The Walking Englishman Walks The Thames Path

A personal record of my walk of the Thames Path National Trail with a written journal and with photographs. Tracklogs for GPS units and for use with Google Earth are available for download for each stage.

Journal, Photographs and Download Files

Stage 6: Wallingford to Reading
Google Maps Open Source Maps

Statistics and Files
Start: Wallingford Finish: Reading Distance: 17.5 miles (28.2 km)
Time: 7-9 hours Climbing: 80 metres Rating: Moderate
GPX Route File Google Earth File About Wallingford
Start: Wallingford Finish: Reading
Distance: 17.5 miles (28.2 km) Time: 7-9 hours
Climbing: 80 metres Rating: Moderate
GPX Route File Google Earth File
Ordnance Survey Explorer Map (1:25,000)

The Walk:

Leaving Wallingford at daybreakLeaving Wallingford at daybreak
Isambard Kingdom Brunel railway bridgeIsambard Kingdom Brunel railway bridge

Today's stage was significant for three reasons. First, it would see me pass half way on my Thames Path journey. Secondly it was to involve the only significant climbs of the entire National Trail; the first of about 50 metres ascent and the second about 30 metres ascent. Thirdly, while the stage would start with peace and quiet it was to end in a crescendo. Let's go shall we. With about eighteen miles to cover I set off early. At 5.00am, walking through a very quiet Wallingford to follow the Thames Path south towards North Stoke. Being so early I even alarmed a couple of Herons snoozing on the riverbank. They were off in a flash on realising I was there. Then I came to a large tent pitched by the riverbank near to the site of Oxford Brooks Boat House. Outside the tent was fishing gear and a barbecue which had been used the previous evening. I knew who the occupants were. Remember the chaps I spoke to in the dinghy around yesterday lunchtime. The very same dinghy was moored here. Soon after I arrived at Cholsey Marsh Nature Reserve where a sign said 'This Nature Reserve is suffering due to increased visitor numbers and antisocial behaviour'. That was disappointing to see. The reserve was quiet for me though, as it would be at 6.20am. Five minutes later I reached the railway bridge constructed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. The same one I had marvelled at during my Ridgeway walk when I was walking that National Trail along the other bank of the river.

Flock of Geese flypast at MoulsfordFlock of Geese flypast at Moulsford
Goring on ThamesGoring on Thames

Just after the railway bridge I was obliged to leave the riverside and turn right to follow the path into the village of Moulsford. The walk along the A329 thorough the village was not the most exciting part of the day but at least the tedium of roadside walking was alleviated by the view of some very pretty timber framed houses and cottages. At the south end of the village I turned left to follow Ferry Lane back to the river where the Beetle and Wedge Boathouse is situated. It is not a boathouse any more, but a gastro pub with, as it claims, literary connections to Wind in the Willows, Three Men in a Boat and HG Well’s Mr Polly. From the pub I returned to completely rural peaceful idyll on this early Saturday morning which was only interrupted by a honking flypast of Geese. They were going the same way as me, towards Goring on Thames which was now just a long stretch of open pasture away. Last time, on the Ridgeway walk, I had arrived on the Goring side. This time, I arrived via the west bank Streatley side. Streatley commands the west bank of the Goring Gap and Goring on Thames the east bank. Only the Goring and Streatley Bridge which I had to cross to change banks separates them. I made two short breaks here, first to take a look at St Mary's Church, Streatley A blue plaque over the church door reads 'Lewis Carroll preached here in 1864'. The second break was for convenience; a coffee and a hot sausage sandwich for breakfast. It was five minutes to eight, about three hours after leaving Wallingford and I had worked up an appetite. I also stocked up with drink and refreshments for my lunch break some time later on.

Ex Army chaps enjoying the quiet lifeEx Army chaps enjoying the quiet life
The fire ravaged Grotto HouseThe fire ravaged Grotto House

Following breakfast I continued on the north and east side riverside path towards Whitchurch on Thames. It was not long down the path, only half a mile or so, before I bumped into two Liverpool lads camped in a secluded spot by the riverside. They were enjoying a snack and invited me for a chat. I forget their names but I do not forget their story. Ex Army, they served together on active duty in Afghanistan and Iraq. 'Hellish' they called it and since leaving the service, in each others company, they have led a quiet out of the way life. They told me they had been in this spot for over a month, fishing and generally watching the river flow. They told me it was a good place for watching Kingfishers, one flying too and fro from perch to perch on the far bank every day. They were familiar with more wildlife too, more birds, Otters and Mink too. I really enjoyed the chat. Before I left to carry on my walk they told me to look out for the Grotto House on the opposite bank which I could not fail to notice anyway. Sadly, the house was in a state of disrepair; being gutted by a fire just six months earlier. Repairs to the magnificent building were just getting under way.

On the only climb of the Thames PathOn the only climb of the Thames Path
Toll Gate, Whitchurch-on-ThamesToll Gate, Whitchurch-on-Thames

Next up for me on the walk was the big climb of the Thames Path. Just before starting the climb I passed the site of Goring Hall's outdoor festival field. The attraction I had missed by a couple of weeks was 'The Best of Dire Straits'. However, if I came back in October I could enjoy Bob Marley or James Brown. Or even Jimi Hendrix. Wow. Talking of festivals... wait on until later. For now I had the climb to content with, ascending away from the river up a hill through Coombe Park. Having being at 130 feet by the river, I topped out at 253 feet near Coombe Park Farm. Phew. The lane I had followed to my heady peak continued to meet the B471 Woodcote to Whitchurch on Thames road. I followed the road down to a toll gate. That was novel to see. From the booth the road led to crossing the Thames via Whitchurch Toll Bridge with Pangbourne the destination on the other side of the river.

Perfect lunch break spot on the Thames PathPerfect lunch break spot on the Thames Path

Being a pedestrian I crossed the toll bridge without having to pay the 60 pence fee. That was a saving to appreciate. I suppose by crossing the bridge I had set foot in Pangbourne but not by way of any built up area, following the path on the riverside edge of Pangbourne Meadow and beyond for two quiet rural miles. I liked that and when away from the families enjoying their Saturday lunchtime and early afternoon on the meadow I found a shady spot under the bower of a tree to settle down and take lunch. Suitably charged up, I resumed the walk, heading along the riverside to Mapledurham Lock which marked a significant stage of my walk. I had arrived in Reading. From the lock I was immediately taken from the river, the Thames Path leading along Mapledurham Drive and uphill into the suburban area of Reading which is Purley on Thames. That is the second climb I mentioned earlier on. It was soon done. Forced along Hazel Road and Skerritt Way went I, descending gradually and then over a railway footbridge and back to the riverside. Not a pretty part though, hemmed in for a while by river to my left and a high railway retaining wall to my right and with litter both sides of the path. And on the wall not the best graffiti I have seen here and there. I hurried along.

Music fans crossing Reading Festival BridgeMusic fans crossing Reading Festival Bridge
I was walking against the flow of peopleI was walking against the flow of people

Soon enough though the path moved me away from the railway wall and into the open of St Mary's Island. Around here I sensed noise, indistinct at first but getting louder with each step. Further and further, louder and louder. Then I saw a tented village and crowds of people. All revelling. Then I saw the bridge and it dawned on me. "Of course. It is the August Bank Holiday weekend. This is the blooming Reading Festival site". I had unknowingly walked right into the middle of it. Masses were crossing the Reading Festival Bridge. An endless stream of festival goers. Beyond the bridge I came to the security fencing of the festival site. Security men stood or sitting every 100 yards or so. Another security man was doing the rounds on a Quad Bike with lunch for the others. It was around 1.30pm now. Music must have been going on within the sight but all I could hear was people. And then suddenly I saw them. All walking towards me. Thousands going one way. Me the other. It was funny. "Who is on" I asked one youngster. "I don't know, I am here to enjoy myself but who is on. Not a clue". Someone nearby overheard and said "Liam Gallagher is headlining. Not sure about the others though". It was that type of crowd and I should know. I was one of those festival people myself in the nineties, attending the Leeds Festival, which is Reading's twin, almost every year in that last decade of the last century. A while later I reached Caversham Bridge and was done with my day's walk. But not with the consequences of the Reading Festival. I shall tell you about that in the morning.

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