhead and flow along The Cut to rejoin the Thames by Bray Lock. This is currently the planned route of a navigable waterway through the centre of Maidenhead with yacht basins and a lock to maintain water levels.

For over the next mile, the towpath goes along an area called Cliveden Reach. Cliveden is an old English word meaning "valley by the cliffs" and this is said to be one of the most beautiful stretches of the Thames, with hanging woods of beeches and pines on the cliffs to the right and large open fields to the left. Stanley Spencer once said of it, "You can't walk by the river at Cliveden Reach and not believe in God". To read more and see some photos and paintings you can follow the link to the "Where Thames Smooth Waters Glide" website. Just across the river and in the distance through the trees you will get a glimpse of Cliveden House, presently leased by from the National Trust and run as luxury hotel and spa.

The first house built here was in 1666 by George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham. He built it as a hunting lodge and a place to entertain his friends and mistresses. One such mistress, Anna Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury, held his horse disguised as page while the Duke killed her husband in a duel over the woman's honour.

Between 1696 and 1737 the house was owned by George Hamilton, 1st Earl of Orkney and guests included King George I and Queen Caroline. From 1737 to 1751 Cliveden was home to Frederick, Prince of Wales and his family. It was leased from Anne, 2nd Countess of Orkney for 600 per year. The Prince was a music lover and enjoyed entertaining guests. It was here in 1740 where Rule Britannia was first performed. After Frederick's death in March 1751 the house remained in the ownership of the earldom of Orkney passing on through the female line for three successive generations until 1824. It was during this time, in July 1795, when most of the house burnt down. Only two wings survived and Mary, 4th Countess of Orkney continued to use these as her home for over the next 20 years. The house came into the ownership of Sir George Warrander who rebuilt it and re-established it as a home which played host to high society. Shortly after his death in 1849 it was sold to the 3rd Duke of Sutherland for 30,000. However, in November 1849 disaster struck again and fire destroyed most of the property.

The Duke commissioned architect Charles Barry to rebuild. Barry had previously been responsible for designing Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. The Italianate building, we see today was completed in 1851. Queen Victoria was a frequent guest and was not to be amused when the house was sold to America's richest citizen William Waldorf Astor (later 1st Viscount Astor) in 1893. It became the family home and in 1905 he gave the property as a wedding present to his son William Waldorf Astor II and new wife Nancy (the former Nancy Langhorne). The house was to become a centre of literary and political society under the 2nd Viscount Astor and his wife. Winston Churchill, Charlie Chaplin, George Bernard Shaw, King George V, Queen Mary and Rudyard Kipling were among guests entertained here. Nancy Astor is famous for being the first woman to take her seat in the House of Commons on 28th November 1919. The house was the background to many 20th Century political intrigues and scandals. In the early half of the 20th Century the Astors at Cliveden were strong opponents of confrontation with the Nazi Germany. They and their supporters were known as the Cliveden Set.

The final scandal was the Profumo Affair in 1963. It all started in January 1961 when John Profumo (the British Secretary of State for War) met models Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies by the pool at Cliveden. He was one of a number of the high society who were attending a dinner organised by Bill Astor. Lord Mountbatten is also said to have been present. Keller and Rice-Davies were staying at Spring Cottage (you will see it across the river on this walk) in the grounds of the estate with Dr Stephen Ward, a fashionable osteopath of the time and a close friend of Bill Astor's. The diners could hear the commotion of Ward's party enjoying themselves just outside next to the pool, so went out to see what was happening. There are different stories saying how little both ladies were wearing and Profumo was introduced to Keeler. This meeting was to prove fatal as a short affair between Profumo and the nineteen-year-old Keeler ensued. Questioned about this in the House of Commons he lied, but later the truth came out. It also happened that Keeler had been sleeping with Eugene Ivanov, the naval attache at the Soviet embassy. When this came to light it really upset the US and British Governments. The result being Profumo was hounded by the press and was forced to resign in June 1963. Lord Denning released the government's official report in September 1963. The Tory government never recovered from the scandal and a month later the Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan resigned on health grounds, but this was later blamed on the affair. His Foreign Secretary, Sir Alex Douglas-Hume took power. However, in 1964, a year after all was revealed, Douglas-Hume's government was defeated by Labour led by Harold Wilson. It was the end of 13 years of Tory rule.

John Profumo went on to do charity work for over four decades in London's East End. He stayed silent about the whole episode, even till his death in 2006 at the age of 91. He is probably the only British politician who worked hard for forgiveness and never broke the proper code of conduct by blaming things on others.

At the height of the Profumo Affair in 1963, Christine Keeler posed for a photo shoot with Lewis Moody. A photo from the shoot became famous and was later used to promote the 1989 movie "Scandal" based on the affair. In the photo she is portrayed as naked with her legs wide open sitting backwards on a chair. The chair covered most of the essential parts of her body, leaving the rest to the imagination and is possibly one of the most erotic and most remembered photos of all time.

Many of the guests at the Cliveden party seemed to get hounded by the establishment. Stephen Ward was arrested in June 1963 and put on trial for making money from prostitution. He overdosed on the last day of the trial never recovering, and never knowing the verdict. He died shortly afterward. Mandy Rice-Davies on being questioned during Ward's trial, about having an affair with Lord Astor (after him denying this), replied with one of the most famous quotes of the 20th Century - "He would, wouldn't he?". Christine Keeler was imprisoned for 9 months for perjury in a different trial. Afterwards, she mainly kept a quiet life, but did appear on TV chat shows in the late 1980's when the movie "Scandal" was first released. In 1987 she appeared with Mandy Rice-Davies and Mandy Smith on a promotional video for Brian Ferry's hit single "Kiss and Tell". In 2001 she released an autobiography entitled "The Truth at Last, My Story" which gives her version of the events at Cliveden. Maybe we'll never know the whole truth, about how a young beautiful, naive girl got involved and caught up in high society, took on a bit more than she could handle and ended up coming out of it in an unlucky way by taking a government down without trying. It does say something about how hard each opposition party tries to remove the government of the day, but as with the story of Troy, it only takes a beautiful girl to destroy a very powerful establishment.

Since I originally wrote this, Mandy Rice-Davies died in 2014 and Christine Keeler in 2017. You can read more about John Profumo at Wikipedia.

To see some excellent photos of Cliveden House and grounds visit Peter Goodearl's website.

At 9 miles the path turns left away from the river and towards Cookham.

It is at the point where the path leaves the river that Cliveden House is only a stones' throw away at the top of the cliff on the opposite side. However, from here the house is obscured by the cliff and the trees. In pre-Norman times this was a fording point on the river and more recently there was a ferry.

On leaving the river behind the path goes through a narrow wood. To the left through the trees are fields and to our right, but difficult to see is Formosa Place, a large country house on the banks of the River Thames built in 1785 for Sir George Young, 1st Baronet. The property was passed down through generations to Sir George Young MP, 6th Baronet (born 1941) and government minister under John Major PM was Leader of the House of Commons. The old house has now been demolished and redeveloped.

Follow the path through the wood and then left and adjacent to a road. After 450 yards and on passing a gate and some buildings, to the LHS, cross a lane and veer slightly left to follow an enclosed semi-circular path which after another 125 yards comes out onto Mill Lane and next to The Sol Mill.

The Sol Mill for centuries was the site of a working mill. Through the garden flows the Mill Stream and Lulle Brook. They form a small island reached by a footbridge. Throughout the 1970s, 80s and beyond this was one of the most important recording studios in the UK. Originally, named The Mill Studio and then Sol Studios. Owners included Gus Dudgeon, Jimmy Page and Chris Rea. In recent years it has reverted to being a private residence. There is so much music history here, I'm not going to write all this, but you can read some of it at Wikipedia, also see The Mill Recording Studios.

On the other side of Lulle Brook is Formosa Island, the largest island on the non-tidal Thames covering an area of 50 acres. It is home to the Odney Club Sports Grounds, owned by the John Lewis Partnership.

The lane to the right leads past old cottages including Sol Mill and on to the very private adjacent entrances of Formosa House to the right and Formosa Court to the left - again the Court has been redeveloped and is now flats.

Turn left along Mill Lane, finger-posted Thames Path. The lane is narrow, has little traffic and is rural with only the odd desirable residence appearing intermittently.

Soon to the right is a cricket ground with some peculiar mushroom shaped sculptures next to it. Also, just a few yards after a double metal gate, a tree on the LHS has a plaque on a tree states "On this site in 1785 nothing happened". I wouldn't worry about this as it's just a local buying a plaque many others have bought, there are many others, and many others use this and similar from websites.

At the end of the lane a wall obscures the traffic coming from the right along the main road. The wall is of a house named The Old Ship. The house was once a convent and there is still a piscine in one of the ground floor rooms. It later became a pub, hence the name, and today is a private dwelling with many of the original features including four staircases are still in place. They staircases, I assume, were there as a means to escape when persecuted. 

On reaching a T-junction with the main road (A4094, Sutton Road), cross straight over (with extreme care) and turn right along the pavement and through the village.

Cookham is made up of three parts - Cookham Village, Cookham Dene and Cookham Rise. There is evidence the area has been occupied since the Bronze Age. The Camlet Way, the Roman road from Silchester to St Albans, is thought to have crossed the Thames at Sashes Island. There is evidence that the Camlet Way crossed another Roman road near the railway station at Cookham. This road is thought to have run north through Maidenhead and Cookham as you can see from Alderman Richard Silver's map of 1908.

During "Saxon Times" Cookham became a frontier settlement between Mercia and Wessex, with Mercia on the north side of the river, and Cookham in Wessex on the south side. The current village seems to have grown up around an 8th Century Saxon monastery, probably a twin house of monks and nuns. In the 9th Century King Alfred the Great (849 - 899) set up burghs (forts) all over Wessex, where his people could seek refuge from attacks by the invading Danes. One of these was an island burgh on Sashes Island. Cookham became a royal manor sometime between 965 and 975, administered by King Edgar from his palace at Old Windsor. In 997 the Witan (Saxon parliament) met at Cookham under King Ethelred the Unready.

On continuing through the village, soon to the left is the High Street with its many old houses, pubs and restaurants, and on the corner is the Stanley Spencer Gallery. This was originally built as a Wesleyan Methodist Chapel in 1846. However, it became too small for the congregation and they relocated to a new church, built at Cookham Rise. It was put up for sale and bought by Colonel Ricardo who added a new porch and converted the building to a reading and recreation room. He renamed it "The King's Hall" and gave it to the village in Trust in 1911 as a centre for the villagers to use and with a grant to upkeep. Since 1962 the hall has been leased as a gallery to display works of Sir Stanley Spencer, the local boy who became one of this country's greatest painters.

Sir Stanley Spencer was born on 30th June 1891 in Cookham into a large family. A blue plaque on "Fernlea Cottage" on the High Street remembers his birthplace. As a child he worshiped with his mother at the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel and also at the local parish church of Holy Trinity Church. His father was a music teacher and an organist. This religious upbringing would influence many of his paintings, and his home at Cookham was where he felt most happy and was the setting of much of his work. His early education was at a local school run by his sisters. He then went onto study at Maidenhead Technical College. At 17 he entered Slade School of Fine Art at University College London where he won the Composition Prize for his portrayal of "The Nativity" in 1912. With the outbreak of the First World War he joined the Royal Army Medical Corps, serving at the Beaufort Hospital in Bristol and then at Salonika in Macedonia. In August 1917 he transferred to an infantry unit. After the war he moved back to Cookham to continue his work, the main themes now being war and religion with most of the background still Cookham. Although he moved away a few times he always returned to his home town. He was knighted in 1958 and died the following year at the Canadian War Memorial Hospital in Cliveden on 14th December 1959. Much of his work is splendidly exhibited in the once old Wesleyan Chapel where he worshiped as a child, now the Stanley Spencer Gallery.  A copy of his "Last Supper", painted by Sharon Brindle, hangs in the Holy Trinity Church. Many of his paintings are in the Tate Britain Gallery. The Spencer Gallery offer a guided walk around the village. It goes past many of the places which were settings for Spencer's paintings.  There is also a longer Cookham and Cock Marsh Walk on the National Trust website.

Just after the Stanley Spencer Gallery the road twists to the right and then to the left. At this point, to the right, is the ancient Tarry Stone, a mounting block or possibly a meteorite. Behind it on the wall a plaque recalls games played here in 1506. It seems it has been moved at least twice, as the plaque states, was returned here (its ancient site) in AD 1937. A local amateur theatre group, the "Tarrystone Players" is named after the stone. 

To the right of the stone is Odney Lane which leads to the Odney Club and Formosa Island. The clubhouse was also once the local manor house, Lullebrook Manor. A manor of this name existed here since at least 1292 taking its name from the owner Walter de Lullebroc. The current one was built much later and I can't find a lot on this beautiful building, apart from it was home to Colonel Francis Ricardo CBE, an Old Etonian and Grenadier Guard, who excelled at sports including cricket and rowing. He was a member of the exclusive Leander Rowing Club at Henley. For 11 years he was Honorary Secretary of the Naval and Military Tournament. He was appointed High Sheriff of Berkshire in 1913, and during World War I was Chief Constable of the Berkshire Police Force. Ricardo was very involved and generous to the community in Cookham. He was said to drive around the village in a yellow Rolls Royce and offered lifts to anyone he passed. Apparently, he was also the inspiration for Kenneth Graham's Toad of Toad Hall in "The Wind in the Willows". He was patron of many local regattas and donated the King's Hall as a reading room to the village. He died suddenly on 17th June 1924 while walking with his niece Lady Bruce in the gardens of the manor. In 1927 the manor house and grounds were bought by the John Lewis Partnership and have been used by the company as a country club and training centre ever since. You can watch an aerial video of the manor and grounds at YouTube.

On passing Cookham High Street (to our left), Sutton Road becomes Ferry Lane. Continue straight on along Ferry Lane, turning first right and then veering left past the Tarry Stone. After just a few extra yards turn left into Church Gate.

This is a very old and important part of the village. In front is Churchgate House, a timber framed building dating from 1350 and once owned by the Cirencester Abbey. It was where the Abbot stayed when visiting, and in recent years a priest hole has been found in the house.

After just a few yards turn right through a wooden gate. Follow the left of the two paths across the graveyard and past the tower of the Church.

Just inside the gate, on the left is the Cookham Angel, on occasions this would appear in Stanley Spencer's paintings. A few steps past this is a stone tablet which commemorates the painter and his first wife, Hilda. He died in 1959, was cremated and his ashes were spread on this spot. His first wife Hilda is buried in the graveyard. A Judas tree was planted next to the stone to commemorate the centenary of his birth. They are both approximately on the spot which gives the view of the church in his painting "The Resurrection, Cookham".

The Holy Trinity Church was built by the Normans in the early middle of the 12th Century. The tower was added sometime after 1500. It is thought that a wooden Saxon church stood here as early as the 7th Century and on occasions was replaced after being burnt down by accident or by invading Danes. Around 750 AD the first stone church was built. It was basic and consisted of only two chambers, a sanctuary and a nave, joined by an arch. After the building of the Norman church it is recorded that Holy Trinity had an Anchoress, a female hermit who dedicated her life to the service of God. This is quite unique as most hermits are male. She lived in a specially built cell with a slit cut into the wall so she could take part in Mass. Records show she was financed by Henry II with a payment of a halfpenny per day from 1171 until her death in 1181. His reason is thought to be a means of seeking forgiveness being responsible for the killing of Thomas Beckett in 1171. The site of the Anchoress' cell is now the Lady Chapel and it is believed she is buried under the floor. The church we see today still has Saxon and Norman roots and since the 16th Century nothing has changed much apart from the odd bit of restoration. You can read the whole history of the church by visiting the Holy Trinity Church website.

The path leaves the churchyard and passes through an open area and onto the riverside (at 10 miles). Turn left along the Thames Path keeping the river to your RHS.

To the right is Cookham Bridge. This narrow iron bridge, was built in 1867 replacing an earlier wooden bridge built in 1839. It has recently been repainted blue, its original colour. On the opposite bank next to the bridge is the old toll house. The toll was removed around 1947. The bridge is portrayed in Stanley Spencer's painting "Swan Upping at Cookham" (1915 - 1919). He started it before serving in the First World War and didn't complete it until after the war. Swan Upping is a colourful event which dates back to the 12th Century when the Crown claimed ownership of all mute swans in open water. At this time swans were considered a banqueting delicacy. Today the ceremony is a way of conserving the swan population on the river. It takes place each year in the third week of July between Sunbury Lock and Abingdon, Her Majesty's Swan Keeper takes to his boat together with representatives of the Vintners' and Dyers' Companies in their double sculling skiffs to mark the swans and assess their health. To watch an informative video of the event see VisitThames.

In 2002, for HM Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee, artist, entertainer and local resident Timmy Mallett completed a series of 50 portraits of people from Cookham entitled The Cookham Jubilee Collection. As well as ordinary locals it also included many well-known people who live in the area, such as Sir Clive Woodward, Ulrika Jonsson, Wendy Craig and Jim Rosenthal.

From the Cookham Village website you can also take a tour of the town and find out more about businesses and events in the local area (also see the Cookham Society).  Most of the village is designated a Conservation Area and to read more just follow the link. You can also read the entry on Cookham at Wikipedia. 

Follow the Thames Path upstream along the towpath in the opposite direction to Cookham Bridge.

This area is called Cookham Reach and there are some desirable residences backing onto the river on the opposite bank. Follow the path past Cookham Reach Sailing Club and across open meadows along the Thames for just over a mile. The meadows to the left are called Cock Marsh and have four barrows (Bronze Age burial mounds). Most of the area is designated a "Site of Specific Scientific Interest" which is looked after by the National Trust. Just above meadows are Winter Hill and its golf course. The course, like the Odney Club, is owned by the John Lewis Partnership.

After a mile follow the Thames Path under the railway bridge, then immediately turn left to climb up and cross the River Thames to Bourne End using the footbridge attached to the side of the iron railway bridge.

The railway bridge built in 1895 carries the single-track branch railway from Maidenhead to Marlow via Bourne End - the footbridge was attached in 1998. To see  photos of the train journey follow the link. At Bourne End Station the train changes line and then reverses to Marlow. The journey from Bourne End to Marlow is locally known as the Marlow Donkey, its name coming from that of an early train (no. 522) based at Marlow. The branch line through Bourne End originally extended north to High Wycombe, but this was closed in 1970 as a consequence of "The Beeching Report"

From the footbridge there are good views along the river and the surrounding countryside. It was on the southern stretch of the Thames from here to Marlow where Kenneth Grahame played about on the river during his childhood. He came here at the age of 4, after the death of his mother in 1864, with his two sisters and brother to live with their grandmother, at "the Mount" (now Herries School), in Cookham Dene. In later life, when an official at the Bank of England, in order to amuse his small son, Mouse, he wrote a fantasy called "The Wind in the Willows" - you can read the whole book HERE. Its scenes are based along this stretch of the Thames, with Quarry Wood on Winter Hill featuring as "the Wild Wood".

Once over the river climb back down to the Thames Path.

If you are finishing your walk here. Go under the railway bridge, then left up some steps and onto a path that leads to the station car park. Go straight on through the car park and past an auction room. Bourne End Station is just to the left. There are both train and bus services here.

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