The only leg that starts from my front door! Not that I live on the riverside (except in my dreams), it still took me 45 minutes to get back to the river, but at least there was no public transport involved in getting started.
West of Reading Bridge I came across a group of half a dozen elderly folk walking along the river. As I overtook them one gentleman said to me “how far are you going today?” and feeling a bit smug I replied “I’m going to Cholsey, should be about 20 miles or so”, he replied “Oh, we’re going to Cholsey as well!”. Whaat?! I’m gonna have to seriously up my game here… but then he added “but we’re doing most of it by train”. Oh thank God. But just imagine if I were to bump into them again, at Cholsey, at the end of a long day’s walking… What would be the chances of that?
I soon came to the Reading Festival site at Little John’s Farm, with the clean-up operation still in full swing. The parts I could see looked pretty clear, but there was still a huge security fence in place round much of the area. A bit like the Berlin Wall, only bigger and more forbidding. At the Western end of the site I was stopped by a security guard. “Good morning Sir” he said, in the manner of a traffic policeman who knows that you haven’t got an MoT. Not that I’d know anything about that of course, but I’ve been told… And in the manner of most people being greeted by police/security/doctor I immediately felt guilty. But it turned out he was just bored and a bit homesick, having been at the festival site for 8 days and missing his Scotland home. We stood and talked for a while as he continued to do his job which – a week after the festival – consisted of telling runners, walkers and cyclists to take care because the fences were being taken down. No wonder he was bored. Being of similar vintage, we talked about festivals and gigs past; him seeing these things stage-side, me from the melee. I was enthusiastic when we talked about Glastonbury, but no offer of an “access all areas” pass was forthcoming.
Purley-On-Thames is one of those annoying riverside towns where you can’t actually walk along the river, so the path takes a diversion. I felt very much out of place walking through a quiet housing estate, fully loaded with boots and rucksack. But as it’s the Thames Path I’m sure I wasn’t the first nor would I be the last and soon enough I rejoined the river opposite Mapledurham House and Mill – the location for the somewhat sinister cover photo of Black Sabbath’s 1970 debut album.
I crossed the river via the historic toll bridge at Whitchurch, which I believe is of only two still in operation on the Thames. Although this one isn’t operating at the moment as it is still undergoing a major refurbishment. Just after the bridge the path takes an entirely pointless diversion through a churchyard and then returns to the road it just left, before heading through undulating woodland high above the river, and finally dropping back to the riverside. And then – hurrah! – several miles of walking through the countryside and actually beside the river!
Approaching Goring I first came across a field of friendly donkeys. And then a field with massive mirrors. I am guessing that the mirrors allow novice horse-riders to check whether they are riding with a straight back, sitting the right way round (facing the horse’s head) etc. They also allowed me to catch a glimpse of myself in walking mode. I wish I hadn’t looked; I can’t un-see that. At Goring I bought an expensive sandwich and bottle of ginger beer at a deli before crossing the river again and finding a peaceful spot to sit and re-fuel. The expensive sandwich was actually very nice and the ducks seemed to enjoy the few crusts I threw for them before moving on.
At Moulsford, after passing an extraordinary art-deco house (I have since found out it’s called “The Egyptian House” so maybe art-deco isn’t the right description), I walked through the precincts of the Beetle and Wedge, a location immortalised in The Wind in the Willows and Three Men in a Boat. For all the restaurant’s assertions of an informal dining experience it looked all starched linen and polished crystal so I kept my head down and kept walking. Again I had to leave the river at this point but this time the route didn’t take me through woodland or even a housing estate, instead it took me along the A329 – a fast and brutal road not in any way conducive to pleasant walking.
And finally I made my way through the residential streets of Cholsey to the railway station. And who should I see but the group of elderly walkers from earlier in the day. They looked calm and relaxed, I’m sure I looked sweaty and ruddy-faced. They had the good grace to congratulate me on making it that far; I daresay they had enjoyed a leisurely lunch somewhere before catching the train.
On the train back to Reading I passed the festival site on the other side and it was obvious that the site was not as clear as I had supposed. There were hundreds of tents piled up. I remembered that the security guard had told me that any metal collected (camp chairs etc) would be recycled to benefit the environment. Any usable tents would be auctioned to benefit charities. And the mountains of left-over booze that are collected every year go to benefit the people doing the clearing up.
Mileage today: 21.79
Mileage to date: 188.35
Mileage to date, as the crow flies: 81.0 miles
Mileage to go, as the crow flies: 38.2 miles